I come from a community full of colorful people who use colorful language to describe their lives and times. Communities similar to mine birthed hip-hop, a culture that is situated in and attached to the most memorable moments of my life. As with any culture or lifestyle, there are segments of hip-hop that I can gather to bring on my journey, or leave behind without hesitation.
And then there’s the word ‘b*tch’ that simply refuses to be dismissed.
Knowing that I’m a feminist and a warrior for social justice (it’s apparent in the lectures and assignments I give), my students recently asked me how I feel about Kanye’s new song “Perfect Bitch,” and the fact that he wrote and dedicated that song to Kim Kardashian. “There is far more to unpack in that answer than we have time for,” I told them—stalling their plan to stall my discussion surrounding their next writing assignment.
The truth is I don’t know exactly how to feel about Kanye, or his word choice, or his choice in girlfriend, or his use of the word b*tch in a seemingly endearing way. I’m sort of a proverbial protective auntie to him in my head, I guess. I like the guy. I recognize that he could probably benefit from A LOT of therapy, but mostly I want to drag him by the ear or give him a deep church pinch that may or may not draw blood. He is certainly someone I would describe as misogynist, and, ultimately, I understand that he was raised in and by a culture that does not share the same connotations of the word b*tch that the rest of the world may. And while I don’t believe that his role in hip-hop culture excuses his free use of the word, I understand that this doesn’t end or begin with Kanye, or Kim (although I am very surprised that Ye is receiving less of a backlash for making the song than Kim is for being the subject of the song, which is weird but understandable as we just seem to REALLY not like Kim).
As I often do, I took to Twitter to poll folks about Kanye’s use of bitch, and to ask a simple question: “If a woman doesn’t object to being called a bitch, should we?” This was in response to Kim believing that Kanye had no ill intentions in the way he used the word to describe her. Perhaps that question was a little over-simplistic and broad, but I wanted to see where people would go in their responses. Many of the women who replied were outraged because, simply put, it is a word that promotes sexism and has hurt countless young girls (and boys) through its use- abuse being endorsed with dope rhymes over ill beats.
As Professor Tricia Rose writes: “More than in any other genre in the history of black music, commercially celebrated hip-hop swagger depends on a brand of manhood that consistently defines [Black] women as disrespected objects.” And that disrespect merits outrage, yes. I stand with women who object to the word use in general, and in this case. Much like our seeming embrace of the word n*gga, our relationship with the word b*tch is so nuanced that it deserves it’s own scholarly space and rhetoric. I have friends who use b*tch to describe most of the women in their lives- from the ‘down b*tches’ who always help them when they need a hand, to the ‘bad b*tches’ that rock the flyest gear, to the ‘hatin’ b*tches’ that are begging to get beat down for antics that said girlfriends find offensive.
All of that to say…I don’t still know what to say about this song. As a woman who tries her best to champion women, and who does not like the use of the word in any connotation, I believe that, combined with his past lyrics about women, commentary on women, and art depicting women, it is fair to say that Kanye’s song about Kim being the “perfect b*tch” is sexist and should cause alarm. But my feminist belief that women deserve agency when it comes to how they demand and ask to be treated, I understand that if Kim is fine with being called b*tch, I can’t attack her in good faith for embracing a word that many women themselves embrace daily.
Should we be offended by Kanye’s use of the word b*tch, if Kim K. is not?