This month, Bitch is collaborating with Her Kind, a literary community hosted by VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, by posing a series of questions to a talented woman writer. Seattle interdisciplinary artist and poet Natasha Marin took on eight questions about bitchiness.
When was the first time you remember being called a bitch? What were the circumstances?
NATASHA MARIN: Honestly, I can't remember the first time someone called me a bitch. I remember the first time someone called me a nigger though, but that's a different kind of story. Bitch is the kind of word that isn't as polarizing. Ultimately, there are worse things a person can call you, right? I don't even remember the last time someone called me a bitch, because I'm not sure anyone I know would actually do that to my face, except as a joke, or perhaps as some acknowledgement of perceived fortitude, as in "bad bitch."
What is your own definition of the word?
Bitch (noun) most commonly, a derogatory term for someone whose behavior is akin to that of a female dog—aggressive, entitled, spiteful, and reactive. Bitches are often regarded as either dangerous or volatile. From a biological standpoint, facing off with a female animal, especially any creature who may be protecting their young, should be done with caution. Non-animal bitch counterparts of any gender, should be approached with similar forethought. A bitch will do and say what others are afraid to and that particular brazen quality is often what signifies a bitch as such.
Personally, I've never really understood why humans are so sensitive about being compared to animals. We are animals. I'm sure if anything, calling someone a bitch (as an insult) is probably more insulting and abbreviating to the non-human party being referenced.
Have you ever had to explain the word to someone younger, like a child? What did you say?
I have not yet had this opportunity as my son is two years old and my daughter, Roman, is only nine and spends half her school day learning in Mandarin—not a lot of time left over to practice swear words. Thankfully, her friends are quite tame in the diction department and she has other more pressing questions about her rapidly changing body, her interpersonal relationships, and the dynamic world around her. But, I'm sure when we discuss the word "bitch" it will be after the term has been carelessly lobbed in her direction, probably by someone who is supposed to be her friend. I'm sure I will have to explain the concept of jealousy once again. It's really easy for people to forget how illogical envy and jealousy are and the moment you are injured, your mind wants to make sense of the injury, but some wounds cannot be healed with logic. She's barely been on the planet a decade and I am certain she has already been exposed to too many people who are likely to diminish her into a stereotype than to celebrate the incredible (and multifaceted) person that she really is.
Carolyn Kizer once wrote of "a bitch" inside her. What lives inside you?
The bitch that lives inside of me likes to pull up electron micrograph images showing the X and Y chromosome side by side and casually include this as a visual rebuke to the regular tides of male entitlement. The bitch that lives inside of me has teeth, a keen sense of smell, and a taste for blood, just like a real animal. She has no tolerance for people who want to stay in that privileged place of neutrality, stubbornly refusing to engage, or take sides, or make change actually happen with their own hands. The bitch inside is most terrifying when she is silent, but when she speaks, she knows what you don't want to hear and says it anyway—right to your face.
Have you ever written a "bad" character? Who was it?
I gave myself permission to get emotionally entangled with another artist this year and have been continuously stimulated—writing a good deal as a result. During the course of this nameless, category-less relationship, I created a synaptic cluster of idealized metaphorical selves that could be attributed to this individual. I gave him wings with delicately hollow bones and black telephone wires to alight on. I was proud of the work and the vulnerability I was manifesting until very recently, when I realized how unfair it is for me to place anyone in the upper echelons of the Ideal—what easily becomes a cage. You think you are paying respect and giving validity to a character by making him or her have traits that seem unattainable, but inevitably this character must risk the hobgoblin of inconsistency because anything else would leave behind a bloodless and truncated persona. After the shame subsided, I realized that it's our very stink that makes us complete. When we put each other (and even our imaginings of ourselves) on a pedestal, we are in fact robbing ourselves of a fully pixelated rendering.
Who are your favorite bitches in fiction or larger pop culture?
The Downton Abbey Dowager gets two thumbs up from me—so much restraint. I admire that kind of control.
Many women suffer from the affliction of "Bitchy Resting Face". Have you ever been asked to "cheer up!" when in reality, you're just thinking?
When I'm thinking, my husband calls it "Johnny Depp-ing" (apparently I look quite zoned out, like Willy Wonka trying to remember the trauma of his parents), so I'm thinking that my "resting face" is rarely confused with my bitchy face. I've seen my bitchy face on video and it's pretty unmistakable. But yes, in general, it seems that men think it's charming to tell women to smile as they walk by on the street, as though we are dancing monkeys born to entertain and provide them with unending pleasure. You can't see me rolling my eyes, but I'm rolling them.
If you had to choose between being perpetually angry or perpetually fearful, which would you pick?
It is far too dangerous to be either a perpetually fearful or a perpetually angry black woman in America.
Read this interview, plus a writing prompt, over at Her Kind.
Photo of Nathasha Marin (credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths).