Oct 02 2013

You wanna live fancy mansion francey? You better work, bitch.

Britney gives her homegirl the boot.

Britney gives her homegirl the boot.

The comments yesterday wandered into Reclamation of Degrading Epithets territory when I noted that, since my return to blogging, the dudebro sociopaths who read IBTP have, as if by magic, returned to their regularly scheduled threat-dispensing. The threat they love most is rape, and the word they love most, I report with a resigned snort, is “cunt.” The word they love second-most is “bitch.”

Said blamer Morag:

“About all that hate-mail: so much for the reclamation of the word ‘cunt.’ Remember Inga Muscio’s book with that very same title? Well, she tried. Even the ubiquitous ‘bitch’ still has some residual subjugating power depending on who is using it, and how. Reclaiming hateful words hacks at the branches, not at the roots.

On the subject of the subjugating power of the word “bitch”: as it happens, I have just slogged through the Britney Spears video for her new single “Work Bitch.” In this hackneyed piece she waxes dominatrixy at her all-girl leather-bikini posse, cracking her whip at them as they crawl around on all fours, leading them around on leashes etc. The lyrics, delivered in a creepy sexbot Engish accent:

“You wanna hot body? You wanna Bu-gatti? You wanna Maserati? You better work, bitch. You better work bitch. You better work bitch. Now get to work bitch. Now get to work bitch. Now get to work bitch.”


The video imagery is pretty much patriarchy encapsulated. Britney is little more than a clump of airbrushed, buff-ass assimilation perfectly aligned with dudebro fantasy. She compels her bitches to perform this leather-clad Zumba workout in order to reap the material rewards all Britney Spears fans apparently yearn for: sports cars and looking hot in a bikini. Also, in the next verse, martinis (it rhymes with “bikini”) and partying in France (it kind of rhymes with “fancy” and, I guess, “mansion”).

Emily Dickinson she’s not.

Unsurprisingly, this corny-ass video is being sold as “shocking” à la the whole Miley Cyrus twerking thing. But like most mainstream porn-informed pop culture, it’s about as shocking as the Macarena. It’s just more of the same old BDSMy misogynonormative crap, watered down for the tweens. Madonna was doing this back in the 80s, with way better songs and way better production values. And she didn’t call anyone a bitch.

Of course, Britney’s not even trying to reclaim “bitch.” She’s going for the total opposite, by using her awesome blonde celebrity to reinforce its powers as a patriarchy-replication device. When you hear some P2K-compliant hack — and you will — referring to this video as a statement of feminist empowerment wherein Spears declares her choice to choose bondagewear as a symbol of the awesomeness of earning Italian sports cars through aerobic dance, you will laugh a hollow, mirthless laugh. As ew_nc commented:

“I have spent many hours of utter frustration trying to convince people that “reclaiming” derogatory words does not take their power away. Men could care less if women’s groups call their action a “Slut Walk”, for instance. That doesn’t do one damn thing to change their attitudes or behavior. They’ll still dehumanzie us with those words whenever they feel like it.”


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  1. Notorious Ph.D.

    I can tell you from recent (like, within the last week) experience that my young female students have not reclaimed and re-purposed “bitch.” They are still using it as an epithet against women who publicly stand up to men. It makes me sad, and a little sick to my stomach. I get it: women in their teens and early twenties are more likely to be on board with reinforcing patriarchy because they are more likely to be eligible for the few rewards it hands out. But they’re hurting the rest of us, and eventually themselves when the reward train slows and then eventually stops as they age out of P2K compliance.

  2. Natasha

    What a completely unoriginal piece of patriarchal propaganda. Not only did Madonna have better production values but better choreography and costuming.

    If I’m going to work to get a Lamborghini it will be from inventing and selling a few million remote dudebro electric genital zappers to women to keep the dudebro’s in line.

  3. sjaustin

    FFS, Rebecca Black’s “Friday” has better production values. This is just garbage, in every possible way.

  4. D.

    *brain bleach, stat!*

  5. ew_nc

    If you ever want to know how much the word “bitch” is used these days, just peruse Pinterest. While there’s plenty of content there to make your eyes and obstrepal lobe bleed, nothing is quite as disturbing as a cute kid meme with words like “suck it up, bitch” on it, followed by someone putting it on their “LOLing” board.

    I harbor a secret fantasy of getting Britney Spears to go to an intense feminism indoctrination camp (ahem) so she will finally see how she is one of the world’s most exploited women. Since she was a child.

  6. tinfoil hatie

    I hatrd it when Madonna pulled this crap, and i hate it when Britney Soears and Miley Cyrus do it, too.I don’t hate them, though. i blame the patriarchy.

  7. quixote

    Hah. You’ve hit one of my pet peeves with this reclaiming nonsense. Sure, words change their meaning. You can tell when they have because their meaning has changed. Eyeroll. Duh! Etc., etc., etc.

    If you said you went to a gay party, nobody would think you meant one full of happy people. That’s a reclaimed word. If you said you went to a bitch party, nobody would think you meant a group of empowerfulled women having a good time.

    And while I’m having a good rant here, what about fuck? It doesn’t mean to have sex. Nobody ever says “Oh go get laid” when they want to tell somebody to go get destroyed. And who’s destroyed? The person being fucked, not the fucker, right? It’s about as misogynistic as you can get, and it’s an essential badge of coolness and not-out-of-it-ness and the whole nine yards. It’s totally unreclaimed and totally compulsory. Sort of like the P itself.

  8. q

    (Hrmph. Used a bad word now I’m in moderation. Ah well.)

  9. the_t's_knees

    ew_nc: You are not alone with that fantasy. Sometimes I daydream about a radfem boot camp. I always think of Lindsey Lohan. Or Amanda Bynes, or — the list could go on and on, right down to the vast majority of women with whom I interact on a daily basis.

    The concept of reclaiming derogatory terms has always set off my bullshit alarm. At first I didn’t know why. But now I work around enough doodz to understand; it’s because “bitch” and “slut” and every other name will ALWAYS be used by our oppressors and enemies as slurs. And I will not use their language against my sisters. It just tells everyone that I hate women, too. And NO, I absolutely do not. And I refuse to give that impression to anyone.

  10. shopstewardess

    Since when did women have to be told when to work? Women work more than men do, and the only reason it’s thought to be the other way around is that although women do most of the work men get the majority of the rewards for working.

    Presumably this song, if it catches on, will be used as yet another brick shoring up the patriarchal assumption that hard working men “keep” non-working women.


  11. MatariJ

    Thank you Twisty. Very much agree. I had a ray of hope when Britney shaved all her hair off, but obviously that is now in the distant past. If I could ask a question – what does P2K compliant mean?

  12. polarcontrol

    On reclaiming derogatory words:


  13. quixote

    (Eep. I seem to have fallen into permanent moderation. The system seems to be calling me “q.” Maybe I typoed my name? Rescue?)

  14. Twisty

    quixote, you should be out of moderation now.

    Interested blamers should consult the Ancient Texts for more info on disappearing comments.

  15. emilybites

    People do tend to spit ‘bitch’ as an epithet with the special hatred reserved for the uppity. It’s so obviously misogynistic, and it’s bizarre the way people defend their use of it.

  16. emilybites

    Hmmm…I seem to be on permanent mod too. No idea why, since this is my pre-hiatus handle ‘n’ all.

  17. emilybites

    Well, now I just look silly.

    Could be because I used the b-word. Here goes with nasty word disemvoweled.

    People do tend to spit ‘b*tch’ as an epithet with the special hatred reserved for the uppity. It’s so obviously misogynistic, and it’s bizarre the way people defend their use of it.

  18. Morag

    Well, it has a good beat, and you can dance to it.

    No, she’s not even trying to reclaim “bitch.” What I get, from the images and from the lyrics I could understand, is that Bitch–in this video–means two things. One is the desire to look perfect and to own expensive stuff, and to always try harder, like a good school girl, to reach these goals. The other is the prerogative to dominate other women who haven’t yet reached these goals. Britney, the blonde, belongs to the latter group, and is a stand-in man. The brunettes (though already physically perfect) belong the former group, and are a dime a dozen.

    Yawn. Patriarchy can be so boring. I wonder if Britney is bored?

    “I harbor a secret fantasy of getting Britney Spears to go to an intense feminism indoctrination camp (ahem) so she will finally see how she is one of the world’s most exploited women. Since she was a child.”

    Me, too. I have a soft spot for her and the hell she’s been through. She might be interested in feminism–who knows? Perhaps she knows very well that sexual exploitation and struggles with mental health are related. Maybe she’s reading these comments.

  19. Notorious Ph.D.

    Matari, P2K compliant was a Twisty coinage from back in the day, a play on the old “Y2K-compliant” thing (remember when we were all gonna die because the computers couldn’t handle the millennium?) — and we all know what the “P” stands for.

    In general, it’s shorthand for “behaviors that comply with patriarchal mandates and thus earn a crumb from the patriarchal table. There’s a good girl.

  20. redyelloworanj

    Aside from the horribleness of watching a has-been attempt to reclaim the spotlight through woman-hating faux-edginess (BDSM, so mainstream it’s completely devoid of shock value; self-sexual exploitation, practically a requirement if you’re a female performer; Bad Word, used with impunity on playgrounds everywhere these days), there’s a sinister taint of meritocratic BS to the song (work hard enough and you can have anything your heart desires).

    If I could ask a question – what does P2K compliant mean?

    Patriarchy 2K compliant (conforming to new/old patriarchal standards in the new millenium).

  21. Nolabelfits

    More specifically, patriarchial standards of the current decade, which is the 2000’s. Because , as we have previously discussed, standards are constantly shifting.

  22. blue

    I thought P2K meant “pr0n”2K?

    I loathe the casual throwing around of “b!tch” some women use to address their *friends*. Most commonly as “b!tches,” as in, “Meet you at the restaurant, b!tches!”

  23. MariaM

    The over the top patriarchal performances by Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus are well analyzed in a “Vigilant Citizen” article.

  24. iolightning

    That video: so tame. But also visually interesting, despite the tip-top-compliance of both Patriarchy and Capitalism (plus: explosions!).

    May I offer a slightly different interpretation of the song, possibly giving Britney (and her team of handlers/writer/stylists/whatever) too much credit? Britney is known for having had at least one breakdown due to the pressure of being her, and basically her whole life she’s been a pop-icon that never really had a chance (gave herself a chance) to be out of the media and chill out. I don’t say this to be like, oh, poor billionaire pop-princess, but: she has indeed had to work very hard to try to live up to impossible standards, degrading and subjugating herself to get where she is today. So there’s something honest and cynical at the heart of this song.

    Or am I reading too much into it?

  25. MatariJ

    Notorious Ph.D: thanks for explaining P2K compliant – I figured that was what it meant, but wanted to check.

  26. Bushfire

    I finally watched Miley Cyrus’s Wrecking Ball video and Sinead O’Connor’s letter about it. The video is horrifying and embarrassing. I feel sorry for her thinking she needs to give a blow job to a sledgehammer to make it in this world. O’Connor’s letter hit the nail on the head when she said that men are making more money off of her getting naked than she is. I’m sure she’s trying to grow up and be noticed the only way she knows how but the end result of this is that men are making money off of her and wanking to her sledgehammer bj and wrecking ball humping and ultimately she’ll be left with nothing except the feeling of being degraded and used. Porn and prostitution have reached every corner of our minds and some people seem to feel there is nothing else in existence. IBTP.

  27. LabRat

    I was thinking about Sinead’s open letter while reading a celebrity gossip piece today about Rashida Jones tweeting, “This week’s celeb news takeaway: she who comes closest to showing the actual inside of her vagina is most popular. #stopactinglikewhores.”

    She of course had to issue the second tweet, explaining she wasn’t slut shaming. When will celebreties ever learn that a tweet is forever and your apology/retraction/clarification follow up tweet is pretty much useless?

    And I admit I’m torn. I’m not a fan of slut shaming unless the slut in question is a man (i.e. why did Robin Thicke suffer so little shame and outrage for his creepy participation in TwerkGate?), but as a cranky old lady, I do often wish I could explain to younger women why it’s in their best interests to knock this shit off already without it coming off as slut shaming. Sigh.

  28. Bushfire

    That’s where we’re headed, isn’t it? Women celebrities have to show off so many body parts these days they might as well just open their inner labia to the masses and call it a “music video”. I wouldn’t have labelled that Tweet “slutshaming” except for the hashtag. Here’s a better hashtag: #stoplabellingwomenwhores. As Gloria Steinheim said in her article, “I think that we need to change the culture, not blame the people that are playing the only game that exists.”

  29. Kali

    The exchange between Sinead O’Connor and her detractors reminds me of the debates surrounding civil disobedience during India’s freedom struggle. For people who have relatively little power to define the system, civil disobedience is the only way to change the system. However, civil disobedience needs to be widespread in order to affect the system, which means that some persuasion is required to encourage people to participate. This persuasion can range from intellectual persuasion to social coercion to outright violence, and movements have to decide where to draw the line. During India’s freedom struggle, sometimes violence was used as the “persuasion” method and that is what the debates were about. It is only in the women’s movement that even intellectual persuasion (as in Sinead’s open letter) is seen as oppressive. Any kind of urging people to practice civil disobedience is seen as restricting their freedom to deal with the system in their own way. “Choice” is used as a weapon to destroy any argument made in favor of civil disobedience. The system is safe.

  30. Morag

    “Some persuasion is required.” Right. Apparently, a whole lot is required!

    O’Connor asked Cyrus, “Have you no sense of danger at all?” This, I think, is a perfect question (though in this case, it’s rhetorical, as Cyrus obviously has no sense at all right now). It’s a damned good question to ask fun, choosy feminists. Have you no sense of danger, not only on your own behalf, but on behalf of other women and girls?

    That’s not an order, or shaming, or oppression of any kind. It’s an invitation to serious conversation from someone who has a clue about what danger is. And it’s fair to use hard-won experience to initiate that conversation. What isn’t fair is to look at the woman who’s questioning/critiquing/persuading, locate her most tender spot, punch her good, and then callously skip off to host an episode of SNL. Cyrus may be a victim of the system, or she may be making her feministy choices, but she’s also chosen to be a barefaced bully. 

    Yes, Kali, “the system is safe.” What began as an intellectual approach has now been reduced to a cat fight. Very sexy.

  31. Tallon Nuñez

    “I have spent many hours of utter frustration trying to convince people that “reclaiming” derogatory words does not take their power away. Men could care less if women’s groups call their action a “Slut Walk”, for instance. That doesn’t do one damn thing to change their attitudes or behavior. They’ll still dehumanzie us with those words whenever they feel like it.”

    To some extent, I agree, reclaiming words like slut or bitch, doesn’t change men’s attitudes towards girls/women, but you know, that might not be the point. I think that reclaiming words can help womyn change our own internal programming, turning a slur into a point of bonding with others, and then pride, a celebration of each other, and ourselves. It helps us to change our thinking about ourselves, a fine endeavor if there ever was one, I think. And anyway, the fact that men will still demean us with those words…well no they won’t, not those particular words, the words change, the words always change, but the intention behind them, doesn’t. A man can degrade you by using your own name, if he intends to, so let us focus on reaching each other, reclaiming words CAN be a way to empowerment, we can see an example of how it can work, with the word butch. Once a hateful slur hurled at women who were seen to be stepping outside of their assigned roles, almost no one uses the word butch to insult anymore (at least not without some controversy), because butches took that word, made the decision not to be shamed by our differences, but to bond over them with others, and to celebrate them. I think the key to that is our intention of commanding respect, by first respecting ourselves, so that we always use the word in a positive way, whereas, re-claimed words that do not turn out to be empowering, are ones that are used in both positive and derogatory ways, by the people re-claiming it, e.g. faggot, the confusion that results, enables those on the outside of the group, to continue to use/see them as acceptable forms of insult. Intention, is the key, I think.

  32. chuckem

    Á propos to this video…http://vigilantcitizen.com/musicbusiness/britney-spears-work-btch-iggy-azaleas-change-life-two-videos-celebrating-kitten-programming/
    I have always loved conspiracies, and I find this Illuminati one so much more pleasing than the oil-apocolypse-Mad-Max-we’ll-be-selling-women-once-the-oil-runs-out . True, the analysis implies that there are actual patriarchs who have actually brainwashed women into being Porn2K compliant, but it reasserts the lack of agency that someone in Britney Spears’ position has. Britney replaced by Lindsey replaced by Miley. All hugely profitable and all perfectly expendable.

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