The act of naming anything is a sacred endeavor –a baby, a company, a pet, a town, a book. Though I (and those I trust) wrestled with the name of the Beauty and the Bitch: Finding Grace for the Worst in me, its title came to rest as the only thing accurate enough to display the wonder that we are never able to fully erase, eradicate or hide the beauty of God, no matter how hard, cold, mean or dismissive we may become. This baby’s true name is Beauty, after all. The bitch in me or anyone else simply mars the beauty.
Because language means everything, I’d like to offer some thoughts around the title of the book.
1. The word has been hi-jacked. The word bitch in its unadulterated form, in its pristine meaning, is preciousas it is the moniker given to various female animals as they care for and tend to their young. When you envision a little den of foxes with babies nestled up to their mother to nurse,I am guessing that the word bitch doesn’t even come to your mind - such is the regrettable abduction of language. The word has new meanings now in the cultural vernacular – and we all know the majority of the meanings are derogatory. Very sad, but true.
2. The word ‘bitch’ is a word that we should only use about ourselves, and not to describe anyone else. Compare a wife saying “You don’t have balls” to “My love, I know you have more courage than you are displaying .” The first is not merely disrespectful; it is a contemptuous attempt to make a man feel small. Similarly, when a man (or another woman for that matter) says, “You are a bitch” - it is never okay, in any cultural situation, and regardless of the transgression. It crosses the line. Compare the contempt with a loving invitation, “My love, your attitude and behavior are abrasive(or cold) (or sullen) (or mean) (or manipulative), and I don’t think you want to be thought of in that way.” What a gorgeous alternative. The person can even say, “Please – I don’t think you want to sound so bitchy” and those words would not have the same shameful impact because they specify the behavior or attitude, and not the woman herself.
It is the proclamation of “This is who you ARE” which crosses the line into diminishment and harm. Anyone who works in the realm of domestic violence can trace abuse back to this kind of shaming.
I can call myself a bitch. But even then it must not cross the line into self-condemnation. It can be said in honest self- assessment, but it must not become banter. It is too precise of a word to be used frivolously. When I am a bitch, there is no other word for it, and I use it to call a spade a spade. But if I toss the word around as though it is a word to be played with, I fall into the trap of coarse jesting and talk that just isn’t helpful.
3. I have, of course, paid close attention to various contexts where the word is used, and – wow - it has been a cultural education. For example, in the show Breaking Bad, the culture of suburban Albuquerque and the culture of gangs and street drugs collide. In the suburban culture, the word connotes a hard, cold or whining and complaining woman. In the street culture, the word is bandied about almost as a term of endearment – a rusted form of ‘hey, buddy.’ It is used so often by Jesse, one of the main characters, it almost disappears into the haze of his desperation as a young man; the conflict he feels as he produces Crystal Meth. He uses the word a lot, and uses it to address just about any person of any importance in his life. It is a fraternal word, one that seems to say, “We are both bitches to the world (we are the lowly and degraded ones), but we are together.” It is simply a common greeting on the streets. For some young women I know who have lived on the streets for some time in Denver, the same is true – it is a part of their vernacular. It is a term of endearment, a collegial, ‘you’re in the group' expression of speech.
4. And then there are the ways the word is used in the book Beauty and the Bitch: Finding Grace for the Worst in Me. I write from three categories – fear and control, pride, and addiction. These three tendencies shroud beauty, and make us into someone who manifests the contemporary moniker of bitch: cold, complaining, sullen, defensive, harsh,inaccessible, guarded, and braced.
The good news: Beauty trumps bitch - in language, and in our hearts.