I have never really liked the word bitch. It wasn’t until recent years that in phrases like “bad bitch” or “boss bitch” I came around to the appeal. The reclamation of this term is increasingly favorable, a manifestation of female pride and power: owning versus labeling. The difference in intent of usage becomes even more clear in connection to the construction of female characters—such as Julia (Cowboy Bebop 2021) and Carmilla (Castlevania 2017) —a distinctive division between those we love to hate/hate to love and just plain don’t like. Bitch as a defining trait under an antiquated interpretation implies an unpleasant, spiteful female of the back-stabbing nature. Revisioned, a bitch is an independent badass.
I longed for fully-fleshed Julia in the Cowboy Bebop live-action remake, to see her live out her motives/motivations, especially as to her involvement with Vicious. Ultimately, I was disappointed. The love triangle (Vicious/Julia/Spike) is somehow less convincing the more we are given. She is damsel in distress, yet her actions in search of “safety” ring hollow. We are led to believe she wants to leave the syndicate life (which she entered with eyes wide open), yet she makes no real effort of movement except to further entrench herself. She makes an unsuccessful ploy at unseating (killing) Vicious and somehow stumbles into the very position of power she claimed to loathe. Her character, her choices, are sacrificed to a fragile fear and her opportunism becomes callous retribution when she turns on not only Vicious but Spike as well. Her rejection of both men is fine, all the better even, but the build-up felt dishonest, a disservice to her character and audience—a lead into the label of “bitch.” And it is not the reappropriated bad bitch, but that relic of blame and disparagement. This is bothersome because it resides in a flaw of construction. She has no power until she has all the power, and she wields it inconsistently and incomprehensibly. She could have and should have been more.
My discontent became most clear when my brain locked onto Carmilla from Castlevania as juxtaposition. Carmilla is all drama and manipulation from the start, clever and confident, and neither accepts nor offers any apologies in her betrayal of Dracula. Her ambition is voracious and when revealed as truly insatiable we see her at her
worst best. Her goal is not only to topple the patriarchy, “the stupid, evil old men” who always seem to be in power (in worlds past, present and pretend), but world domination—desire to own everything these men (now dead) once possessed. Her methods and motives are laid out clean, in word and deed, and we are awe-struck witness to her rise. When she inevitably needs to be stopped (for the sake of “humanity”), the only thing powerful enough to best her is herself and she goes out with a breathtaking bang.
While it feels both characters were written to come across as versions of boss bitch, it was to disparate results. It is not the idea of an immoral or evil woman that is the problem, but the woman embodying the sum of her parts and more. While Julia falls flat, a severing from source material that is not advantaged to full or successful effect, Carmilla is the bad bitch we could suffer to see and call upon more often.
Melissa Nunez is a Latin writer and homeschooling mother of three from the Rio Grande Valley. Her work has appeared in the winnow, Variant Lit, and others. She is a contributor at Yellow Arrow and a staff writer for Alebrijes Review.