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February 16 2009

(SPOILER) Bitch Magazine Loves Wonder Woman. Feminist film critic reviews the new animated flick and finds it to her liking.

She comments that "Keri Russell is a surprisingly good Wonder Woman, while Nathan Fillion unsurprisingly threatens to steal the show as Steve Trevor."

"Overall, I was unimpressed by the way that the film too often equated the human world with "man's world."

The critic must not be familiar with Wonder Woman. The world outside Paradise Island is alway referred to as "man's world" or "patriarch's world".
Great article/review.

Overall, I was unimpressed by the way that the film too often equated the human world with "man's world."

I really want to see this now, and it occurs to me (not knowing what year this is set in) that this is because, as has been sung in the famous song, that it is still "a man's world." And we're of course, still striving towards parity in work, home, relationships, you name it.

One thing I must bring up, or I would not be true to myself. And please take this, anyone reading, in the form it is intended. Using the word "Bitch" as a magazine title may on the face of it seem like "taking the power of the word back", but all it does it make my back go up like a cat who is highly displeased.

Let me give an example of why it bothers me so much. Oprah Winfrey, who I don't agree with on most things because she usually comes off as "do as I do, to the gentry", had several African-American actors a couple years back on her show. And as part of the conversation, which was about, basically, the continuing struggle for equality and how black people are perceived, they talked about the use of the word nigger. And why black men use it to each other. I agree with Oprah, in this one instance, that continued use of that word perpetuates a negative stereotype; that of black people being slaves, of being less than. And the fact that use of that word, makes the black person's experience and acceptance in society, not taken seriously. And the men argued; "No, Oprah, when we use the word, between us, the word then becomes a non-issue." But it isn't a non-issue to observers, to people for who that word remains a dirty word, as bad as calling a woman a cunt, which is not far off from bitch, if you follow my meaning. Because even the use of those words then relegate the person being talked about into an object. And women have been viewed as slaves in a different way than African-Americans were in a very long span of American history, longer even.

I wish the people who started this feminist magazine had thought about what the repercussions and reverberations this word might come to mean to not only someone like me, but someone whose evolution as a human is still gestating. And I'm saying this without even knowing why the title was chosen. Was it to actually be titillating to sell issues, or was it a carefully chosen, "take back my power" statement?

Whatever the case may be, I wish they hadn't used that word. I know the article is about Wonder Woman, but the disparity between that pleasant subject and who published it, could not pass without my saying something.
You make a fair point about the title of the magazine, Tonya J, nor would I assume that you are alone in that view. Here's what the magazine has to say on the subject:

The B Word

For as long as we've been publishing Bitch, there's one question that gets asked over and over. And over. "Why did you choose that word as the name of your magazine?" While we're aware that our title is off-putting to some people, we think it's worth it. And here's why.

The writer Rebecca West, back in the day, said, "People call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat." We'd argue that the word "bitch" is usually deployed for the same purpose. When it's being used as an insult, "bitch" is an epithet hurled at women who speak their minds, who have opinions and don't shy away from expressing them, and who don't sit by and smile uncomfortably if they're bothered or offended. If being an outspoken woman means being a bitch, we'll take that as a compliment, thanks.

We know that not everyone's down with the term. Believe us, we've heard all about it. But we stand firm in our belief that if we choose to take the word as a compliment, it loses its power to hurt us. And if we can get people thinking about what they're saying and why when they use the word, that's even better.

And last, but certainly not least, "bitch" describes all at once who we are when we speak up, what it is we're too worked up over to be quiet about, and the act of making ourselves heard.

I actually posted an interview with Joss a few weeks back from Heeb magazine and was a little surprised not to see a similar comment about that particular name.
But it isn't a non-issue to observers, to people for who that word remains a dirty word, as bad as calling a woman a cunt, which is not far off from bitch, if you follow my meaning.

In the essentially unsolvable merry-go-round of "is it the words/images or the actual social power structures that matter" I lean towards the "actual social power structures." That is, is there any "objective" difference between calling a woman "bitch" and a man "dog"? Female-person:female-dog::male-person:male-dog, right? And historically, of course, "dog" and "cur" were pretty savage insults to use to a man. And yet, in a society where male privilege is safely ensconced "dog" can easily become a term of unproblematic affection ("what up, dog"), while "bitch" is problematic in all the ways you suggest.

Not to say that the old "if we use the word we disempower it" trick isn't problematic, of course, but I am pretty sure that in a world where there is genuine equality between blacks and whites, "nigger" will become a powerless word, as "bitch" would become no more a generic slur on an entire gender than "dog" is now.
Thank you for pointing that out, snot monster. Using slurs is not all one-sided (aimed at race or women), and since they all feed on each other, I won't be satisfied until those words are wiped out or, as you say, lose their meaning.
Can the word bitch be used in an empowering way? It certainly seemed that way for Cordy:

Iím a bitch...Iím not a sniveling whiny little Cry-Buffy. Iím the nastiest girl in Sunnydale history. - I take crap from no one...Back off! Polygrip. - You think *youíre* bad? Being all mean and haunty? Picking on poor pathetic Cordy? Well, get ready to haul your wrinkly translucent ass out of this place, because lady, the bitch is back.

I think context helps. Bitch Magazine seems to encompass a totality: "I am woman, hear me roar" that implies we're all bitches under the skin. Cordelia is only referring to herself in the dialogue you're citing, not all women. And I don't think it was meant to be attractive that Cordelia thought that was a badge of honor, going around Sunnydale with her pack of mean girls, being a bitch to everyone who crossed her path. It took exposure to the Scoobies and then moving to L.A. on her own to finally learn real strength (through the talent of the writer's pens) and kindness. Reverting to "the bitch is back," in a time of real stress I thought very humorous, because fight as she did against her "rich bitch" roots, they would still surface from time to time. And that was one of them. I think anyone who approaches surviving the rigors of life by being a big bitch, is operating from a place of weakness, not strength. In my opinion, Cordelia's empowerment came from surviving despite that mindset, not because of it.
I think Cordelia actually exemplifies that transformation of the word. And when she owns that title, she's very much owning it in a positive way. That she refuses to be bullied or to compromise her power.

My perspective on this is that words only have power over you in the context you read them. If someone calls me a bitch for standing up for myself, I'd want to have the strength and insight to baffle them stupid when I say, "Thank you for that amazing compliment." It mocks their epithet and robs it of its power because you deny its influence over you. That's how I read the title of this magazine. Such a word is flung at women and its meant to hurt them, but by taking the word and transforming its personal meaning women can confound those who would verbally attack them.

Not talking about something is an attempt to repress prejudicial judgment. Repressing the vocalization doesn't make it disappear because there will always be certain circles where no one is telling them to be quiet. I see taking over the word and transforming its meaning as a step towards the natural evolution of language. Words change meaning based on the meaning people recognize in them. Just as the word 'bitch' didn't initially apply to describing a woman, there is no law that maintains it must forever be rooted in a negative connotation. Language is fluid. Language is alive (except for Latin, that is). It's one of the reasons I'm a Whedonphile. He loves wordplay. So...

I'm a bitch. Hell yeah.
... as bad as calling a woman a cunt, which is not far off from bitch, if you follow my meaning.

Seriously ? Cos 'cunt' is the very worst word I can use of a woman IMO (one, in fact, that I never have used of a woman). Much, much (we really need more 'much'es ;) worse than 'bitch' (which is also a word I don't throw around willy nilly). And bear in mind, i'm from the UK where, to paraphrase Warren Ellis, "we use 'cunt' like punctuation" ;).

(ol' Warren's exaggerating for effect of course - i'm uninhibited in my swearing and even i'm very circumspect about the company I use the word in, partly cos i'm deliberately saving a swear word that still has power for myself - but it's still true in my experience that we're the least shy about using it of all the English speaking countries)

Personally I don't think the word needs reclaiming, it just needs to be used according to its meaning. A woman that speaks her mind isn't a bitch, a woman that's a "a malicious, unpleasant, selfish person" is a bitch. If the meaning's drifting to include any powerful woman that's sure of herself then the meaning needs to be "drifted" back, it doesn't need to be warped into something it doesn't mean in order to "reclaim" it, IMO.

And why do we need to rob it of its power ? To assume we don't need a word that describes - largely - women that are malicious, unpleasant and selfish seems to be making the preposterous claim that only men can be malicious, unpleasant and selfish (we've already got plenty of words that - largely - describe men that're that way e.g. 'prick', 'cock', 'dickhead', 'wanker', 'arsehole', 'bastard' and of course, 'cunt'). Or maybe just saying that it's only OK to point it out when it's a man ?
Why? Because you can't walk around saying calling a black person, "nigger" isn't acceptable, and bitch, cur, dog (thank you snotmonster), and anything else that denigrates a human being is. That inequity is precisely why I brought up Bitch Magazine's name. Maybe this is going to take a lot longer in human history than I thought.

In a side note, Oprah asked these actors (who included Don Cheadle and Terrence Howard) to consider just stopping using that term. One of her concerns was that children learn from adults, and that using that term, which of course children are going to hear, is toxic and self-propagating. My recollection is that they finally conceded and would strive to not say it anymore. I hope they've stuck to it.
Why? Because you can't walk around saying calling a black person, "nigger" isn't acceptable, and bitch, cur, dog (thank you snotmonster), and anything else that denigrates a human being is.

That isn't comparable though. Calling a black person nigger is wrong precisely because you're only doing it because they're black. Bitch on the other hand (as I said) means "malicious, unpleasant and selfish" i.e. if you're calling a woman a bitch just because she's a woman then you're a small-minded bigot, if you're calling a woman a bitch because she's "malicious, unpleasant and selfish" then you're correctly using an insulting term to be insulting to someone you want to insult.

I.e. I don't have an issue with calling bad people bad names. If you're saying we should never use derogatory terms for anyone Tonya J (no matter how nasty they might be themselves) then that's cool, I think that's very laudable and a (genuinely) nice way to think. I just don't agree.
Saje, your effort seems to be in fighting the misuse and misinterpretation of the word. To educate. It's almost like we need an afterschool special for these words in order to counter their misuse.

My stance is that trying to make everyone adhere to the definition just doesn't work - similar to the way people misunderstand what misogyny means. The only languages where the definitions are set in stone are the dead ones. We can attempt to standardize definitions the way we attempt to standardize spelling in the modern era (gray/grey words resist this movement), but the problem is that definitions of meaning are more complex and subtle than this. And slang always comes in to muck with the meaning of words. The way "cool" now means "awesome" and "awesome" no longer only means inspiring awe but in reality is used now to mean "cool". Words are defined by the context of the society they're used in, not merely the definitions we find in the dictionary - initially yes words are misused in slang. But when the misuse becomes so popular and powerful that it becomes the most common use, it eventually becomes another canon definition for the word. Wordplay and creating words is a foundation of the basic nature of human beings that search to name and define. The dictionary is the list of what things have meant before and it's constantly being updated because the language is constantly changing. At some point, certain meanings of words become defunct or are transformed. So in this movement where the word "bitch" by definition means "malicious, unpleasant and selfish woman" it's used by some to just mean "woman". So one can try to rein them in from transforming the word in its evolution (sticking your finger in the duck ;)) or you can try to steer the evolution of the word to another meaning of your choosing. I view trying to steer a straight and unchanging course of word evolution by educating on the proper use of the word as more likely to succeed than silence certainly. Nor am I certain that reclamation of the word would ever work entirely either, but I know I and others find comfort in transforming the meaning.
I wonder if there isn't a bit of "talking past each other" involved in this discussion. I think some of you are talking about "bitch" as it's used in certain strands of current slang to mean, simply, "woman" (think "yeah sometimes my lyrics are sexist, / But you lovely bitches and hos should know I'm trying to correct this") and some of you are talking about "bitch" as a more limited descriptor.

Being too old (and too white) for "bitch" to ever have taken on the meaning of "woman" I kinda share Saje's sense of the word as pretty much the equivalent of calling a man a "prick". On the other hand, it's certainly true that to the kids these days with their hippity hoppity music, the word is morphing, and whether one thinks that's a good thing of a bad thing it's undoubtedly true that no one ever stopped a word's meaning from changing by pointing at a dictionary.
Yes, I definitely feel that the talking past each other is generational. I remember in junior high school, in very white suburban California, a young black man being escorted off campus with the whole school watching, because he refused to stop seeing a white girl; the pain of it, the injustice of it. I have grown up with the weight of certain words ringing in my ears, and thus I have none-to-very-little patience in dealing with them still hanging around, meaning the meaning they have always meant to me. If that makes any sense.
If the word "Bitch" means "malicious, unpleasant, and selfish" does that mean that all female canines are malicious, unpleasant, and selfish creatures? No, of course not. I never did consider the word "bitch" to be a degrading word. Just go to any dog shows, or a canine breeder. You hear the word "bitch" all the time! It's not a swear word IMHO.
Are you genuinely not aware that words can (and usually do) have several different meanings, even outside of slang ? Yes, 'bitch' means

1. a. The female of the dog.
b. The female of the fox, wolf, and occasionally of other beasts; usually in combination with the name of the species

but it also means

2. a. Applied opprobriously to a woman; strictly, a lewd or sensual woman. Not now in decent use; but formerly common in literature. In mod. use, esp. a malicious or treacherous woman; of things: something outstandingly difficult or unpleasant. (See also SON OF A BITCH.)

(and the OED has that usage dating back to 1400 so it's not like it's some upstart recently arrived to usurp the one true meaning of 'female canine')

Being too old (and too white) for "bitch" to ever have taken on the meaning of "woman" I kinda share Saje's sense of the word as pretty much the equivalent of calling a man a "prick". On the other hand, it's certainly true that to the kids these days with their hippity hoppity music, the word is morphing, and whether one thinks that's a good thing of a bad thing it's undoubtedly true that no one ever stopped a word's meaning from changing by pointing at a dictionary.

Yeah, that's pretty much it I think. And also true, quoting the actual meaning won't stop people misusing it until eventually the misuse may even become the use, that's the way of language, especially a bastard concoction like English.

I just don't really see "reclaiming" it by embracing one limited (to me) slang usage and in doing so essentially elevating it to the mainstream definition as that useful. If someone means to insult you with the word then it's because they don't like you and that won't change by taking the wind from their sails (assuming self-identification would do that in the majority of cases). If someone's using it in a general sense to refer to women a la hippity hoppity music ;) then, again, you're unlikely to change their minds by agreeing with them. Either way it seems like the best option is probably just not to engage with them to begin with. Everyone has a different approach though obviously ;).
It's funny. The art world is full of examples of slurs that eventually became value-neutral descriptors ("impressionist" was originally an insult, as was "fauve"--and so forth). But are there any examples of "street" insults that have actually been successfully neutralized by appropriation? I mean, I know lots of gays who will happily refer to themselves as "fags"--but they still don't want to hear any straight person talk about "fags." Ditto for blacks and "nigger" etc. Is there an example of a word that was originally an insult but which got adopted by the insulted group and eventually became neutral?
I wonder if the idea of doing that is maybe a bit too recent for it to have provably worked yet ? I mean, wouldn't the SOP in the past be just to take it as an insult and then either turn the other cheek or (try to) kick the shit out of the insulter ?

Somewhat apropos if maybe a bit thin, "ladies from hell" strikes me that it would probably have started as an insult intended to belittle kilt wearing British and Canadian troops but, either in propagandist denial or genuine misunderstanding, they soon took it on themselves to spread the name as a sort of badge of honour.

Jock (and its charming rhyming slang equivalent 'Sweaty', as in 'Sweaty Sock' ;) maybe but again, a bit thin since though it's often meant negatively, it's no worse than Mick (in Ireland) or maybe even John (in England though not so much anymore) in that they're really just semi-facetious plays on the commonness of those first names in those regions (i.e. the insult, where one's intended, is in the generalisation).

'Cock' is (or was) Brummie slang for something like 'mate', dunno if that comes from the insult or the similar but forked identification with maleness in general (as in e.g. a male chicken), the latter i'd guess.
Ok, enough with the arguing about the meaning of the word "Bitch"! Pretty please! I thought Whedonesque was about discussing about the work of the great Joss Whedon, not about the meaning of slang words.
Little Green Kid, with all due respect, we do not tell each other in topics not to talk about something. This topic has now fallen off into the archives and even when it was on the front page, was not getting commented except when I brought up my distaste for the magazine's name. Joss Whedon is devoted to women's rights and is a huge supporter of Equality Now, so my concern about the term "bitch" wasn't born in a vacuum, and tossed in here just to be annoying.

With that said, let me riddle you all this. Since the topic was about the anime film Wonder Woman, would she tolerate being called a bitch? I think not, and that's with only a tiny little smidgen of knowledge of that mythology. And who's going to see the film? I'm not a big fan of anime, but with that talent providing the voices I don't think I have much choice.
Most definitely going to watch it, as you say Tonya J, with that cast it's hard to miss (plus, i've watched the rest of the animated DVD films in this series and though i've found them patchy there's always been something to make it worthwhile).

And yep, let the moderators moderate Little Green Kid, that's not your job or your place (the rest of us get to play without the responsibility, relax and enjoy it ;). Slang and language in general is a huge feature of Whedon shows and it's often featured in the conversations here, especially in this case where it relates to women's issues (another huge feature of Whedon shows).

(and obviously since this isn't a "work of the great Joss Whedon" then if that was the extent of the topics covered on here we shouldn't be discussing the animated 'Wonder Woman' at all)
I think that when a person who happens to be female is employing such levers into ones life that she may possess in an attempt to destroy one, one is justified in calling said woman a "bitch." Or even "filth" or "devil." (I personally don't use sexual slang so the c-word is out for me.)

Beyond that, b****y can be used affectionately, as a stronger form of "sassy."

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