“Why are you being such a Bitch?”

Judith Stone, Glamour magazine, June 1990

Some day a lover or male colleague will ask you, perhaps quite publicly at the office, perhaps privately in the boudoir, why you're being such a bitch. You'll need to have some responses ready.

Let's save the wrong answer, the one with which I personally am most familiar, for last. Here are several good options, reflecting a variety of philosophies. By all means add your own. Collect them, trade them with your friends, redeem them for valuable prizes like self-respect and peace of mind.

The question: "Why are you being such a bitch?"

Possible response #1: "That depends on what you mean by being a bitch. Do you mean, why aren't I doing everything your way without a fuss? Because I disagree with you. Do you mean why am I disagreeing with you? Because I think you're wrong. Do you mean why am I behaving like an equal or even an adversary and not in a quiet and self-effacing manner? Because I am your equal and sometimes your adversary. Do you mean why am I not being nurturing and supportive at this moment? Because I'm pissed off."

Possible response #2: "If I fetched your slippers, had your puppies and rolled over and played dead, then I'd be a bitch. What I am now is an enraged woman."

By the way: What's the male equivalent of bitch, denoting dog, connoting shrew and hinting at hormonal imbalance? Son of a bitch is a possible correlate; the big difference is that it can be said admiringly—"you smart SOB," "you lucky SOB"—while bitch cannot. A cur is base or cowardly, not spiteful or shrewish. And come to think of it, why is shrewishness a female trait? We all know there are mean-mouthed, spiteful and domineering men, yet they are usually called not shrew but CEO.

Possible response #3: "If being a bitch means standing up for yourself in a forceful way, why wouldn't I want to be a bitch?"

Possible response #4: "I guess I do get sort of whiny and critical when I should be launching a good, honest fight. But in this relationship I haven't found a way to express anger straightforwardly without getting more grief than I can handle. Like many women I was raised to believe that my anger is unacceptable, unjustifiable and unattractive, and that's hard to get over. Buster."

Possible response #5: "Because you're being such a bastard."

Now we're ready for a variation. Suppose you`re faced not with a question but a statement: "You're being a bitch!"

Possible response #6: "Yeah. So?"

Own the word bitch and you detoxify it. Cheerfully accept the epithet as if it were an award of merit; assert your right to have the same angry or even irrationally irritable moments anyone else has, and you'll catch your accuser off guard. At the very least, he'll have to think about what he really means by bitch.

Generally, the word is used to win arguments, keep the upper hand or defend a weak position. Brandishing "bitch" is supposed to make you back off, get it? Focus shifts from the subject at hand to your alleged personal deficiencies. He calls you a bitch knowing you'll take it personally, worry that you're turning into Lady Macbeth, fold up and offer...

The wrong response: "Do I sound like a bitch? I don't mean to. I guess I'm on edge; I've got a lot on my mind. I'm sorry. I hope you don't think I'm mad or anything. I was just trying to make the point that......

I'm not advocating, for either sex, ruthlessness or gratuitous meanness. Neither men nor women should get away with wanton infliction of pain; no one should sling insults just to watch people shrivel like salted slugs. But both men and women are allowed to get angry, take a stand, even have bad days when they're snappish and grumpy (after which an apology may be called for).

Look, he wants his way, you want yours. Does that make either of you a bitch? Mostly men use the rhymes-with-rich word to mean "she who behaves in a way I wish she wouldn't." What's so scary about that?