I’ll be honest with you. When I thought of the name “Bitchtopia”, I just thought it sounded cool. I started Googling song lyrics from bands I liked, looking through the song titles, pairing words that might sound provocative and interesting. One of the pairings was Bitchtopia—as in, maybe, a “Utopia For Bitches”?—and we had our winner.
As we move closer to publishing our first issue, though, I think more and more about the name and why it’s so provocative. Specifically, what is it about the word ‘bitch’?!
The modern word ‘bitch’ is rooted in the Old English word bicce, derived from the Old Norse word bikkja, meaning ‘female dog’. The word began to be used as an insult around the 15th Century and was primarily applied to a promiscuous woman—the ‘metaphorical extension of the behavior of a female dog in heat’. According to an article written by Clare Bayley, the use of the word ‘bitch’ rose to serious popularity at exactly the same time that another movement began to grow—suffrage. For the first time on a systematic level, women began to gain an independent identity with the 1st Wave of Feminism, and their critics followed closely behind. Literature saw a rise in the use of “bitch” in reference to a difficult, annoying, interfering, or vulgar woman, as opposed to the primarily veterinary use of the word prior to the 1920’s.
The insult saw a dip in popularity during the WWII era, correlating with a high respect for women who were essential to the war effort and patriotic chivalry, and during the 50’s, correlating with the rise of ‘perfect housewives’ and suburban sprawl. Then suddenly, in the mid-60’s, the use of “bitch” rose to new heights—along with the 2nd Wave of Feminism. Interesting, right?
Today, the insult has grown into something much larger. It is even often applied to men, implying that the man is weak or not ‘masculine’ enough—that is, too “female”, because being female must be bad. Female politicians are often called ‘bitches’ for showing the same aggressiveness that a male politician would be praised for. I’ve been called a ‘bitch’ in a negative way countless times, by ex-lovers, by kids, even by strangers on the street. It still feels offensive and mean, even though I can walk into any grocery store and buy Sassy Bitch wine, make recipes from a diet cookbook called Skinny Bitch, buy my pregnant friend a pink onesie with ‘BITCH’ printed across the front of it, or register for a Stitch ‘n Bitch knitting class. The word has simultaneously lost meaning and continued to be insulting, violent and offensive when used in different contexts. This dichotomy creates a provocativeness that is hard to ignore.
In our 4th Wave of Feminism, I think we can safely say that the feminist movement has reclaimed “bitch” as a powerful, positive word, as women did in the 60’s and in the 90’s. This time, we are reclaiming it for powerful people. People, being cis-women, cis-men, trans people, queer, gay, straight, white, people-of-color, etc. We are continuing the work of feminists while adding our own spin on a growing movement, and with the creation of Bitchtopia.com, we hope to make a little utopia for all of us powerful bitches.