Turning the Table or Turning the Trick
A socio-linguistic Gender Analysis of the Stereotype ‘BITCH’ in Afro-American Hip Hop with special Emphasis on Female Artists
Term Paper 2012 17 Pages
Table Of Contents
2.) Theoretical Aspects
2.1) Gender and Linguistics
2.2) Stereotyping and Labelling
2.3) A Brief History of the Term Bitch
3.) Move Bitch, Get Out the Way! Aggression and Violence Against Women in Afro-American Hip Hop
4.) Who You Calling a Bitch? Resistance Against the Term in the Beginning of Female Hip Hop
5.) I’m the Bonnie to Your Clyde! The Emergence of Female ‘Gangster-Bitches’
6.) You Can’t Tell Me That I Am Not The Baddest Bitch! ‘Bitches’ in Contemporary Female Hip Hop
8.) Works Cited
The stereotype ‘bitch’ is probably one of the most common female stereotypes used in Hip Hop music. Especially many male artists glorify, justify and thus, normalise the objectification and exploitation of women in their songs and videos. Rap-lines of popular artists like:"Bitches ain't shit but hoes and tricks; Lick on these nuts and suck the dick; Get’s the fuck out after you’re done [...]"(Dogg Bitches Ain’t Shit) reduce women to sex objects and reveal the misogynistic character of Hip Hop music.
In this thesis, I will concentrate on a certain “community of practice” (McConnell-Ginet 71), which is the Afro-American Hip Hop culture of the United States of America.
Hip Hop evolved out of black cultures (Watkins 9) and was practiced in American ghettos since the 1970’s. Those ghettos were mostly inherited by Afro-Americans and the Hip Hop movement began to rise in this context.
Hip Hop music has undergone major transformations in the last two decades. One of the most significant occurred in the early 1990s with the emergence of Gangsta Rap. The St.James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture identifies Gangsta Rap as the most controversial type of rap music, having received global attention for “its vivid sexist, misogynistic, and homophobic lyrics, as well as its violent depiction of urban ghetto life in America” (Abram, 198).
Due to the rising emancipation and the feminist movements, women are increasingly present and active in all parts of life and so they are in making Hip Hop music. Therefore, the question emerges if the stronger appearance of female Hip Hop musicians challenges the determination of the stereotype ‘bitch’ in Afro-American Hip Hop culture.
Therefore, I will research how the stereotype ‘bitch’ is constructed in Hip Hop culture, with special emphasis on female artists. For this reason, I will combine the fields of Linguistics and Gender Studies.
2.) Theoretical Aspects
2.1) Gender and Linguistics
Gender is “a performative accomplishment compelled by social sanction and taboo” (Butler, “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution”), which means it is something we perform in order to create our identity in society. Judith Butler argues that there is no connection between sex (biological factors) and gender (social construction), as many scholars do (see Shapiro 1981), because this would imply the perception that there are only two genders which are naturally given according to our sex: feminine and masculine (ibid.). Butler’s approach is called Deconstructive Approach, because she deconstructs the social consensus of two sexes with two designated genders. Therefore, Judith Butler was one of the pioneers of Queer Theory, a theory which looks beyond the constraints of hetero- sexuality and gender binary and admits that there is not just femininity and masculinity but a wide range of identities in between. Nevertheless, these constraints are still present and deeply anchored in our society. Queer theorist Michael Warner gets to the heart of the problem in the introduction of his book Fear of a Queer Planet: Queer Politics and Social Theory: “The sexual order is so deeply embedded by now in an indescribably wide range of social institutions, and is embedded in the most standard accounts of the world [...]” (Warner Introduction). In the paragraph A Brief History of the Term Bitch will be explained how these gender-constraints lead to the construction of ‘bitches’.
How does this fit with the study field of Linguistics? As mentioned before, gender is something we perform. In our everyday performance, language plays a very important part. It is our main tool of communication, and even language can be gendered. One of the most influential works in the field of Linguistics and Gender Studies was Robin Tolmach Lankoff’s Language and a Woman’ Place in 1975, in which she examines what influence gender has on the speech behaviour of certain people, especially women. Lankoff’s most important approach regarding this essay is:
Women experience linguistic discrimination in two ways; in the way they are taught to use language, and in the way general language use to treats them. Both tend [...] to relegate women to certain subservient functions: That of sex objects, or servant; and therefore certain lexical items mean one thing applied to men, another to women, a difference that cannot be predicted, except with reference to the different roles the sexes play in society (Lankoff 39)
It is obvious that Lankoff only talks of two sexes and two genders. Nevertheless, her approach will be useful during my analysis of the term bitch used in Afro-American Hip Hop, because the “sexual order” (Warner Introduction) is still established in Hip Hop culture. Moreover, Lankoff’s argument of objectification and relegation of women to “certain subservient functions” (ibid.) can be applied to my analysis to examine which function the term ‘bitch’ has in the context of Hip Hop culture.
Concluding, gender and language are mutually dependent, because we exercise language according to the gender we want to perform and language is exercised on us according to the gender we do perform.
2.2) Stereotyping and Labelling
Stereotypes are “fixed, often simplistic generalisations about a particular group or class of people” (Cardwell 1999). For example, if a person behaves acts or looks in a particular way which we subscribe to a certain stereotype, like the stereotype ‘bitch’, we label the person as such. If the labelled person only fulfils some of the characteristics of a ‘bitch’, we still label him or her as such and automatically add the set of characteristics we assign to the stereotype of the ‘bitch’ to this person (ibid.). It is also important to mention, that stereotypes are not only produced and reproduced by single persons or groups, but also by certain cultures and institutions like the Hip Hop culture. Stereotypes are the mirror of the interplay between people, their culture and institutions. Therefore, stereotypes are “fixed generalisations” (ibid.) but their meaning and connotation can vary over time because cultures are constantly changing.
Concluding, labels are “used to describe or to evaluate, to sort people into kinds” (69) whereas stereotyping adds a certain set of characteristics to the labeled person.
In the next paragraph I will examine the term ‘bitch’ to find out what characteristics belong to this stereotype and how it evolved and changed over time.
2.3) A Brief History of the Term Bitch
If we try to investigate where the stereotype ‘bitch’ comes from, we have to start at its origins, which lie in the Old English period where the term ‘bicce’ was used to describe a female dog. According to scholar Geoffrey Hughes, the word ‘bicce’ was unlike its Old Norse cognate ‘bikkja’ “not used demeaningly in the earliest period of the language” (Hughes 23) but was used to describe a “promiscuous or sensual woman” (24) and was a “metaphorical extension of a bitch in heat” (ibid.) which was an indicator of female fertility. Clare Bailey, a feminist blogger, posted a research on the history of the word ‘bitch’ where she points out that “its use as an insult was propagated into Old English by the Christian rulers of the Dark Age to suppress the idea of femininity as sacred.” (Bailey, “Bitch: a history”). Female sexuality was feared as sinful and tempted since the abandonment of Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden, which is best portrayed in The Blessed Virgin Mary, who gave birth to Jesus without having sexual intercourse. Moreover, Bailey publishes an evaluation regarding the popularity of the word ‘bitch’ from the early 19th century until now. She found out that it is possible to “trace the rise of the word ‘bitch’ into 4 different periods” (ibid.), which she calls the definition, the rise, the reclamation and the popularisation (ibid.). She argues that the last three periods can be “tied to specific events in American feminism” (ibid), as for example the women’s suffragette movement in the 19th century, where the use of the word ‘bitch’ started to rise continuously, because its connotation was used to degrade the attitudes of ‘the new women’ . Literature started to portray “attractive, independent and highly educated young women” (Willis 53) who were in no way as quiet, “sensitive and suffering” (ibid.) as women were in the Victorian Ages. These new characteristics of women were turned against them by people who supported traditional values. These people characterised the ‘New Women’ as:”Malicious or consciously attempting to harm; Difficult, annoying, or interfering; Sexually brazen or overly vulgar.” (Bayley, “Bitch: a history”). These characteristics had an influence on the modern stereotype of a ‘bitch’.
In the 1968, the publication of The BITCH Manifesto offered a new understanding of ‘bitch’ as a resistance against conventional conceptions of women and therefore can be regarded as the period of reclamation. The author Jo Freeman, a women’s liberation activist and author, adds a strongly positive connotation to the word. She writes that bitches are never “true women” (Freeman, “The BITCH Manifesto”), because they are “aggressive, assertive, domineering, overbearing and strong-minded […]” (ibid.).
Our society has defined humanity as male, and female as something other than male. In this way, females could be human only by living vicariously thru a male. To be able to live, a woman has to agree to serve, honor, and obey a man and what she gets in exchange is at best a shadow life. Bitches refuse to serve, honor or obey anyone. They demand to be fully functioning human beings, not just shadows. They want to be both female and human. This makes them social contradictions. The mere existence of Bitches negates the idea that a woman's reality must come thru her relationship to a man and defies the belief that women are perpetual children who must always be under the guidence of another.
Therefore, women in a feminist context started to turn the table and used the characterisations that were ought to be insulting as a form of liberation. At the same time the Hip Hop Culture began to rise in the United States of America. Whereas among feminists and liberated women the term ‘bitch’ was used mostly with a positive connotation, Hip Hop culture offered a very different context in which the term was still burdened with a negative connotation. Especially in the context of ‘gangster-rap’, the word ‘bitch’ was used to insult women. This can be explained by the fact that the feminist movement arouse in the context of white, middle class, academic women whereas black women were excluded from this “community of practice” (Mc Connel-Ginet 71).
In the next paragraph, I will examine how the term ‘bitch’ is used in Afro American Hip Hop.
 McConnell- Ginet describes a community of practice as “a group of people brought together by some mutual endeavor, some common enterprise in which they are engaged and to which they bring a shared repertoire of resources, including linguistic resources, and for which they are mutually accountable.” (71).
 Bayley notes that “All of the data regarding the popularity of words through time come from Google’s Ngram viewer, which displays the prevalence of a word or words in Google’s Book Database. Neither Google nor I claim this database to be complete, but as it has over 15 million titles it is sufficiently representative of English publications for this analysis.
 Jo Freeman notes in the manifesto that she wrote it with the help of “several of her sisters “who are not listed by name.