Have you ever been called a bitch? That funny feeling in your chest when you know you’re about to force yourself into silence, no comeback would be good enough. It would just back up their claim, and let them know they affected you with their sloppy use of hateful words. Women might not consciously comprehend how being called a bitch makes us feel- it’s the seventieth thing a mate said today that should probably be addressed. We just don’t have the energy. We’ll be told to calm down, it’s just a word, it’s not that deep.
In cinema, a ‘bitch’ is an unlikable person, someone who doesn’t respond in the way you would expect. She turns around and walks away mid conversation, what a bitch- little do you know she’s having a panic attack. I’d argue that a bitch on screen is flat, an underdeveloped character. Cruella is a bitch in 101 Dalmatians, until you realise what she’s been through in Cruella, there’s a reason behind her behaviour.
In cinema, a ‘bitch’ is an unlikable person, someone who doesn’t respond in the way you would expect. She turns around and walks away mid conversation, what a bitch- little do you know she’s having a panic attack.
Blair Waldorf in Gossip Girl is an interesting example of a merciless character whose personality is slowly explained as the series goes on. Blair is categorised as a bitch, because she’s ruthless in her delivery of lines, and manipulative of the high society girls she calls ‘friends.’ It becomes clear that Blair has struggled with a disjointed family, friends who consistently turn on her too, and an eating disorder. Regardless of her privilege, Blair is strong and that is portrayed a bad thing, rather than something to be proud of.
Equally, Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada was always labelled a bitch. The writers gave her an empty home life, perpetrating the narrative that women can either be happy or successful. Miranda is not a bitch; she is iconic, and has succeeded in an industry dominated by men. To older generations, there will always be something about her they dislike, to me, she represents women with agency who made it in this capitalist, masculine, economy. Its interesting that audiences often pinned the female boss as the villain- would they do the same if the boss was a man?
What’s fascinating, is that women watching sadistically crave the bitches’ destruction. It invokes jealousy in audiences. When Miranda breaks down over her divorce, the viewer realises that she is human. What I find problematic is that scriptwriters capitalise off the demonisation of the opinionated woman. It perpetuates damaging stereotypes and, naturally, pins women against each other. A bitch on screen is free to do as she pleases- irrespective of what the audience want from her. She breaks free from moral code.
But it is only someone as beautiful as Meryl Streep, or as fair as Leighton Meester that are allowed to play a bitch. Nothing is riskier to a female actress’ career than to play a bitch, as the reception of such a character can often lead people seeing elements of this character in the person. The media will always struggle to separate the star from the character.
A bitch on screen is free to do as she pleases – irrespective of what the audience want from her. She breaks free from moral code.
The ‘angry black woman’ and ‘sassy Latino’ may never truly disappear as ethnically charged female stereotypes, and a bitch is reserved for straight white pretty women.
By far the most misunderstood woman on the screen (of my generation) is Sharpay Evans of High School Musical. As a child, I despised Sharpay: she was loud, and she hated Gabriella. She was successful in her field, she liked a boy, and Gabriella floated into her social circle and changed everything. Sharpay is iconic.
When the representation of women of the screen starts to translate to reality, women perceive themselves differently. They begin to care about the male gaze, the word then holds a lot of power in our society. The bitch architype culminates in stereotypes of women who do not follow social order, who speak up, whose opinions differ from the public one. Nobody should have to feel that way. Next time you call someone a bitch, consider its history, contemplate the connotations, and maybe just use misunderstood instead.