Back in 2012, Kanye West argued with himself on Twitter over the use of the word "bitch" as a term of endearment in hip-hop. Fast forward five years and it sounds like we've moved way past any debate over normalizing the word, even when it's meant as a compliment.
It all began in early November when a Twitter user posted this photo and caption of pop singer Taylor Swift.
In the past week, this tweet became a meme and thousands of Twitter users shared the stories of great women, both of prominence and in their personal lives, who are "badder" than Swift. My personal favorites are Harriet Tubman and some of the women who fought against the Nazis in World War II, like Franceska Mann and Mariya Vasilyevna Oktyabrskaya.
As a child, Harriet Tubman had her skull crushed in by a slave owner, was left w/o medical attention for 2 days, + then was returned to working the fields. She went on to rescue dozens of slaves + be the first woman to lead an armed assault during the CW. https://t.co/Swgus7BlRO— Jane Coaston (@cjane87) December 3, 2017
Franceska Mann, the Polish ballerina, who, while being led to the gas chamber, stole a Nazi guard’s gun, shot him dead, and started a female-led riot that gave hope to all of the prisoners of Auschwitz in the face of certain death https://t.co/s7yM6MDYT5— Hollywood Histories (@moviehistories) December 2, 2017
Mariya Vasilyevna Oktyabrskaya: her husband was killed by the Nazis in 1941 during Operation Barbarossa. She went to the Soviet gov’t and demanded to get a tank to kill Nazis. The gov’t relented and she killed Nazis with her tank. pic.twitter.com/9Iinz8ndxx— (╯°□°）╯︵ ┻━┻ (@shonan_naminori) December 2, 2017
In many ways, this social media campaign to find women who are "badder" than Taylor Swift is a good thing. It forces people who are ignorant of history to acknowledge the many great accomplishments and contributions women have made to society. It also comes at a crucial time where we can share stories about women who survived being harassed, assaulted, or raped and come out stronger than before.
But should we really be calling these women "bitches?" Historically, the word has been used in contempt of women, and the Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (written in 1811) says it's "the most offensive appellation that can be given to an English woman, even more provoking than that of whore."
Of course, the word "bitch" extends offense to all women, not just English women. Most, if not all, women take offense to the word if someone addresses them that way in a negative context. Oftentimes, it's used playfully between friends. Yet, after years of African-Americans, particularly rappers, defending their use of the word as a term of endearment, the rest of us have caught on like it's acceptable for both women and men to use.
Let's be clear: Men don't have a license to call a woman a "bitch" without repercussions. The word is still incredibly offensive. While I don't like engaging in the policing others' speech, men can still acknowledge the "baddest" women out there, especially in their own lives, without having to call them a "bitch."