Bitch Bad, or is it good?

The controversial use of the derogatory word undermines its users.

by Bronwyn Miller

Cue the Trina and the Nicki Minaj. The proclamations that correlate female independence, strength and fierceness with being a “bad bitch” abound.

The “bad, strong-willed woman” exists as a counterpart to the male “pimp” or “player,” a title given only to those women who are cunning, strong and able to easily manipulate the opposite sex. This identity was born in the context of mainstream hip-hop, which tends to adopt a narcissistic, egotistical, capitalistic style. I say this not to criticize but to describe an observed cultural phenomenon. A 2011 University of Kentucky study indeed confirmed that all pop music lyrics have become increasingly self-promoting. And in the hip-hop space, where men have made labeled references to their omnipotence for years, the aggressive female narrative that female rappers have adopted allows for participation in the discussion of personal swagger, grandiosity and power.

Calling oneself a “bitch” is an attempt of reclaiming an insult in the same way that many other words with offensive and derogatory histories have been reappropriated by the groups who have experienced oppression under their usage. It can feel empowering to sing along with the anthems that adhere to the ideology and proclaim dominance over males and self-sufficiency. However, when male rappers are using the stereotype as their way of complimenting women, its power is drained. Its usage also creates a problematic, contradictory hierarchy of women: To Nicki Minaj, a “bad bitch” is superior to other types of women, and “bad” is being used positively.

The confusion cancels its power. “Bad bitch” becomes less about agency and more about behaving in a way that is conducive with sex appeal, and female power is once again conditioned upon male desirability. In an overwhelmingly male-dominated scene, every positive self-proclamation in songs by female artists is met with countless more instances of men using it negatively. Even in other communities, the stereotype of a woman in charge appears. The way many perceive female politicians such as Hillary Clinton or even movie tropes like Sandra Bullock’s character in “The Proposal,” highlight that women in power have to come off as negatively aggressive.

In the single off his latest album, “Bitch Bad,” Lupe Fiasco attempts to shed light on this disparity. His song discusses the way in which hip-hop culture confuses malleable minds and illustrates the way in which girls acquiesce to the stereotypical bad-bitch model based off what they see in hip-hop videos. Fiasco illustrates that both men and women are liable for perpetuating this problematic gender and lifestyle identity. However, it’s not a perfect confrontation of the issue. It appears to imply that the burden of “saving oneself” from misogyny lies within the female, and the “bitch bad, woman good, lady better” hierarchy by which Fiasco ranks womanhood feels patriarchal and oppressive.

Criticisms aside, this video had a strong impact on me. It made me rethink if I really I want to label myself or others with this stereotype as I’m proud of my successes as an independent, assertive woman. I don’t need to excuse my strength by denigrating my character with the usage of “bitch,” even if it is qualified by “bad” — which in this case is good. That confusion is exactly the point of Fiasco’s song: The reclaiming of the term can fall flat when it’s being used in countless ways — many of them oppressive — by people with different agendas. Consider this my resignation from the bad bitch brigade.