Let's face it: some words are ugly. Among the hundreds of thousands of words that fill the average English-language dictionary, a few, in particular, tend to incite the masses due to their incendiary associations. One such word is "bitch," a term that historically was highly taboo but which has largely been co-opted by the mainstream over time as a less harmful term. Consider for a moment Joy Behar yelling "skinny bitch!" on ABC's "The View," or any number of popular songs or books in recent years that have succeeded in making the word less of a curse word than it was in the past.
I've noticed several consequences of the more frequent usage of the b- word in everyday life as playful or humorous, as opposed to nasty and derogatory. First, let's consider its usage by women. For example, it's not uncommon to overhear a group of twenty-something women at a restaurant or bar laughing and joking with each other, as one or more call out in jest, "You bitch!" The frequent use of this term by women with each other seems to suggest that women can take the word back, as some like to say, and own it, thus stripping it of its historical chains. As an aside, I'm never completely convinced that a once-marginalized group of people can ever truly "take it back" after a term lived for so many previous years in the clutches of a mainstream culture that used that nasty word to keep such a group of people down.
But the troubling use of the b-word isn't limited to women. In fact, it's regularly employed now in conversation among men, who call each other the b- word as if it's lost its gender association. Most concerning, men have come to use the word with each other in a come-on-it's-harmless manner. At the end of the day, the b-word is a bad word, one that many women find to be highly insulting, and we should be careful to not use it.
Yet the mainstreaming of the b-word is important not just because of who uses it and how, but because its acceptance into the mainstream has cleared the way, over time, for other awful, misogynistic terms to be accepted, as well. Chief among them is "gold-digger." This term - less extreme than the b- word but which stems from the same mean-spirited place - makes me sick to my stomach and, I know firsthand from clients in my practice, has an equal or greater impact on women.
The term "gold-digger" gets thrown around like car keys flung on the kitchen table, but the traits of the target of such vitriol are clear: the gold-digger is scheming, vapid, and predatory. She's a one-note tune, a shell of a woman who breathes in dollar signs and destroys all men in her path. The so-called gold-digger has no feelings, no true convictions, and dreams in Technicolor for all things money can buy. Wow, I know a lot of women, but I don't know any women like that. Yet men and women alike seem to use this term in a diagnostic way, summing such a woman up as if the label were true or indicative of a thorough investigation into her character. Really, I know that we, as a society, are capable of better than rushing to such judgment.
If you believe that the b- word is okay to use, take an informal poll with a few different women and see what you come up with. Similarly, if you believe that a term like "gold-digger" is just a harmless term that women shouldn't take offense to, think twice. Though it's wrapped in a prettier package and hasn't received the same analysis as the b- word, the truth is that it's a half-step away. This term, like the b-word, is mean and unjust. To move forward as a culture, we need to take a stand when we hear others use it, and put a stop to it for good.
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