Michele Bachmann and the Politics of ‘Bitch’

Emily Heist Moss wants to do away with the extra-special, gender-specific insult that women sometimes get handed to them.

Earlier this week, on Jimmy Fallon’s late night show, in-house band The Roots had a little surprise for guest Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann. As she walked onstage, the band accompanied her intro with Fishbone’s “Lyin’ Ass Bitch.” They left out all the words except “la la la”, but the message was very clear. For non-Fishbone fans, The Roots front man, Questlove, even gave his followers a Twitter hint about the musical choice prior to the show, “This next one takes the cake. Ask around cause I ain’t tweeting title.”

No one disagrees with Michelle Bachmann’s politics more than I do. Her brand of conservatism isn’t rooted in pragmatism or political ideals but in bigotry, religious fundamentalism, and willful ignorance. Should she get elected, I’m convinced her administration will attempt to implement programs that will set women back, further ostracize the LGBT community, and place a premium on faith-based policies instead of science. I’m not a fan, to say the least. You don’t have to work very hard to convince me she’s a liar, but I’m drawing the line at calling her a “lyin’ ass bitch” on national television.

The word “bitch” is one of those words that some feminists hate, and others try to reclaim. The difference between “bitch” and “asshole” comes down to gender, and that’s where it gets problematic. When men describe women as a “bitch,” the word carries all this extra baggage that “asshole,” “dick,” or “jerk” doesn’t have. A bitch is a woman who is doing something you don’t like; she’s uppity, power-hungry, or manipulative. In my opinion, Michelle Bachmann is all those things, but not because she’s a woman. Politicians, as a group, are power-hungry. By definition, when you run for office, it’s because you think that of all the people, you’re the one who should lead. There’s a certain arrogance that is required. And politicians, as a group, are manipulative. I wish we didn’t live in a culture where the twisting of words and the mis-identification of quotes constituted campaigning, but we do, and that’s not unique to Bachmann.

Why do we need an extra-special insult for women who are behaving badly? What’s wrong with “asshole?” You would never call a male politician who you disliked a “bitch.” You might say he’s a schemer, or a scuzzball, or a moron. Fine, but you would never say “bitch,” because that one we reserve for the ladies.

Democratic Representative Nita Lowey says it best, “I do not share Michele Bachmann’s politics, but she deserves to be treated with respect. No female politician—and no woman—should be subjected to sexist and offensive innuendo like she.”

About Emily Heist Moss

Emily Heist Moss is a New Englander in love with Chicago, where she works at a tech start-up. She's a serious reader and a semi-pro TV buff. She writes about gender, media, and politics at her blog, Rosie Says. (Follow her: @rosiesaysblog, find Rosie Says on Facebook). 


  1. I agree wholeheartedly with everything you said here. I think the word “bitch” has come to mean in our society someone who is acting particularly “womanish” and that it can thus be applied to both women and men, giving the obviously gendered term a rather sinister appearance of “gender equality.” When applied to women, it does indeed usually imply that she is being “shrewish” or “catty,” or in other words opinionated, cross, exaggerating, or mean. When applied to men, it almost always means that a man is being “girlish” or weak, or he’s complaining, or refusing to participate in something and thus spoiling the fun (ie “bitching out”), all of which are seen as “womanly” characteristics. There was a post on skepchick a few weeks ago that suggested replacing “bitch” with “crotch” in the cultural lexicon, something I can totally get behind. (Here’s the post: http://skepchick.org/2011/10/ai-dirty-words/ )

  2. I disagree, I have sometimes been called a bitch by other guys, but it has usually carried the feminine connotations, similar to calling a guy ‘you girl’.

  3. John Hedtke says:

    I agree that the derogatory feminization of female politicians is grossly inappropriate and it tends to offend me no matter who it’s being aimed at.

    And I have to say that I think that Jimmy Fallon’s playing the song was probably crossing the line… although I’m also reminded of the dictum about slander that “truth is a defense.” Personally, I would probably end up laughing my head off in grief to hear that something horrible had happened to Bachmann.

  4. Thank you for this post. I posted Queen Latifah’s song U.N.I.T.Y. along with telling both liberals and conservatives to stop calling women bitches, to leave gender out of it. You wouldn’t believe the bile and hate I ran into on threads about this topic. For your listening pleasure: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8cHxydDb7o

  5. I think the word bitch is given to women who have power over frustrated men. So for that reason alone, I do not call women that name. It’s more an insult to the user of that word.

  6. For that matter can we stop disrespecting our president as well?? Don’t wish death upon George W. Bush or Barak Obama. Don’t call them offensive names regardless of whether you voted for them or not. We’re talking about the president of our country! Show some respect even if you disagree.

  7. Well said.

    I also want to add a level of complexity to this. One definition of “bitch” is, as you say, “a woman who is doing something you don’t like; she’s uppity, power-hungry, or manipulative.” However, the word also means a person who is available for (generally) sexual service, and it can apply to both men and women. When it applies to men, it’s usually used in the context of a man taking on “the woman’s role,” i.e. getting fucked. There’s often an element of their consent being irrelevant, as well.

    My observation is that the first definition is more common among white people and the second is more common among black people, as well as among communities influenced by contemporary popular music such as rap & hip hop and the images of “bitches and hoes”. And I wonder what effect that has on, for example, black peoples’ perceptions of things like Bitch magazine. Further, given that one of the other lyrics in that song is “But that little slut just proved us wrong” and that Questlove is African-American, I think it’s worth asking what he meant by the word, both in the song and in this context.

    Yes, in any case, the song was intended to insult Bachmann in a way that men don’t receive. But the race element is also part of this.

  8. Rocketmare says:

    I am a woman who calls men “bitch” and women “asshole.” So, I think it is apropos that the Roots chose that particular song to introduce Michele Bachmann, who is both a bitch and an asshole.

  9. Thank you, thank you. I share both your political beliefs AND your conviction that this kind of treatment of women is grossly inappropriate and must stop. As much as I can’t stand Bachmann or anything she stands for, this behavior on the Jimmy Fallon Show was inexcusable.

    Can we stop some other behaviors towards female politicians while we’re on the topic?

    How about everyone stops discussing whether or not Nancy Pelosi had a facelift? How about a moratorium on policing Hillary Clinton’s hair accessories? Can we stop critiquing which female politicians are “attractive” and which aren’t, and stop discussing their clothing? Can we please just stop all of these ways of belittling, denigrating, and “putting in their place” female politicians? Ditto female executives. Ditto ALL women when they try to lead. But I digress. And of course we should address disrespect towards the POTUS, and increasing incivility and general snarkiness as a way of life. But that’s another post. Thank you Emily!

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