January 25, 2022

Bitching about it

Culture & & Démocratie editor Hélène Hiessler speaks with journalist Elena Diouf about bitches, weaponizing abuse and deflecting stereotypes.

Hélène Hiessler: How did you come to be thinking about hip-hop typically, and the figure of the bitch in particular?

Elena Diouf: As an undergraduate I utilized the #MeToo movement as a beginning point to investigate the media protection of different sort of feminism, which I analysed alongside the rollback of womens rights. The figure of the bitch in American rap featured as a minor part of my first dissertation, but I was interested in taking the concept further since its not a subject that has gotten much academic attention.

Hip-hop is mostly relayed through music and streaming platforms and I wouldnt state that it has shed its subculture status. In the United States, on the other hand, it seems a lot more developed: there, rap is dominant. I also think that modes of usage have altered. For instance, French rap artists have their own marketing methods, such as posting teasers for numerous days prior to a release so that everybody will be on their smartphones at midnight to listen to a brand-new tune. That example reaches beyond the hegemonic media.

It was clear to me that hip-hop was a growing category, especially in the United States, where it has actually been reappropriated by African American women rappers consisting of Nicki Minaj, who was among the leaders around 10 years back. That caught my attention: I desired to dig deeper and see if the bitch had the prospective to become a contemporary feminist figure capable of subverting gender and race norms, or if she was just a marketing phenomenon.

Hélène Hiessler: The scientist Keivan Djavadzadeh, whom you point out in your work, composes that while cultural industries play a big role in the maintenance of cultural hegemony, pop culture is likewise, all at once, a space for objecting to hegemony. Do you think hip-hop is identified by this ambivalence?

Nicki Minaj carrying out in Oslo 2012. Spektrum Photo: Tom Øverlie, P3.no/ NRK P3 from Flickr.

Elena Diouf: Im unsure if hip-hop is fully part of European hegemonic culture. It is clearly the genre that has actually had the most success recently, especially amongst teens and young grownups but, in France for example, it is still not played much on conventional media: radio, television and so on. Rappers rarely look like guests on programs and they are granted couple of prizes, when compared to artists operating in other categories.

Hélène Hiessler: Who is the bitch?

Artists like Miley Cyrus or Madonna, who might look like the bitch in regards to their provocativeness, do not share the same lived experience. They can not be considered bitches in the way I use the term because they dont apply the same codes– which isnt to suggest that they arent feminists.

Elena Diouf: I utilize the term bitch to mean a woman of colour who embodies independence and power both in her lyrics and in the hip-hop personality she adopts. Her lyrics celebrate sexuality, cash, the fuller figure, the beauty of Black females, and the pleasure of reclaiming control over life.

The bitch exists within three interlocking systems of oppression: gender, race and class. This produces a really particular life experience. The bitch, as I have described her, is inextricably connected to the intersectional approach introduced by Black American feminism– especially that developed by bell hooks in the 1980s, which looks back to American slavery in the seventeenth century.

Hélène Hiessler: Is the bitch tied to a specific musical genre?

Now, nearly thirty years later on, the word appears in the lyrics of female rap artists like Nicki Minaj, Cardi B and Rihanna, either as a declaration of identity (referring to themselves as bitch) or as a sort of second-degree insult. This concept of reappropriating and weaponizing an insult is really essential. The connection to rap, initially an overwhelmingly masculine area, is clear.

In pop, it would be various. As I discussed in the past, the recommendation to the lived experience of African American females is likewise key: bitches play with stereotypes particularly associated with females of colour.

Elena Diouf: The word bitch was utilized in American jazz back in the 1930s however, sixty years on, it accomplished prestige as a term of abuse in the work of African American rap artists like Snoop Dog or Dr Dre. The 1990s saw a turning point thanks to a duo of African American females, who named themselves BWP (Bytches With Problems). They took the insult, reversed it and changed the i with a y as a way of reappropriating it. They turned it into a badge of identity.

Hélène Hiessler: What cultural presumptions about Black ladies does the bitch desire to deflect?

Elena Diouf: There are several negative stereotypes that go back to slavery. They include the Jezebel, a hypersexualized, bestial female with loose morals; the Mama, a stay-at-home mom and housewife; and the virile and aggressive female.

In the age of the Atlantic servant trade, the Jezebel trope was utilized to represent Black females as sexually aggressive in contrast to virtuous white women. This is the stereotype that todays bitches are reappropriating, specifically in the design and images of their videos, which consist of lots of animal print, erotically suggestive positions, outfits consisting of underclothing, fishnet stockings, latex and other tips at the world of striptease or prostitution.

These referrals, in particular, are off-limits as far as white women are worried. While Cardi B is often called repulsive, even pornographic, artists like Lady Gaga or Katy Perry, who can be similarly intriguing, are regularly talked about in regards to artistry or flamboyance.

This post was first published in French by the Belgian journal Culture & & Démocratie. Their 52nd concern of May 2021 offers with pop culture, from historical populisms to hyperindustrialisation to the masquerade.

Hélène Hiessler: Which feminist school of thought does the bitch come from, in your view?

Elena Diouf: Yes, in contrast to a more standard, but likewise stereotyped, variation of feminism: that image of a bitter, man-hating female with hairy legs. Pop feminism is nothing like this.

Elena Diouf: The bitch is subversive, however she has her constraints. The figure communicates no suggestion of a collective movement led by ladies of colour. However is that her function? Above all, is that what the figure of the bitch aims to do? I dont believe so.

Leikeli47 live at the Velvet Underground. Image by Mac Downey via The Come Up Show from Flickr.

The figure of the bitch emerges from long-established schools of thought and viewpoints that form part of what we might call pop feminism. I dont think this can be specified in a accurate or single method, however what we can say is that pop feminism is characterized by a prevalent presence in– or perhaps even dependence on– pop culture: music, movie, style and social media networks.

Hélène Hiessler: Critics of pop feminism accuse the bitch of encouraging individual success instead of working for collective emancipation. Is that fair? Does this kind of feminism challenge social inequalities?

The fact that the bitch exists as a feminist figure at all is specifically because it appears in a lot of different contexts. This is also real of lots of other figures in pop feminism: models, Instagrammers, and so on. It is a type of feminism that depends on and produces intense limelights.

The Sex Wars are exhibited in the continuous argument around pornography and prostitution, which continue to divide feminists. The bitch is also associated with Black feminism and the concept of intersectionality.

There is still a long method to go. The lived experience of women of colour is still mainly unnoticeable within Eurocentric and bourgeois feminisms, so stress are completely reasonable and bound to develop.

Hélène Hiessler: Some people choose to talk about post-feminism, as if the developments you describe significant completion of genuine feminism.

Black feminism emerged in the United States around the 1960s. It consequently took a range of different paths, Black feminism was the first to start a correct consideration of race and gender, and the methods in which they engaged. This later helped introduce the principle of intersectionality as an analytical structure in broader feminist idea.

Elena Diouf: The figure of the bitch is connected with a number of long-established feminist schools of thought, however particularly with arguments that have actually raved amongst feminists for years about the use and hyper-sexualization of womens bodies. In the United States in the 1980s, these debates crystallized into fierce conflicts typically referred to as the Sex Wars, which pitted two various visions of sexuality against each other. One saw sex as an act of oppression, and the other saw it as an area for prospective emancipation.

Empowerment, the idea of transforming inequalities, is obviously cumulative as well as private. The cumulative dimension of the idea is frequently overlooked, even by some feminists, consisting of bitches themselves. I dont understand whether they challenge structural inequalities, but bitches do help to raise awareness of inequalities in pop culture by embodying a feminism that goes against the grain of cultural hegemony.

Bitches, and the discourse they introduce, enable ladies who have actually been rendered undetectable by social and cultural circumstances to acknowledge themselves in them, and to relate to them. In a sense they are like flagbearers or spokespeople for other ladies– so there is something more cumulative going on. I dont believe bitches aim to develop a brand-new feminist motion, however their position provides a platform to shake things up and subvert standards of gender, race or appeal, for example.

Hélène Hiessler: Who is the bitch speaking to? Is she being heard?

Its as if they were setting the record straight, as if they were saying: Yes, Im Black. Yes, I have huge buttocks. Im abundant, I love cash and sex, and I do what I want. In that sense, the bitch– as I use the term– is speaking to the entire world, and above all to people who do not acknowledge themselves in her discourse. They are exactly the ones who respond most highly against her.

The bitch, as I have explained her, is inextricably linked to the intersectional philosophy introduced by Black American feminism– especially that developed by bell hooks in the 1980s, which looks back to American slavery in the seventeenth century.

Released in cooperation with CAIRN International Edition, translated and edited by Cadenza Academic Translations.

Elena Diouf: In my view, she is speaking to everyone, however especially to individuals who dont acknowledge themselves in her discourse. That might be why she triggers such controversy and provokes so much debate.

Bitches, and the discourse they present, permit women who have actually been rendered undetectable by social and cultural circumstances to acknowledge themselves in them, and to identify with them.

Elena Diouf: The figure of the bitch is associated with several long-established feminist schools of thought, however particularly with disputes that have actually raved among feminists for years about the usage and hyper-sexualization of femaless bodies. Hélène Hiessler: Critics of pop feminism accuse the bitch of encouraging private success rather than working for collective emancipation. I do not understand whether they challenge structural inequalities, however bitches do assist to raise awareness of inequalities in popular culture by embodying a feminism that goes against the grain of cultural hegemony.

The bitch is talking to the public as a whole, however especially to the structurally racist and patriarchal society of the United States. Clearly, the message must be surviving– why else would she be triggering a lot debate?

Take Cardi B. Last summer she released a tune with Megan Thee Stallion called WAP which excited intense criticism, especially amongst conservatives in the United States. The video is highly intriguing. The lyrics talk crudely about sexual shenanigans, sexual enjoyment and so on, whatever a patriarchal society seeks to reduce in a woman, specifically a woman of colour.

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