Late Sunday night, as anyone with an Internet connection knows, Kim Kardashian West Snapchatted a recorded conversation between Kanye West and Taylor Swift. In the clip, Swift, despite earlier insistence from her reps that she “cautioned” West against releasing a song with such a “strong misogynistic message,” appears to amiably approve the now-infamous “Famous” lyric in which West raps, “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex.”
OK, so Swift may have stretched the truth. But that fact obscures a key omission from the conversation, at least in the version Kim presented: Though Kanye cleared the aforementioned lyric, he apparently failed to mention a possibly even more incendiary line that would surface in the released version: “I made that bitch famous.”
Swift didn’t hesitate to defend herself against what she called “character assassination” after Kim released the recording. In a statement released on her Instagram Monday, she clapped back at Kim and Kanye. “You don’t get to control someone’s emotional response to getting called a bitch in front of the entire world,” she wrote. She says she’s being “falsely painted as a liar” because “you cannot ‘approve’ a song you haven’t heard.”
In her June interview with GQ, Kim laid out why she’s personally not bothered by the word “bitch”: “I mean, [Kanye’s] called me a bitch in his songs. That’s just, like, what they say. I never once think, [gasping] ‘What a derogatory word! How dare he!’ Not in a million years. I don’t know why she just, you know, flipped out all of a sudden. …”
Maybe because one of rap’s biggest stars called her a bitch and the whole planet applauded? Just because Kim is cool with it doesn’t mean Taylor has to be.
To be fair, Kim isn’t the only female to reclaim the word. Nicki Minaj refers to herself as a “boss-ass bitch,” yet in her infamous pickle-juice monologue, she acknowledges that assertive women often get labeled “bitches.” Nowhere more than in hip-hop does the term have such a complex definition: A bitch might be a scheming, cheating, gold-digging woman like in Dr. Dre’s “Bitches Ain’t Shit,” but a bitch can also be “da baddest” if you’re Trina, who used the term to reclaim her sexuality.
More recently, rumors (later debunked) swirled that Jay Z might stop using the word after his daughter Blue Ivy was born, and Kanye himself took to Twitter for a one-sided philosophical journey, during which he pondered whether or not the word bitch is “acceptable.”
He clearly moved past his moral quandary; he wrote “Perfect Bitch” for Kim, proving that among its many other meanings, bitch can also be used as a term of endearment. Whether he’s decided it’s generally OK to call women bitches in his lyrics is entirely besides the point, though. Taylor took offense, and that’s her prerogative. She has the right to speak up when she’s called a hurtful name by a powerful man.
The issue is far from straightforward. For example, Swift has a documented friendship with Kendrick Lamar, one of whose most famous songs is called “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe.” (So she’s fine with rappers using the word, as long as it’s not directed at her?) And speaking to Rolling Stone last year, she told an anecdote that involved screaming, “YAS BITCH YAS!!” in response to a particularly stunning Ariana Grande dance move at the 2014 AMAs.
As far as the “Famous” controversy goes, Swift does deserve to be called out for suggesting that she was against “Famous” from the beginning, but that’s a separate question. Women, Swift included, are under no obligation to accept the status quo. When Kim Kardashian dismissed rap’s overuse of “bitch” with a flippant “that’s just what they do,” she excused decades of exclusion of women from hip-hop and a misogynistic culture that still objectifies females with careless abandon.
Kim takes nude selfies to feel empowered, so perhaps it’s not a surprise that she counts herself among the women who aren’t insulted by the word “bitch.” More power to her. The public has no right to police the ways in which women find confidence and strength. We should be able to give Taylor room to express what makes her feel the same way, and to call out the people who undermine her.
Kanye West will probably never stop using the word “bitch” in his songs. He had the right idea, though, going to Swift to get her approval before putting her on blast in a song he intended to be controversial. Why not just let her know he would be using the word? Probably because he knew she wouldn’t give him the go-ahead.
It’s unclear if Swift knew about West’s “that bitch” line before the song’s release or if Kanye ever told her it was coming. If we assume she had no idea (neither West nor Kardashian have commented on this point), Swift could have explained to him that his reputation doesn’t suffer at all when he calls women bitches – instead, she has to deal with the fallout of being cast as “that bitch” without consent. It’s always the women who are the victims when men deploy the word against us, even when they claim to mean it affectionately.
By all means, call Swift out for lying about her role in the evolution of “Famous.” She knew more than she claimed and the public is rightfully calling foul. But she’s not a bitch for trying to control her own narrative – as much as people will eagerly slap that label onto her now – especially when she knows men like Kanye West will always try to take it away.