Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A History of Violence In One Word

Photo Credit: R Mark Grace

1. a female dog:
"The bitch won first place in the sporting dogs category."
2. a female of canines generally.
3. Slang: a malicious, unpleasant, selfish person, especially a woman.
a lewd woman. Disparaging and Offensive: any woman.
4. Slang: a person who is submissive or subservient to someone, usually in a humiliating way:

For some reason unkown to me, I've been thinking about my personal history with this word. When I was a child it seemed mysterious and more than a little threatening. It was not a word I heard often, certainly not in my immediate family. When I did hear it came rolling like a thundercloud, a portent of violence. Somehow I associated it with a strange woman's battered face, a drunk male's heavy breath. I've never been able to shake that association.  

In my extended family and in church, and most of all in books I read, the word invariably referred to a female dog, usually hunting dogs or coon hounds. It was spoken in a matter-of-fact tone, often mixed with notes of affection or pride. "That bitch will hunt 'till she drops if you let her. She won't back down from anything."

I've had several female dogs as pets during my life, and counted them all as loyal, solid friends.

Linda and I share our home with a bitch these days by the name of Noelle. She was the bravest, most loyal mother any puppy could ever want. It is clear that someone beat her cruelly when she was a pup- she cringes instinctively when a hand occupies a certain space above her head.

Noelle can also present a frightening demeanor. She has scared the pants off of our pool guy and assorted other people on more than one occasion, backing them into corners and holding them at bay. Yet she has never bitten anyone that I know of. On a few occasions early in our relationship, when she was protecting her puppies, she took my hand in her mouth and held it there while snarling at me, but never so much as broke the skin. I look at her some days and marvel. I love that bitch. She gives the title honor, depth, intelligence, dignity.

I don't like to hear the term thrown around the way it is these days. I realize it is mostly a cultural thing, but I have to tell you a part of me instinctively reacts to the person flinging that word as though they were displaying an embarrasing ignorance about life, about the world and their place in it. Perhaps that reaction is just another form of prejudice, but there it is.

Maybe a bitch is just an assertive woman, or a subservient man, or a verb meaning to complain. Maybe a bitch is just a female you hang out with, one of the gang. But I know first-hand that word still carries a dark, shameful mystery at its heart. It still predicts battered faces, children staring in confusion and horror at thundering hateful drunkenness that wants to reduce a female to a battered rag of bleeding submission.

And I know some bitches are beautiful females with hearts that won't quit on the ones they love, no matter how many times they are battered. I know some bitches who are unbowed by words or blows or heartache. And they all deserve so much more. I pray with all my heart that God gives them love, and support, and a way out of the dark corners in which they find themselves.

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