Sep 17, 2007

On the Rise of "Bitch" and "Jackass" Culture

While waiting in line for a cup of coffee I happened to overhear a conversation between two young women. They were discussing the relative merits of the phenomenon known in a colloquial sense as "being a total bitch."

"Jake says he appreciates that I am such a total bitch," enthused the first young woman. "I tell him straight up what he needs to hear."

Admittedly I was raised in a different generation, and the connotations of the word "bitch" are perhaps different. I suspect my father would have whooped the living bejeesus out of me had I ever used the term "bitch" to describe a human female, and I grew up with this cultural belief deeply ingrained in my psyche.

Yet, even while acknowledging my cultural biases, I sense that there is still an element of personal debasement involved in the embracing of the moniker "total bitch." To my ears, this is a person parroting ethically-challenged nonsense from reality drivel such as MTV's Real World, and I shudder to think of a world in which women are reduced to "total bitches" and men to drunken jackasses. There is even a cosmetic line of products dedicated to women who want to be seen as the Total Bitch.

To my eyes this seems to be more than mere fleeting fashion, and I see evidence that this mindset is manifesting itself at ever younger ages. Mall stores and online retailers are filled with clothing advertising such My Boyfriend is Out of Town, Pillow Talk is Extra, or Bros Before Hoes, and clueless parents think it is "cute" for their daughters to wear Lolita-like outfits and their sons to strut around in boxer shorts like oversexed animals in heat.

I will inevitably get emails and comments that I am being a hopeless prude, or that I ought to get out more, both of which contain elements of truth. Yet over the past two decades I have seen a gradual degradation of human dignity that I think transcends the momentary shock value of Total Bitch T-shirts and Jackass videos. I sense that there is a sort of reverse individualism at work here: in embracing these negative stereotypes and cultural exemplars, we are simultaneously reinforcing the notions of inferior social castes. While I am not ready to argue that this is some vast conspiracy to expand the Lumpenproletariat, at the same time I despair at seeing a generation of youth for whom "cum dumpster" and "bitch magnet" are seen as interpersonal ideals.


HumboldtsClio said...

I happen to agree with your disgust on using derogatory terms as a form of self identity, although I might offer the counter argument that it has a lot to do with removing the power of the word by bringing it into common use. If you embrace the concept of being a bitch, then it doesn't have quite the same effect when someone yells it to your face. As weird as it sounds, it is a form of female empowerment, though I'm not sure that that is a good thing.

historymike said...

I have heard similar arguments for the "recovery" of the N-word by African Americans, or "fa--ot" by gays, HumboldtsClio.

I think the end result is continued degradation, though. These words do lose their power to hurt, but seem to drag down those who embrace them.

And, while I agree that there is an element of empowerment involved with self-identifying as a "bitch" (or as an "asshole," or whatever derogatory term is being used/embraced), I think the negatives outweigh the positives.

Barb said...

The Bratz dolls are questionable, too. Do we want little girls to identify as Brats? I'm not too familiar with them myself but understand from my daughter that they are sort of punk-types. Her niece wanted those dolls as her room decor.