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Feminspire | April 24, 2014

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Bitch, Psychopath, or Attention Whore: Which Were You in High School?

Bitch, Psychopath, or Attention Whore: Which Were You in High School?

| On 12, Aug 2013

Trigger warning for discussion of rape

“You don’t keep any secrets from me, right?” I teased. She hesitated, “Nope,” but finally sighed and said, “Actually, according to my boyfriend you have a reputation for being a complete bitch.” That’s what I get for participating in honesty hour with a good friend of mine, I guess.

High School LabelsYou know, the word bitch doesn’t really faze me anymore. So I’m confident and blunt and OK with being real with people. If that makes me a bitch, so what if I am? What bothered me most was the very sour realization that a large number of guys, despite the diminishing population of Locker Room Bros Who Are Always Bros Always, still talk about girls and think of girls the same way they did about a century ago. Every girl has a label — a warning sticker to fellow dudebros, if you will. I, for example, am a complete bitch. My friend is a psychopath. The very friend who told me about my apparent reputation was told by her own boyfriend that she’s known as an attention whore. I’m in high school and this is still a thing.

What hurts about these labels is that they’re more than stereotypes. They’re meant to put people, women, down. They’re meant to degrade a human being to a single, hyperemphasized, maybe character flaw. They imply that girls can be objectified into identifiable packages, and other than the major label that they are known for, they really have no other differences or redeeming qualities. I’m sorry, but what?

Girls, no, young ladies who will one day become impeccable women of our future, are supposed to just accept this. This is exactly how misogyny becomes conditioned or even reinforced. News flash: This isn’t even the earliest these rude social behaviors are taking hold.

The dangerous thing about these labels is they all essentially invalidate women as people; they dismiss the subject’s feelings and opinions.

Bitch, for example, is associated with aggression. Remember where the word even came from? Yeah, it means female dog. Don’t get me wrong, I love dogs as much as the next person, but don’t you think it’s kind of, um, extremely dehumanizing? It’s a label for women who refuse to be passive in situations or circumstances they care about. It implies that someone is belligerent, uncompromising, or unreasonable. In fact, it often is used to describe strong or assertive women. Used against men, it’s a sign of subordination — because what’s the best way to slam a dudebro? Compare him to a female.

Psychopath is used commonly against emotional people. The textbook definition of the word signifies a person with an antisocial personality disorder, manifested in poor control of behavior. Yet in modern colloquialism it’s often used to describe mothers, mothers-in-law, sisters, and ex-girlfriends. Psychopath often describes people with undesirable or disagreeable traits, like clingyness or obstinacy. It’s a crude exaggeration of its real symptoms, like manipulation, lying, callousness, or parasitism, and it’s being tossed around at anyone and everyone that people aren’t seeing eye-to-eye with. Trust me, there are much less controversial descriptors to use, that *bonus points* don’t result in appropriating mental disorders.

Attention whore may be the most threatening of the three. It not only perpetuates the Virgin/Whore Complex, which places strict limitations on a woman’s sexual identity, but it also encourages slut-shaming and worst of all, victim-blaming. So let’s rewind. What kind of behavior constitutes an attention whore? Urban Dictionary has quite a few things to say. The common attributes seem to include sexual behavior, clothing choice, insecurity, or dramatic behavior. Here’s the thing: Some people likes attention. Not necessarily at all times or in all situations, but in general, it’s a positive feeling. Perhaps the subject of your name-calling really does enjoy attention, but what’s wrong with that? Or maybe, ever consider this: she’s just outgoing or confident? Why is either behavior so negative that it needs to be labelled with a derogatory term? But then there’s the tough part.

A large demographic of the attention whore label is rape victims. This implies that the subject either chose to get raped for attention, or lied about getting raped for attention. Now tell me if you don’t think both of these implications are extremely messed up. Yes, there is the very very very tiny sliver of the pie chart of rape victims that represents the people who have lied about their rapes. There is also the rest of the entire fucking pie. Rape is no joke, and reporting it is like playing with fire. More often than not, people who report their rapes receive maybe 20% support and 80% backlash. Backlash insulting their behavior, questioning their morals, excusing their experiences, calling them attention whores – the list goes on, and it only gets worse. Rape victims are just that – victims. They are not provocateurs, they are not “asking for it,” they are not Dirty Satanic Sluts, they are not “getting what’s coming to them.” They are victims. And calling them attention whores cheapens every single one of their battles.

The worst thing about these labels though is not their derogatory intent, but simply the nature of their names. In reality, none of these descriptors imply major character flaws; the problem is what they represent and how they are being used as verbal weapons to put other people down for their choices. Some people are reclaiming words like “slut” and “whore,” and kudos to them. Others like to call people out on their shit, and again, kudos. But please, do not avoid them like the plague. That only fuels the social stigma, and there’s already enough of that in high school.

Written by Caroline Liu
Image courtesy of 

  • darling

    I’m so proud that our next generation of women is shining through with such great writing abilities! this is a wonderful piece, keep up the good work, Caroline.

  • PSJ

    It is extraordinarily difficult to take seriously a denunciation of labels where the author refers to males only as “dudebros,” but then again, you know the type, don’t you? They are universally loud, sexist, jockish types, right? Can’t we degrade them to a few, hyperemphasized, maybe character flaws?

    Other than that, this is wonderful work. Keep writing!