Generation Y

Hodge: Female empowerment, independence should not be labeled by negative terminology

I sometimes fear I’ll catch a 6-year-old girl calling her best friend a “bad b*tch” as a way to congratulate her on reading her first book. After all, the term has become synonymous with a smart, strong-willed, independent, lighthearted and fun woman.

I have always had strong female role models in my life, from my mother to my grandmother, aunts, teachers, friends and even movie stars. Audrey Hepburn, anyone?

But the definition of a female role model is shifting.

In past decades, the term “b*tch” was applied to women who were cold, hostile and mean. This interpretation still holds true. But the term has extended to mean so much more, something positive, in fact, even though it should remain blatantly negative.

When a music artist from our generation uses the term to describe a woman, it means something akin to, but even better than “classy.”

In her song “Starships,” Nicki Minaj explains that her type of woman is a rare breed: “Bad b*tches like me/is hard to come by.” Thanks, Nicki.

The song “Gucci Gucci” by Kreayshawn begins with a male voice singing, “One big room/full of bad b*tches.” Again, pop culture has taken formerly negative terms and associated them with a positive image.

As much as the term is highly exaggerated and overblown, it is contagious.

I didn’t realize I had even accepted this phrase until I was explaining to a friend how great I felt after I survived several tests, applied for an internship, went to the gym and hiked up the mount steps three times, all in one day.

“I’m a bad b*tch, aren’t I?” I said.

And then I paused and reflected on what I had just said. Did I just…? Yes.

My friend agreed that I was indeed “bad” for all I had accomplished that day.

Besides a complimentary phrase, the term is also an image that speaks of power and intimidation.

My vision of looking “bad” includes massive amounts of jewelry, in particular, chunky bracelets, rings, brightly colored blazers, stiletto heels and a fiercely independent sense of self.

My notion of what the term personifies may be a bit exaggerated. But isn’t the term itself exactly that?

Songs are not the only devices encouraging the hyperbole.

Twitter accounts further inflame the issue. Various Twitter handles, ranging from “classy b*tch problems” to “b*tch issues,” reinstate that this is something to aspire to.

This “bad b*tch” mentality has become an exaggerated synonym for being the type of woman girls have aspired to become: strong, unafraid, independent. However, it also marks something much deeper among the females of our generation. It shows a sense of ambivalence about our power and how to label it.

Why do we have to label our independence and sense of power with such negative terms?

If being labeled a b*tch no longer resonates as a negative thing, what is yet to come, not only for women, but for men alike? It may be time to re-evaluate our generation’s way of defining what it means to be a strong, powerful woman before we lapse into applying even more grotesque terms to ourselves.

Anna Hodge is a freshman magazine journalism major. Her column appears weekly. She can be reached at ahodge@syr.edu and followed on Twitter at @annabhodge.

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