Where were you the first time you heard the song “Bitch” by Meredith Brooks? Maybe you were in the car or at the mall or heard it on TRL from your MASH crush Carson Daly. Wherever you were, you were probably at least a little stunned to hear the b-word on top forty radio. I’m a bitch, I’m a lover / I’m a child, I’m a mother / I’m a sinner, I’m a saint / I do not feel ashamed, Brooks defiantly proclaims. The song was a paean to outspokenness and unapologetically being oneself in the face of a world that saw you as “just a girl.” And it became an instant anthem for unconventional women who refused to keep it to themselves.
So imagine my surprise when I recently came across Brooks’ Twitter feed and discovered the following incredibly un-bitch friendly message:
No, the now 58-year-old feminist icon is not a fan of OG bitch Hillary Clinton—the woman who has had to withstand and reclaim the label again and again and again throughout her political career.
Are you for real, Meredith?
Unlike many of us, Brooks hasn’t been an avid tweeter throughout this political year. Save for one tweet in June—in which she wrote, “As a free woman it’s hard to support #HilaryClinton who takes millions from a country demonstrating horrific treatment of women #SaudiArabia”—she stayed silent on politics, instead devoting her feed to animal rights activism and protecting dogs from breeder hoarders.
But on October 17th, two days before the third and final presidential debate, Brooks retweeted Paul Joseph Watson, editor-at-large of the extreme right wing website InfoWars, who shared a salacious link about Clinton supposedly calling a black “servant” the “n-word.” This retweet was a harbinger of things to come.
The next day, Brooks retweeted Watson again, and the following day—debate day—she issued multiple tweets and retweets revealing her distaste for Clinton, her lack of respect for Democrats, and some conservative views on abortion. Perhaps most shocking was her assertion that Clinton “emasculates Trump every time she opens her mouth.” Sort of like a bitch would do?
While Brooks assures her followers she’s not a Trump supporter, she’s fervent about her hatred for Clinton. Despite the fact that accusations of sexual assault by Trump continue to roll in from her fellow women, the Oregon-native has remained silent on the issue, instead attacking the way Clinton smiles. (Bish.)
Could this really be the same woman who declared, 19 years ago, I’m your hell, I’m your dream, I’m nothing in between? Why the lack of support for a fellow “nasty woman”? I reached out to Brooks in hopes of learning more, but I had not heard back at the time of publication.
Brooks came of age musically during the punk rock feminist Riot grrrl movement of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s. While she herself was not a punk musician, she embodied that same spirit of being brazenly female, coming up around the same time as greats like Alanis Morissette, Paula Cole, Liz Phair, and the other performers in the early days of the woman-focused Lilith Fair music festival (which just so happened to be my first concert.) It was what Allison Yarrow, journalist and author of the upcoming book 90s B*tch, called the “commoditization of feminism.” Sort of like a proto-Beyonce.
Yarrow also pointed out that just as these strong women were topping the charts, women like Janet Reno, Marcia Clark, Anita Hill, and yes, Hillary Clinton, were front and center in the zeitgeist. They were the poster women for intelligence and strength, while at the same time, as Yarrow put it, being “bitchified” by the media. In other words, there was a bitch double standard. We loved them in crop tops on MTV, but we hated them in a pantsuit.
“Bitch” felt like a decidedly feminist song: It explored the complexity of women. It wasn’t exactly in opposition to the myth of the crazy emotional woman, but worked as a nice supplement. The song explained in simple, relatable terms how, yes, sometimes a woman may be a bitch—but it should not define her. Yarrow explained in a phone conversation how the word bitch, since its inception, was meant to “derogate, deride, and malign women on the basis of sex.” And how this song was a chance to reclaim it.
In a 1997 interview with MTV News, Brooks explained the song’s origin:
[My friend and co-writer] called me up one morning. She was in her car and she said, ‘Oh, God! I’ve just been such a bitch this morning and can’t believe my boyfriend didn’t kick me out of the house.’ And I was like, you know, this is what I had just been going through in my life saying that’s a part of us that we all have to accept.
From Yarrow’s perspective, the song “speaks to the challenges women face of having to be diverse identities. At the time, it was tapping into something real.”
The interesting part is that, according to her tweets, Brooks still sees herself as a feminist. After Trump issues his famous “nasty woman” jab during one of Clinton’s third debate responses, Brooks issued this curious tweet:
Unfortunately, she has not responded to the many voters who have dubbed Clinton a “bitch.”
Perhaps the real truth is that “Bitch” was never the feminist anthem we made it out to be. In an A.V. Club post from 2010 entitled “A soundproofed room of one’s own: 17 well-intended yet misguided feminist anthems,” the authors wrote of Brooks’ song, “Brooks attempts to lay out the many aspects of her (and, by extension, women’s) identity, only to make herself sound like a totally self-involved flake: “Rest assured that when I start to make you nervous and I’m going to extremes / Tomorrow I will change, and today won’t mean a thing.” A dismissive fratboy couldn’t have put it better himself if he’d just said, “Someone’s on the rag!”
Nearly two decades later, the song still feels somewhat electric. And there’s definitely something empowering about screaming “BITCH!!!” at the top of your lungs, letting a sliver of your inner-rage seep out. While it’s impossible to know exactly why Brooks would “#hate” Clinton without speaking to the singer, or understand her ill-informed views on abortion, perhaps Brooks’ tweets are just an extension of the “Bitch” message of being loud, proud, and unapologetic about your views—no matter how contradictory they may be. We know we wouldn’t love her any other way. (Except for if she loved Hillary.)