Bitch: Feminist Responses to Popular Culture
Smart Bitches, Trashy Books
Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women
To me, someone calling me a bitch means they think I'm aggressive, asserting my control, in charge, whatever, and they're probably threatened by that. I am those things, there's no reason why I shouldn't be, and the shock attached to the use of the phrase by whoever's saying it that suggests I shouldn't be those things is what annoys me most.
The only thing (or person, rather) who leaves her tongue-tied is her ex-boyfriend, Leo North, who, ten years before, in a drunken, grief-stricken mistake, slept with another girl then left Stacy to study for the priesthood. Back in town for Peach's wedding to Stacy's brother, Leo, it turns out, did not end up taking on the collar. And it also turns out he's not just back in town for the wedding; his therapist recommended that he see Stacy once again, so he'd stop "thinking of you as ... well. Mine. He said you'd be different. He said those feelings would go away, and I'd be able to finally let it go and move on" (70). To Leo's chagrin, his therapist had it wrong: he's just as drawn to Stacy as he was ten years ago.
And Stacy knows her feelings for Leo are just as strong as they ever were. But tough Stacy isn't as ready to mend fences as Leo is: "I wanted to throw my arms around him, kiss him until neither of us could see straight. Bring him to my bed and keep him there forever. But that was weakness, and if loving Leo had made me anything, it wasn't weak" (72). Intriguingly, though, it turns out that Leo's transgression isn't the only thing standing in the way of a joyful Stacy-Leo reunion. Turns out that Stacy's embrace of reclaimed bitchiness is not as unambiguous as she makes it seem.
Stacy also deploys the male form, "son of a bitch," when she wants to insult men who act in a similar, unfeeling way. Initially, when Leo first attempts to explain and apologize: "You slept with someone else, then left me to become a priest, you son of a bitch!" (68) and "You son of a bitch!... You left me" (69). And later in the story, when she discovers that Desmond Lamb, a fellow (male) conjurer has less than benign intentions towards her and the other women of Nodaway Falls, she uses it on four separate occasions to signal her contempt for his selfish, unfeeling attempts to use others for his own gain.
Yet despite her contempt for those who do not feel for others, tough, brash, rule-breaking Stacy is really worried that it is not her mother, or any of the unfeeling men in her life, but Stacy herself who is the true bitch. And that a bitch, even of the reclaimed variety, is not someone whom anyone can love. She attempts, mid-book, to apologize to Leo for their breakup:
"It's... me.... I'm ugly.... Not physically, okay. I know I'm pretty physically. But inside, where it matters. I'm an ugly person."
He huffed in the darkness. "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard."
"You should have left.... You saw me for what I really was.... Oh, come on. You saw me. When I was screaming at you, when I was throwing things at you... I saw the look on your face.... I scared you.... When I get angry, I get ugly. I know that. And once someone has seen that... I mean, how can I expect them to want to be around me?" (180-81)
According to the OED, the word "bitch" stems from the Old English bicce, or female dog. But by the sixteenth century, the word was just as commonly used as an insult aimed primarily at women, in particular at "lewd or sensuous" women, women whose sexuality was seen as threatening because uncontrolled. Today, its connotations include both this earlier sense, as well as a more general sense of a "malicious or treacherous woman"; when applied to an object, it also indicates something "outstandingly difficult or unpleasant."
Only after fully embracing reclaimed bitchiness can Stacy counter the unfeeling Desmond when he lofts the b-insult (in its earlier sense) in her direction during their final showdown. And only by forcing Desmond to reconnect with his own detached emotions, rather than shunning the power of her own feelings, can Stacy ultimately prevent Desmond from harming the people she loves.
Do you think "bitch" as a word is worth reclaiming? Are there other romance novels which use the word in a feminist, rather than a derogatory, way?
I'm Not a Bitch: Life Inspiration Quotes
Leymah Gbowee: Working Women in Aid and Development blog
That Touch of Magic
St. Martin's, 2014