Yesterday, a friend casually mentioned a conversation she and her 9-year-old niece had shared. Apparently, the little girl was concerned with the way she was feeling, and described herself as “bitchy.”
“I think I might be hitting puberty, because I’m acting like such a bitch these days,” the girl told her aunt, going on to express the idea that her moodiness might mean she’s about to get her period sometime in the near future.
Nine years old is where the puberty clock may start ticking for some, and her irritability may, in fact, be hormonally related, but “bitchy?” Not exactly natural verbiage for a girl of this age.
Someone had to teach her this word.
Yes, children have access to a plethora of inappropriate words — think how many they must overhear on TV alone. But rarely does a child actually know how to apply these words, unless specifically instructed.
What made this young girl equate menstruation with the word, “bitchy?”
Raunchier television shows depict women casually and carelessly flinging the word back and forth at each other. It’s never defined, but it’s understood: “Bitch” is some sort of degrading insult. So, for the child who doesn’t know what “bitch” means, how does she suddenly understand it as something that comes along with having her period?
Somebody behind the scenes had to give her an example. Someone … on the home front.
“Oh, it’s her time of the month, that’s why she’s a bitch.”
“Stop being such a bitch. What, do you have your period, or something?”
“What do you expect? She’s a bitch. It comes with being female. Duh.”
It hurts me to think of a little girl referring to herself as a bitch. It makes me feel hopeless, as if we’re never going to get out of this stupid word game we insist on playing over and over and over again.
Bad moods are bad moods. Sometimes they come as a result of hormonal upsets within our bodies. Sometimes things don’t go the way we want them to. And, occasionally, we just snap at others. But bad moods are not restricted to female anatomy. A bad mood, one that might even get stamped as “bitchy,” is an emotional state that can easily belong to either gender.
The definition of bitch as female dog is restricted to the world of canine terminology. No one’s thinking “female dog” as they spit the word out, hoping to take their target down a notch. “Bitch” means one thing now: a female at her worst — her ugliest.
What better way to demean a young woman, then, by letting her know, right at the onset of her life, that the moodiness she can’t help but feel due to the natural healthy function of her own body will now and forever be linked with ugliness. Nice way to jump-start a life of self-doubt. Welcome to the human race, where men are men and women are bitches.
Of course, there are the power-women who will disagree with me. You know, the ones who embrace the word, in some sort of attempt to defy the negativity associated with it.
“Yeah, well, if being a strong woman makes me a bitch, then call me a bitch!”
Really? Why can’t I just call you a strong woman?
Bitch is not a power term. And women who call themselves or other women “bitches” not only settle for second place, they teach the future women of the world to accept themselves as the eternal bearers of unlovable traits.
If a man calls another man a bitch, what he’s really saying is: “You are so bad at what you do that you’re not even a man anymore. You’re a woman, you’re THAT bad.”
Think that’s no biggie? That it’s just a part of today’s lexicon? Then, please, tell me, which is the part you want your daughter to believe? That she’s THAT bad? That what makes her bad is the fact that she’s female? That menstruating is certainly proof positive of this fact?
Don’t women have enough challenges? I mean, in certain parts of the world, simply being born female grants you a life where heinous acts of cruelty — think clitorectomy, breast ironing, mutilations — are passed off as cultural rites of passage. Do we have to be called bitches, too? Do we have to teach our children that this is the norm?
Seriously, this is getting old. Wasn’t “beeyotch” yesterday’s pop phrase? Do you really want your daughters to sound like Snookie and JWoww from “Jersey Shore” — women who toss the word around with abandon?
On the surface, a word is just a bunch of letters strung together. But words carry meaning, and meanings carry ideas. And ideas, like poison, can cripple young minds.
So, to the little 9-year-old girl who just called herself a bitch, I want you to listen:
You’re not a bitch. You’re an amazing person whose body is a glorious, healthy vessel for the brilliant, young spirit that’s inside of you. You’ll have your ups and downs, just like everyone else on this planet. Stay keen, stay aware and stay individual.
And, one day, when you defy all the words that belittle you, you’ll never even think of referring to yourself as a bitch. You’ll think of two simple, yet powerful words: Strong Woman.
Originally published on January 13, 2011 for AOL’s ParentDish Magazine.