Approaching Peak Bitch on Television

The new TV series GCB—originally titled Good Christian Bitches after the book of the same name—premiered last month on ABC. Don’t Trust the B–– in Apt. 23 will premiere on the same network April 11. Can you imagine a network using “the N word” in a show title? Don’t trust the N-word in Apt. 23. That won’t happen, but between 1998 and 2007, the use of the word “bitch,” on television tripled, from 431 uses on 103 prime-time episodes in 1998 to 1, 277 uses on 685 shows in 2007. I don’t have the figures for 2012, but I’d be willing to bet that this latest development means our culture is even more comfortable with the term.

If you’re about to tell me that bitch is a power term, take a look at what Merriam Webster has to say about it.

Definition of BITCH

1  : the female of the dog or some other carnivorous mammals

2   a : a lewd or immoral woman

     b : a malicious, spiteful, or overbearing woman —sometimes used as a generalized term of abuse

3 : something that is extremely difficult, objectionable, or unpleasant

4 : complaint

It’s not a power term. In fact, it’s a term of abuse and the reason people get away with using it so frequently is that our society still doesn’t take sexism and women's rights as seriously as it should. The past few months' parade of birth control battlesconservative state abortion lawsPlanned Parenthood defunding, and calling young women sluts is evidence of that.

ABC’s choice to allude to the word bitch in the titles of these shows is a well-thought out marketing decision and GCB is only the latest in a long line of television shows that entertain through the denigration of women even while executives, like Two & A Half Men co-creator Lee Aronsohn, criticize the industry for “approaching peak vagina on television, the point of labia saturation” (As far as I know, no one ever complained of television before female comedies being a sausage fest).

GCB is basically a fictitious version of the wildly successful Real Housewives franchise on Bravo. The reality series focuses on the most dramatic examples of female overconsumption America has to offer and even those who are the breadwinners or heirs to their families’ fortunes are relegated to “housewife” status. According to ABC Entertainment Group senior vice president Channing Dungey, GCB is aimed at women ages 25 to 54, "and it will strike a chord with women across that demographic 100%,” she assures us. ABC is banking on GCB to replace Desperate Housewives, (another pro-woman title), which ends its eight-season run this spring.

The show is produced by Sex & The City creator Darren Starr, which is a big part of the problem. SATC, like GCB, was based on a book written by a woman and taken over by men for TV. While women loved Sex & The City, those characters don’t necessarily hold up. Many people now consider the series and its subsequent movies to be clichéd depictions of the lonely female obsessed with shoe shopping and finding a man. On one popular women’s site, the term “Scary Sadshaw,” after the series’ lead character Carrie Bradshaw, is used to refer to a woman who goes to New York City looking for the Sex And the City Experience.

Television news is no better on the woman front. During February, when women’s reproductive issues took center stage on Capitol Hill, only four women guests were featured on the Sunday political shows out of 56 guests the entire month.  

Until women have more power within all ranks of media, including both executive and creative, consumers will continue to be exposed these narrowly defined depictions of women. Deep down, women aren’t happy about it, especially the ones who have to play these roles. GCB co-star Kristin Chenoweth says she doesn’t think the word bitch fits the characters and is glad ABC took the word out of the title. If she thinks that’s a fix, she’s kidding herself. The women of ABC’s new shows are being depicted as bitches whether it’s implied or stated right up there in the title.

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