So the other night, while putting my 8-year-old daughter Risa to bed, she asked me, "Hey, mom. What's a bilch?"
Me: A what?
Risa: A bilch. My friend today told me that her sister keeps calling her a total bilch. What is that supposed to mean?
Me: Do you mean a bitch?
Risa: Yes! A BITCH!
Me: (sigh. stall. sigh.)
And that takes us to yet another parenting moment where we are called to actually think on our feet at the end of a long day. Why do the tough questions pop out during the nightly tuck in? Part of me wanted to say "That's not a word we use in this house" or "It's late and that's a conversation for another day..." but I also want to be the mom who my child knows will at least try to answer the tough questions. So I press on. I tell her that it's an extremely disrespectful name that some people call a female when they believe she is being mean or rude. Risa, seemingly satisfied, nodded and then proceeded to tell me about the cool barnyard owl she saw today at the nature program. Phew.
As I climbed into bed, I was dissatisfied with the over simplicity of my answer. The B-word is loaded with meanings, as we all know. "Bitch" is what women get called when they have power and aren't afraid to use it, even if it's used for good. It's what girls and women get called by others who are jealous of their looks, money, small waist or Ivy League smarts. It's what we get called when we are decisive and use clear directives rather than making our sentences sound like questions (i.e. "When I grow up, like, I think I want to possibly create a revolution and run the world?") It's what girls get called when they say no to a second date; won't help someone cheat on a test; don't share the favorite dessert they've been waiting for all day with the rest of the group. "Bitch" is pretty much a catch-all word for anyone with female parts whose behavior is getting in the way of someone else's needs...and we haven't even gotten to the verb definition yet.
In the end, it'd be easier to explain to Risa the hardcore swear words, such as the F-bomb, which may be crude, but is at least pure in its meaning.
I'm certain Risa and I will be revisiting the "bitch" conversation down the road with all its insidious complexities. It just didn't feel time yet. What do you think?
I am a journalist, filmmaker, author, wife, and mom to an 8-year-old daughter. My most recent project is I Love Mondays: And other confessions from devoted working moms. Other projects explore raising only children, happily ever after, raising strong girls, and hot topics for Jewish women.
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