“Praised be bitch” are the words left on a note from Moira to June (also known as Offred), two friends who were unable to escape the hands of a male-dominated government in which fertile women must procreate for the ruling families.
This so-called solution aims to increase the dwindling birth rates whilst also adhering to biblically based ideologies that ban sex for pleasure, refuse to give control to women and force everyone (most of all the handmaids) to remain within the confines of their role. For the handmaids, this means allowing the husbands to rape them once a month in the presence of their wife, a painful process disturbingly named The Ceremony.
“Praised be” is a term they often use in this ‘new America’. The phrase is a passive aggressive reminder that they are in their hands now, the hands of the commanders (the husbands of the house) and anyone above them.
But the words take on different meanings throughout the series. When June says it to Emily (Ofglen) at the start of the series, it is questioning and suspicious: Are you one of them or not? But when trust is eventually built between the two women, the phrase has new connotations: Let’s talk later – This is bullshit – I hate this place – There is hope.
Just like that, the two handmaids are able to communicate using only two words, “Praised be”. They are able to make these words their own, even under a leadership that forbids them from possessing anything real.
When June sees Moira at an underground brothel, where Moira is obliged to have sex with men seeking a more uninhibited form of sexual pleasure, she discovers her friend has lost herself amidst the drink, drugs and everyday traumas she endures there – she has accepted her fate. Upon realizing this, June cries, You keep your fucking shit together and you fight!, not dissimilar to the words that came out of Moira’s mouth at the beginning of their journey as handmaids.
It isn’t until June receives Moira’s note with the words, “Praised be bitch”, that we know she took her friend’s words to heart. The additional obscenity at the end of the otherwise bland expression ignites her bond with June and this bond alone is a rebellious act against the patriarchal dictatorship that seeks to destroy loyalty amongst women.
It is no coincidence that “bitch” is a swear word, for curses are rebellious statements frequently used when a person doesn’t want to use force, or can’t. In a flashback, we even see Moira etch the words, “Aunt Lydia Sux”, onto a cubicle wall, words that emphasize her need to find herself again through this small act of defiance.
The word “Bitch” has been used to insult women from as early as the 15th Century. Like the ever-popular word “Whore”, it was used to defame women who were believed to be ‘of easy virtue’. But the slur was used very little until the 1920s when women’s rights were being put into question. After that, “Bitch” became a label for troublesome or infuriating women.
Although the jibe was initially used to discredit women, the word was snatched back by females through art and journalism. With the birth of Second-wave feminism in the 1960s, feminists began using the word as a tool to bring the so-called bitches together – “Bitch” became a brand.
So, by refusing to acknowledge its leverage against the cause (whether personal or collective), the word took on a whole new meaning.
Nowadays, “Bitch” is also casually used between female friends as a sign of closeness and solidarity – as is the case with Moira and June – and this abrupt yet personal mark of affection revives their comradery and fuels the fire for a revolt.
Swear words are a simple form of resistance, but sometimes they are more powerful than we think…
…Praised be bitch!