Men Calling Men Bitches – It’s Not Sexist, Right?

It’s the year 2015 and I think (read: hope) that by now it is largely accepted that calling a woman a bitch is misogynistic. Even if not everyone abides by this assumed status quo, most have probably at least considered the thought (whether or not they care about it is a different topic).

Now that most of my peers are respectful of the fact that calling a woman a bitch is sexist and socially unacceptable I’ve noticed a trend with regard to whom they are now directing the word “bitch,” and I’m writing this to express my discomfort with it. I’m talking specifically about men calling each other bitches.

Bitch” generally refers to a woman who is “crazy,” “too assertive” or some combination of the two. Traditionally the word has been an insult reserved for women under the assumption that women are overly-emotional beings by nature, which causes them to act “crazy.” Men on the other hand are historically seen as logical and unemotional creatures and therefore their actions are generally looked at as justified.

Let’s look specifically at why the word “bitch” is sexist when it’s directed by a man toward a man. In all the times I’ve witnessed a man call a fellow man a bitch it is with regard to his masculinity, or lack thereof. I’ve often times heard men referred to as bitches when they do something “girly” or unmasculine. Arguably the worst insult that can be given to a man is one that attacks his masculinity, hence common insults like “pussy,” or “little bitch.” What do both of these insults have in common? If you answered that they both refer to women, you’d be correct! Calling a man a bitch is sexist because the point of doing so is to attack his masculinity by likening him to traditionally feminine characteristics, therefore making him feel subordinate. For all intents and purposes, instead of saying “don’t be a little bitch” when your friend orders a cocktail instead of an IPA at a bar, you might as well say, “don’t be like a woman, because displaying feminine characteristics is shameful!”

When I attempt to explain to male friends why I’m not too keen on them calling each other bitches, the usual response I get goes like this: “It wasn’t directed at a woman, so it’s not sexist!” Well, that’s a nice thought, but the insult was still a product of internalized sexism. A refute to that point is often: “But I didn’t mean anything sexist by it!” Well my friend, that’s the problem with internalized sexism (or racism, classism, or literally any other kind of -ism). Microaggressions like these come about because of subconscious assumptions that society has about women. You didn’t have to personally mean anything by it; all you had to do was say it and the cycle of internalized sexism will just keep on turning.

For anyone who still doesn’t quite understand or see the problem, here’s an analogy I like to use: Do you remember back when you were a bit younger, when the word “gay” was used to describe something kids thought was stupid or lame? Well the word “bitch” can be thought of similarly.* Calling something one disapproves of “gay” renders the word synonymous with “stupid.” Similarly, insulting a man when he does something “feminine” renders him subordinate. Fortunately, in my experience the “gay” trend eventually fizzled out after much backlash by the people who realized (and cared) that it was oppressive toward the LGBT community.

The good news after all of this is, if you’re a male reading this you can help end the cycle of internalized sexism! The first step is simply educating yourself about misogynistic microaggressions and the harm they can have on people (step one is underway if you’re reading this article!). Step two is to push back. If you’re at a bar and you hear a friend calling another male friend a “little bitch” for ordering a sweet alcoholic drink, push back. Or if you witness someone being chastised for expressing emotion? Stand up for him and start a conversation with the perpetrator about why that kind of thinking is problematic. We need to reverse the thinking that anything “feminine” is shameful or inferior. If we don’t fight back against internalized injustices or microaggressions we will never end the ongoing cycle. Fortunately you can be part of the solution if you choose to be.

*Disclaimer: It isn’t my intention to liken these two words or claim that they are the exactly the same in any way; I am simply trying to provide understanding via an analogy.

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