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I remember when a good friend of mine started dating the best friend of a guy I had been seeing. They fell in love hard and fast and before I knew it while joking around on the phone he said something like, “Y’all b**ches play too much.” While my friend giggled it off, I promptly got on the phone and asked him not to refer to me that way. I wouldn’t begin to describe myself as an uptight person; in fact very rarely do I easily feel disrespected. But the ease to which he referred to us as the b-word was unsettling.

Although the term is used freely on TV since being a term of endearment I was still raised in a day where calling someone a female dog was unacceptable. But like the n-word, many of us feel like we can manipulate words to mean what we want them to and when we want them to mean it. Our most popular defense is, “It’s not what you say but how you say it,” which for many people is confusing. It’s no wonder why so any relationships suffer from miscommunication.  So when my friend decided to date this guy seriously and he casually called her his “main b**ch”, I was all kinds of confused when she tried to put him check responding with, “I’m your girl now. You can’t talk to me that way.” Huh? I don’t understand why women allow certain things before they make a commitment, but suddenly try to introduce new rules to the game when they get a title.  If you don’t make your standards clear from the beginning you can’t expect a man to fall in line because you’ve labeled the relationship. That’s false advertisement. You wouldn’t let Walmart do that to you, so why allow a man to?

I don’t care how many sitcoms think it’s catchy, I still have my reservations about the b-word. I’ve definitely hashtagged pictures of me and my bestie with “Long as my b**ches love me,” but even then it’s never felt all the way right coming off my tongue. And It’s hard to tell just who I’ll come across that isn’t cool being called that. I feel even if any word requires that much thought or reservation, I’ll just avoid using it altogether.

When I was growing up, calling a girl the b-word was the utmost sign of disrespect. It was used to refer to everything from a woman men perceived thought she was “better” because she didn’t want to be bothered by cat calls while she walked to the bus to a woman who got with her guy’s best friend behind his back. It’s the difference between a friendly game of the dozens to a full out fight where someone’s nose gets broken.

If we consider Merriam Webster Dictionary as an official source, it lists the definition of the b-word as a lewd or immoral woman, a malicious, spiteful, or overbearing woman, something that is extremely difficult, objectionable, or unpleasant. What we’re consulting as the authority on the English language doesn’t list anything positive or empowering about the world.  But over time there’s been this battle to make the word mean loyalty, dominance, independence, being outspoken and opinionated. We’ve had artists like Nicki Minaj, Trina, Lil Kim and Meredith Brooks as modern-day feminists refer to themselves as bitches, lovers and bosses all in the same breath. But if you remember Queen Latifah was about to catch a case in her song for U.N.I.T.Y. when a man let that word to leave his lips. I think if we as women can’t even agree on whether we are offended or empowered by the word, how can we expect anyone else to?

If the word “thot” is any indication, we are way too creative as a culture to try to manipulate the meanings of words that were initially meant to degrade us. And even though this discussion may seem outdated since the b-word has officially made it to network TV, I can’t help by question why some behaviors suddenly become acceptable when certain races say it’s OK. Having kids before marriage was for the hood rats until before Brad and Angelina decided to put the legacy before the marriage license, then it was “progressive”. The b-word was foul until Tina Fey started dropping b-bombs on 30 Rock and ABC advised us Don’t Trust the B in Apt. 23. Now, it’s funny.

Well I’m not laughing. And until I don’t have to run a survey in my head about if the company I’m keeping can handle how empowered and progressive I am, I think I’ll just call the ladies I’m closest to my besties.

Toya Sharee is a community health educator and parenting education coordinator who has a  passion for helping  young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health.  She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about  everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog, Bullets and Blessings.

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