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Word! The Language Column
“Bitch” is Back – and Women Now Own It

Illustration: two faces looking at each other, in between a jagged speech bubble with the word “Bitch”
The Bitch is Queen! She’s courageous and confident | © Goethe-Institut e. V./Illustration: Tobias Schrank

A misogynistic slur or a means to self-empowerment? “Bitch” is big in hip hop, but now it cuts both ways. Taiga Trece riffs and reflects on “bitch”.

By Taiga Trece

When talking about hip hop and language, the word “bitch” is bound to come up sooner or later. In this feminist age, the word is causing some contention, now that Germany’s most famous female rappers are shaking up the male-dominated scene and co-opting “bitch” to give the word a positive spin. Google the words “boss bitch” or “bad bitch”, for example, and you’ll find content galore. And the MC scene is now packed with tough chicks who confidently identify as “bitches”. 

“Are you a bitch?”

“Are you a real hip hop bitch?” Thore, a TV presenter on Pro-Sieben, asked me point-blank with cameras rolling. “Yes,” I answered point-blank. What else could I say? Was Thore really aware what a word he was confronting me with in front of millions of spectators?!
“Bitch” means a female dog and is used vulgarly to refer to the uncontrollability and aggressiveness of a female dog in heat. It’s usually men who use it to put down women, a lot like the German word “Schlampe”.
Is that what Thore meant? That I’m a female dog in heat? No, definitely not. What he was actually asking was whether I really “eat, breathe and sleep” hip hop. Needless to say, Pro-Sieben aired this very part of the interview on, prime time, at a quarter past eight, on 21 October 2021. After all, bitches are good for ratings, especially on a German reality talent show like The Voice of Germany.

No-go or normal?

The meaning of the word “bitch” changes according to who says it and how, with what intonation and in what context. It’s a fine line between degradation and emancipation. It can be used to mean a sexist, misogynistic slur, a term of endearment or an exclamation of incredulity or appreciation.
It’s generally a no-go for a man to call a woman a bitch. But it’s perfectly normal in the rap scene, where you hardly ever hear the word “woman”. It’s the done thing for (gangsta) rappers to put down women using pejorative epithets: women are supposed to be submissive and sexually available to men, so the men can  shore up their alpha status within the pack. But it’s also applied to men to mean a guy “with no balls” – which is, of course, equally sexist. So men should use the word sparingly, if at all.
But the word actually has a positive connotation among female rappers, many of whom riff on “bitch”, identify as such and invest the word with a feminist meaning. It has caught on in the LGBTQ+ community, too, where it’s generally associated with  feminine attributes. 
So who gets to say “bitch”? The rule here is: What I say about myself is my call, my claim, I get to call myself whatever I please. If someone else uses it, it’s an assessment or an assumption and therefore offensive to me.

2022 is bitchin’! 

In 2020, Katja Krasavice, a German singer and influencer, put out a book provocatively titled Bitchbibel (Bitch Bible). And in 2021, the rapper Shirin David released her album Bitches brauchen Rap (Bitches Need Rap). I wouldn’t go as far as to say they’ve actually upgraded the “bitch”. But with clicks and followers running into the hundreds of millions, they’ve encouraged countless women and girls to own the “bitch”, to say it’s cool, it’s hip, to be a “bitch” – whatever that may mean. And to say that “bitch” ain’t bad just because male rappers use it to diss us women. So it’s really all about a new take on the word as a means to self-empowerment.
Being a bitch also means breaking with society’s stereotypes and expectations and marching to your own beat instead. The Bitch is Queen! She’s courageous and confident. So if you want to claim the word for yourself, I can only say: Go, Bitch, go!

A feminist issue?

Would women use the word “bitch” as frequently if they wrote their own lyrics? The music industry is eighty per cent male. Women are likely an even smaller minority in hip hop. And the lyrics performed by most female artists, including the above-mentioned Shirin and Katja as well as lots of others, are actually written by men. Which is why the feminist take on “bitch” needs to be questioned: Is appropriating “the bitch” truly emancipating or merely yet another platform for patriarchal views? 
So when Thore asks me if I’m a “hip hop bitch” and I know full well that Pro-Sieben doesn’t have the air time for an in-depth exposition – or any interest in hearing it anyway – then it’s only logical I should have hip hop’s back and say, yes, you bitches, I’m a real hip hop bitch.
After all, bitch don’t kill my vibe!

Word! The Language Column

Our column “Word!” appears every two weeks. It is dedicated to language – as a cultural and social phenomenon. How does language develop, what attitude do authors have towards “their” language, how does language shape a society? – Changing columnists – people with a professional or other connection to language – follow their personal topics for six consecutive issues.