Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Babe In Total Control of Herself


Due to a discussion on an Ani DiFranco online community, I have been going over the word "bitch" when used as an insult. I know that this is territory that has been chewed to death by theorists, linguists and social commentators, most of whom are far more eloquent and informed than I. This discussion is more for me, and about what I will accept as descriptors and labels for myself.

"Bitch" in the English language is a decidedly gendered insult, the exact implication of which changing depending on who it is applied to. When applied to women, it seems to indicate a woman who is too "man-like" (eg. aggressive, driven, controlling, demanding, etc.) but when applied to men, it is intended to indicate a man who is to "woman-like" (eg. weak, flexible, emotional, etc.)

First of all, can/should a word be able to mean two different, "opposite" things when applied in the same way to two different people? To me, this defies logic at the very least. If we had too many words or linguistic structures that worked this way, language would cease to make sense.

Second, the use of this term reinforces a gender binary for social behaviors that is not carried out by any scientific evidence that can't be countered with an exploration of socialization and how it varies cross culturally.

I guess this could use some context. The conversation that started this was an accusation that Ani is "hard to work with." It had been leveled by local crews of music venues that had hosted her on her recent tour, and I have heard something similar from a friend of mine who used to work at a theatre in my area where she played a few years back. Someone in the community claimed that zie heard that Ani was a bitch.

Based on accounts from other people in the community who had worked with her, she kept a professional distance and had very specific and outlined needs and standards that she expected to be met. Nothing insane or entitled, just specific. According to these posters, working with her was stressful as hell, but when it came down to it, everything went off without a hitch, everything exactly where it needed to be.

It occurred to me that the script people expect one to follow if one appears female bodied is smiling, sweet, accommodating...hell, even I expected it of Ani. Girls who are good people ask nicely, wait their turn and don't make waves.

I all but slapped myself in the face when I realized that i had bought into that shit. Ani is a successful musician and CEO of her own recording company and music venue. She is self promoted, recorded and distributed. She rules every aspect of her business so she doesn't have to make the choice that the rest of us are expected to make: our values or our paychecks. To manage that, one must be driven, specific, aggressive, demanding and totally in control.

To be successful without sacrificing oneself, a woman has to be a bitch.

If being a woman who knows what she needs and demands it because she knows that asking nicely doesn't work makes me a bitch, then that is all I can ever hope to be. Hell, I wish I could have the courage to rewrite that script internally and be the bitch that I know I am.

cross posted in a few places

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