Noun or verb? Rob and Lucy discuss ‘bitch’.

12 Mar

In this great debate Rob and Lucy take on bitch. Are women biologically predisposed to bitch, or does society have something to do with it? (plus, cats get a mention).

Men punch and women bitch

Rob Kneebone

With the risk of generalising and putting genders in to boxes, it is probably a well known fact that women are generally more “bitchy” about each other than men are. Is this down to biological determinism or social conditioning?

 In the biological sense, men are very competitive, especially when competing for the advances of the opposite sex (or same sex if gay). But this competitiveness rarely winds up with men slagging each other off; instead, if men have a problem with each other, it [usually] results in a more assertive approach or confrontational approach. The female of the species, on the other-hand, tend to (and this is a mere generalisation) slag the “competitor” off behind their back. Whether this is to gain some sort of covert ‘power’ or whether it is because one side feels somehow threatened by the other is not always clear, but this gendered pattern does seem to occur. The fact this bitchiness only occurs within the genders of the human species must mean language is a necessary tool; without such, only physical means of attack can take place. You don’t catch felines slagging each other off (a “Me-ow” would not go very far in an attempt to offend another cat).

Why is it then that the human female must use language as a tool to feel superior over another female? Why do they feel the urge to bitch about each other?  The answer must be that they feel somewhat threatened. Bitchiness is futile though, as it does very little to make one feel any better about themselves; only more bitter, jaded and insecure..

 According to research published in the Royal Society Journal Biology Letters (in 1998) women tend only to bitch about each other before the menopause. Apparently,  before the menopause, women  release different hormones which affect they way the view their role within society. The consequent bitchiness is caused by women feeling they are in some sort of competition with other- when it comes to finding a potential partner and starting a family.

Can it just be down to hormones and genetic make-up? Or is it more to do with social conditioning? It would be interesting to do a study on groups of women in different cultures. For example, do tribal women in the Amazon rainforest suffer the same affliction within their social circles? Or is it just a Western problem? Is the media of the modern world to blame? Do the air-brushed women who adorn the covers of glossy magazines provoke some sort of resentment within the minds of the average girl next door, something to compare themselves and other women against? Or are men to blame for their gender’s often sexist depiction of what constitutes “the perfect woman” making women feel like they must compete with each other to attract the male of the species?

 The truth of the matter is men can be just as bitchy as women can, especially in today’s society, where the likes of reality TV programmes seem to endorse and celebrate such behaviour. A conclusion? Well, there isn’t one really, just mere suggestions and thoughts from experience. We all like to have a moan about each other-it makes us feel better in the short-term, we all like to fit in and find our own group. Unfortunately there is always going to be someone who thinks you’re an asshole. But on the flip-side, there will always be someone who you think is an asshole. The best thing to do whether you are female or male, gay or straight is to be assertive; if you have a problem with someone tell the person concerned and clear the air, or just avoid each other altogether. Simple!

 Assertive vs Bitch

Lucy Jackson

The practice of women adorning their desks with Disney merchandise and cutesy memorabilia in my current workplace is staggering.  In my eye-line right now there is a cereal bowl filled with miniature soft toys  next to a notebook in the shape of a miniature flip-flop which vies for space next to something colourful and plastic and as yet unidentified (which quite frankly looks more suited to the back shelves of Anne Summers). Seriously, WTF? I’m wondering if it’s an attempt to soften power status within the team dynamic,  and a sign of the impossible position women face in the workplace where the word ‘bitch’ is bandied around willy-nilly (ooh, how Freudian).  Can women ever be assertive?  Has there ever in recorded history been a women referred to as assertive without an eye-brow raise, the use of air quotations or a reference to her menstrual cycle? 

 Surely, for women, there is a better defence to this age-old problem than a pink fluffy tinkerbell pen and a precariously placed bunny in a bow tie?  It got me thinking about the many situations of perceived power that women appear to be in at the start of the 21st century, but how fearful we are of being assertive. Being bitchy or being perceived to be bitchy is used to assert or collude with power dynamics. I disagree completely in a biological basis, I do not believe women are bitchier than men, that women are innately less confrontational and more colluding than men.  I think societally a very convincing double-bluff exists in which women are told they are the ones putting pressure on other women to meet certain ideals. Ideals that they themselves have constructed and that men are entirely absent from.…Except, of course that this is complete bollocks. There still exists a single and essentialist definition of femininity that comes from nearly all media representations- be passive. Being assertive is neatly hidden as ‘masculine’ and being non-passive is being a bitch.

Celebrity judging panels seem to be one of the few spaces women are ‘allowed’ to be assertive (keep it low-culture), the x factor of course being a prime example.  However, their voices are somewhat muted by the masculine-ascribed beauty conventions they bow to, or, in my bitchiest voice- ‘the botoxed haute couture streetwalker look’ and the fact that every utterance from Cheryl Cole is prefixed with a ‘MEOW’ from (self-confessed SYCO) Simon Cowell. 

 Obviously there have been the usual attempts to reclaim and take ownership of the term ‘bitch’ and arguably this would be all well and good if it had the same connotation when used in reference to men, but a male ‘bitch’ is considered weak and ‘a pussy’.   How can ‘bitch’ be reclaimed if it is not consistent, I mean, for example, a cunt is a cunt is a cunt, invariable of gender. Indeed, a friend of mine recently regaled me with an anecdote of their last team meeting when a senior member of staff ordered a ‘whinging’ male colleague to “GROW A COCK”!  So after laughing, a lot, I took a moment to consider what a strange dichotomy men and women are facing in the workplace in the assertive/bitch stakes.  I think perhaps the best solution in the short term is the mugs featured here.

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One Response to “Noun or verb? Rob and Lucy discuss ‘bitch’.”

  1. inattheshallowend March 13, 2011 at 1:11 am #

    I am just about to read this. I canny wait. I shall crack open a beer and then settle down to it… whee!

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