The Gal, the Bitch, the Broad, and the Chick

Our perception of women have changed over the years, and so have our vocabulary to describe them. For example, we don’t seem to use words like “broad” and “chick” as much these days. It is usually explained that they were dropped from common usage because these words were not polite. But we still use the word “bitch”. In fact we seem to use the word “bitch” with increasing frequency. The dictionary definition of the word “chick” is “An American slang for a young woman” which is not helpful at all, especially to a foreigner like me who must struggle with the nuances. Examining why words like “broad” and “chick” fell out of use gives us an interesting insight into the relationship between language and paternalistic sexism.

As I understand it, a “gal” is a pleasant woman, and a “bitch” is an unpleasant woman. You say that “She’s my gal” and “She’s not my bitch”. But in both cases, a woman has the choice of being pleasant or unpleasant. It is her actions that define her.

In contrast, a “broad”, it seems to me, is a female person with positive attributes that are nonetheless unpleasant to the male observer, as in “She’s one smart broad”. Being smart is a positive attribute, but the male observer finds it annoying. On the other hand, a “chick” is a female person with negative attributes that are nonetheless favorable to the male observer, as in “She’s an easy chick”. Being promiscuous is a negative attribute, but the male observer likes it. In both cases, the female person is being both objectified and judged by the male observer. She has no agency of her own in the matter, unlike a “bitch” who can proactively be a bitch to anyone she chooses.

Things get a little complicated, as always, when sex is involved. A “hot chick” is obviously the opinion of the beholder, but a “sexy broad” is objectified differently. A sexy broad is like a hot chick, but she chooses her partners on her own will, which annoys the male observer. A hot chick may reject the male advances as well, but her hotness is not annoying the male observer. Perhaps a hot chick is not proactively trying to attract someone who is not the observer.

Either way, “broad” and “chick” fell out of use, not only because they are impolite expressions, but because they rob women of their autonomy. On the flip side, they were more commonly used in years past exactly for that very reason.

Today, “bitch” has become a catchall word to mean “bitch”, “broad”, and “chick”. It’s an impolite word but it is increasingly ubiquitous. But when you get down to the reasons behind its widespread usage, it may be due to the increased awareness for women’s rights.

In any case, words like these should be used sparingly and with utmost care in your works of fiction.

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