When a Man is a “Bitch”

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Isiah Thomas may or may not have called a particular female colleague a”bitch.”   That’s for a jury to decide.   But based on my own work experience, I wouldn’t be surprised if he did.   Or if he didn’t, someone else did.   Or someone called a different colleague a”bitch.”   Why?   Because derogatory words –”bitch”is the least of them –   are used routinely to describe women as well as men who lack power, prestige, connections or authority.   Sexual harassment laws may have reduced overt discrimination, but lots of it has been driven underground, into hallways, conference rooms and supposedly private e-mail conversations.   Ugly workplace conversations happen all the time.   Here are two examples drawn from personal experience.  

Scenario 1:   Male Lawyer A describes Male Lawyer B as the”bitch”of Male Lawyer C.    

Scenario 2:   Male Employee D says that Male Employee E is not particularly talented, but will get promoted anyway because E is the”butt boy”of powerful Male Employee F.  

Do I think that these workplaces were exceptions to the norm?   Sadly, no.   Might these workplaces have been more (or less) sexist and homophobic than other workplaces?   Sure.   But I do not believe they were unique.  

For A to say that B is C’s”bitch”is to say that B is, in short, like a woman.   (Ann previously blogged about this usage of the term here.)   If B is C’s “bitch,” then B is subordinate to and dominated by C, the typical female position in which no self-respecting man would want to find himself.    â€œBitch”is rarely used this way to describe a woman.   To call a female lawyer the”bitch”of a senior male lawyer would be redundant.   The workplace already knows her status by virtue of her gender.   When”bitch”is used to describe a woman, it is usually in reference to female lawyers of a certain age – those old enough to be in first wave of women to achieve partnership in the large law firms – who now”act like men”in assigning work to junior lawyers  or in failing to mentor young women, or female lawyers of any age who fail to exhibit sufficient levels of”feminine”qualities such as sympathy, understanding and deference.

I am told by men that being a superior’s”bitch”is”better”(read: less insulting) than being a”butt boy.”   Because to be a butt boy is to be homosexual.   Being subordinated and dominated is bad, but being passive (no”power bottoms”here) and”taking it”(we know where) is even worse.

-Bridget Crawford

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