Britney Spears’ advice to herself in “Work Bitch,” the lead single for her upcoming Dec. 3 album Britney Jean, isn’t a new thing for her — at least not in terms of the use of the word “bitch.” The phrase “It’s Britney, Bitch” dates back to 2007’s Gimme More, so she’s had lots of time to think about the word.
Now, on an episode of the U.K. talk show Chatty Man, Spears explained her thoughts:
I don’t call everyone… that word. I just use it as, it’s like in respect to the gays as a term of endearment… It’s like a street slang for everyone, you know, like you get to work, that’s what you do when you get to work and it’s like, cool.
Spears thus takes her part in the long and complicated history of a short and complicated word. Perhaps (probably) unwittingly, she echoes an idea put forth by Jo Freeman’s 1968 “BITCH Manifesto” (written under the nom de plume Joreen), in which bitches are asked to use their strength proudly:
Not everyone can qualify as a Bitch… Bitches were the first women to go to college, the first to break thru the Invisible Bar of the professions, the first social revolutionaries, the first labor leaders, the first to organize other women. Because they were not passive beings and acted on their resentment at being kept down, they dared to do what other women would not.
Freeman’s version of breaking through barriers isn’t exactly about earning a hot body and a Bugatti, sipping martinis while looking hot in a bikini — and not everyone agrees that the word is has been fully reclaimed — but, well, language is always evolving. (For a comprehensive history of the word, check out this essay by Clare Bayley.)