“Bitches ain’t shit.”
But that reality rap ain’t for you, girl. That line is for them. For those women. Those women gotta change their ways to rid themselves of the label. Until then, how will men respect them? It’s a curious dynamic. Until you can figure that out, gon’ and let them play the song, and you, you just rap along. A majority of music today is full of degrading lyrics anyway. Don’t get sensitive now. It’s all just entertainment. No one really believes it. It’s just music. And words. Words that seep into your blood and alter the entire flow of your everything. But, it’s nothing. Don’t give power to the words, girl. Don’t discredit that rapper. That group. You’re not a bitch, but the word—the ugly narrative of male dominance and sexism—will remind you that if you act like a bitch, then you deserve to be treated as one. So act right, whatever right is.
Fresh conversations about old wounds—like those on journalist Dee Barnes’ head after being slammed into a wall by a man twice her size—show a reluctance to acknowledge women as little more than a receptacle for arbitrary and vitriolic definitions of womanhood. Women like Barnes have had their voices stifled and have been forced to watch their famous perpetrators proudly exclaim, through laughter and approving head nods, that the “bitch had it coming,” and “the bitch deserved it.” Barnes still suffers the effects of being a woman with a voice, even when her own is drowned out by a continuous, migraine-induced ringing in her ears. A decades-long reminder of her violent encounter with him.
She is yet another woman reduced to a denigrating epithet; the word used to validate the castigation of her body. She was not a woman deserving of protection; her abuser was. She was a bitch. And bitch has become synonymous with woman, used by people who will argue their right to engage in chauvinism and oppression toward women because they fail to acknowledge that either truly sits hand-in-hand at the base of the label.
Their supporters say you’re not a bitch. This doesn’t apply to you. You had better not be offended. Somehow, intrinsically, the presumed and suggested correctness of your femininity, the docility of your silence, the modification of your behavior, has exempted you from falling into a category discernable only to those who have popularized the phrase. These are our brothers. Our brothas on the block, and in the classroom, and in the boardroom, swapping lyrics that create curriculum for the next generation. They were once interested in protecting their sisters, and their sistas, but their chains got too heavy, so they draped them around our necks for relief and named us as a byproduct of their affectation. Chains by any other name would still hurt as much. Now, their chains are gold and swing over us as they reach through to drop a pill in our drink at the bar. The songs become instructions. Blast the song in defiance. Turn it up more! Drink this. You’re not sweatin’, yet. Bounce that ass, bitch. It stings. We still love you. We dance. We feel guilty. It’s complicated.
Being called a bitch shouldn’t hurt as much, they say, because it’s not a word reserved for every woman. No! That would be ridiculous. The word is for groupies and women with attitudes, according to Ice Cube, former member of that group, who is now a successful actor and movie producer. Bitch is reserved women who fuck with your head. For women who submit to the spoils of dimly lit hotel rooms, star status, and the ecstasy of night. For women who lay down easily. Those who refuse to lay down. And those who rebel against patriarchal authority.
Bitch is for women, period. It’s fluid, like the drank poured over the bodies of women at the concerts we all love to hate to love. Take those women back to the hotel rooms and have your way with them. You’ve trained yourself to believe that they are nothing worth feeling beyond their sexual capability. Drag them by their imaginary chains and remind them that they are the bitches in the music even if they never set foot inside one of those rooms or concerts. And if one tries to rescind her consumption, put her in her place. Push her out of a hotel room by her head. Mock the event later in a hit movie. Hear the audience laugh when they learn of the origins. These types of women are disposable objects. But, somehow, your wife is not. Your daughter is not. Your mother is not. You’d kill someone for disrespecting them by flinging that dirt. They are asked to listen to the same lyrics from the comfort of their understanding. But, they are women hearing the ease of usage of the word. Bitch.
And the bad gets in.
For men, on and offstage, who explain away misogyny, women should display sexy sycophantic ways that offer no challenge. And women shouldn’t feel pained behind the free-flowing usage of a word that is simultaneously all-encompassing and discriminate. They want you to believe that you’re not a bitch, even when the word makes its way into your comfort zone. You aren’t a bitch because he says you’re not. But, he has the authority to change his mind at any time. He has the authority to change a culture at any time. Do not make him do that. Stay in your place. Don’t be strong. Don’t ask the hard questions. Don’t be Dee. Don’t be Rihanna. Don’t be Michel’le. Don’t be a tired housewife who asks for help. Don’t be the fiancee of a football star unable to control his anger. Don’t be a woman on the dance floor who denies his disrespectful advances. Don’t be a woman on the street trying to ignore his lascivious catcalls. Do not be what a man does not want you to be, lest you be a bitch. You didn’t stay in your place, so a man felt compelled to chain you to it. And people will support him because he must have known what was best in that situation, because remember what your big brother or uncle or homeboy or father told you: Bitches ain’t shit. Instead, turn up the volume and ignore your responsibility to be the best version of yourself. The bad gets comfortable.
Filmmaker Ava DuVernay recently visited a local LA movie theater to view the newly released F. Gary Gray vehicle, Straight Outta Compton. In a series of rapidly shared tweets, DuVernay reviewed the film, and highlighted the paradox within N.W.A., gangsta rap, and the larger culture. “To be a woman who loves hip hop at times is to be in love with your abuser,” one tweet read.
Rap shouldn’t turn us against each other. Women are neither the enemy nor the cast off. The masochistic and sometimes-painful relationship that women like me have with the misogyny in the music we love, understand these words as venomous when uttered, words that will be internalized and actualized by the next generation. Misogyny didn’t begin with rap, but until women and bitch are no longer indistinguishable, rap is going to be yet another divisive and oppressive tool. And Billionaires With Attitudes will continue to include skits on new albums about reducing women to bitches, and killing them, 20-plus years after that first album taught generations that we were nothing.
And the bad stays in.
Tiffany Hobbs is a photographer, writer, poet, and occasional rapper living in Los Angeles. She has enjoyed underground success appearing on albums and hosting radio shows where she champions the causes of the Hood, which she loves and uses as inspiration in her art. Tiffany can be found at @SpiffyTiffyH.
[Illustration by Tara Jacoby]