Welcome to the era of the strong woman.
Hillary Rodham Clinton is leading the way in reforming America's health care system.
Janet Reno took credit for being the top law enforcement official in charge of operations at Waco, Texas.
And look at Congress. The number of women in the House and Senate has jumped from 31 to 54.
Now writer Elizabeth Hilts takes the notion of womanly strength one step further.
Women, she says, still can be far too acquiescing when it comes to standing up to men -- particularly in their personal lives. Ms. Hilts has a novel theory of what needs to be done. We've all heard of caring for our "inner child," she explains. But it's the "inner bitch" that now needs to be nurtured.
"It's time to stop denying the 'inner bitch' in ourselves," Ms. Hilts writes in an article that first appeared in a women's alternative magazine called Hysteria. "Stop apologizing for her. Set her free."
In a telephone conversation from her Connecticut home, Ms. Hilts, 37, insists that the word is not to be taken in a negative context.
"To me, being a bitch means being a very forceful, no-nonsense person. . . . It's not a slur at all. The word has become negative in our society, but it really isn't," she says. "I'm saying that this is a part of us."
Apparently, the phrase has struck a chord. Since writing the article, Ms. Hilts has been appearing on radio talk shows across the country and is writing a how-to book about nurturing the inner bitch.
"I was surprised that I have not heard any negative feedback," she says.
But not everyone is warmly embracing the term, says Bonnie Raindrop, an editor at Voices of Women, a new bimonthly journal and resource guide in Baltimore, Washington and Northern Virginia that ran the article.
"We've gotten a mixed reaction from it," Ms. Raindrop says. "Most of the reaction has been pretty good. People are showing it to their friends and mothers. But there was a letter from a young woman who said she found it very insulting. I thought [the article] was really fun. Whatever you name it, I thought it meant upholding the spirit, being whatever it was you wanted to be."
The message behind the phrase is, strong women are to be applauded, says Dr. JoAnne Brown, an associate professor of history at the Johns Hopkins University. But "there's a double message coming from it," she says.
"It's also a slur," Dr. Brown says, because, technically, the word "bitch" means a female dog.
Still, she adds, the acceptance of the word by some women was bound to happen.
"It has always been the strategy of any group who is called a name to eventually adopt that name," she says.
From a male point of view, Jack Kammer believes the B-word can be an accurate description of a woman's dark side.
"It's helpful and important for women to acknowledge that they are not all sugar and spice and everything nice, which is what society says. Women can be selfish and destructive just like men," says the 49-year-old Baltimore author, who is writing a book called "Good Will Toward Men."
Mr. Kammer admits he has used the word when referring to some women, but there is also a flip side. "There are some women whom it's appropriate to apply to. . . . Have women ever used the word 'jerk?' "
Char Tosi of Milwaukee talks about "the bitch part of women" in the chapter of "Good Will Toward Men" that she co-wrote with Mr. Kammer.
Ms. Tosi says "the bitch is the part of women that protects the inner child. . . . It's an energy."
Just like the female dog who will fiercely protect her pup when it is threatened, so should a "bitchy" woman protect her inner self whenthere is a need, Ms. Tosi says.
In a recent article in Essence magazine, writer LaDonna Mason argues the opposite of "inner bitch" nurturing. Although, she doesn't use the word "bitch" in her story, she writes of coming from a long line of overly aggressive women. Women, she says, (( need to calm that part of themselves -- for their own peace of mind.
"I come from a tough line of women who tolerated crap from no one," Ms. Mason writes in an article titled "Laying Down the Weapons."
When asked in a telephone conversation if she agreed that women should embrace their "inner bitch," Ms. Mason says that -- although she hadn't read the article -- it doesn't sound like it's for her.
"I don't care to be bitchy," she says from her New York office. "If you are being tough, you are not necessarily being yourself."
Mary Brizzolara, a psychology professor at Towson State
University, says everyone needs to make a distinction between assertiveness and aggressiveness. And bitchiness generally falls in the category of aggressiveness, she says.
"Assertiveness is when you stand up for your rights but don't violate the rights of others," says Dr. Brizzolara. "Aggressiveness is when you are violating the rights of others. And heavy-duty aggressiveness can turn into violence."
Women, she says, should aim for being assertive -- not aggressive. However, even strong, assertive women are still sometimes thought of as bitches.
"When women are assertive, they are still called 'dragon lady' and other names that we have all heard," Dr. Brizzolara says.
Ms. Hilts, though, prefers to define herself as being a bitch. "I cannot think of the word as a put-down," she says. "Bitch is a high compliment."