Marlene Dietrich, queen of urban chic, role model for the modern bitch.

They’re not minting bitches like they used to, take Marlene Dietrich for example, Queen of the Urbane Bitch, Mistress of Debonair, High Priestess of Seduction, and now try to think of one female celebrity in the last three decades who exudes even one tenth her sophistication and seductive charm.

“Times have changed, Judith.’

But who changed them, darling?

When did we lose our tampon chic, our stiletto suave, when did we become so safe and utterly predictable the media can build entire marketing campaigns around knowing what we’ll do next, safe in the knowledge that that’s exactly what we’ll do?

I am female but I’ll be damned if I’ll be your idea of female. I cringe when I see women through the lens of a fashion photographer’s camera, I think “does this guy even like women, does he even know what a woman is supposed to look like?” When did accordion ribs and shrivelled breasts become the benchmark for all things feminine?

Who gets to define what it is to be a woman? Who tells us what to wear, or how low or how high, or what’s in season or what’s so-last-fucking-year, who plans our wardrobe, or makes us so dissatisfied with our bodies we’ll go under the knife just to look like that model on the cover of Vogue, who looks just like that model on the cover of Elle, who looks just like that model on the cover of…..

…You get the picture.

For that reason I admire Marlene Dietrich, not because she defined women, but because she defined Marlene Dietrich, sure, women copied her look, her style, her smoky one-liners and double entendres, to the extent they’ve become modern day clichés, but Marlene was undoubtedly the first, and to the best of my knowledge, the only one of her kind.

When used to define a woman, the word bitch (literally a “female dog”) would imply that men, our faithful companions, are little more than leashed curs, but as a pejorative “bitch” has also come to mean a woman who is far ahead of the morals and conventions of her time, who is able to define her own sexuality without referring to church or media for guidance.

In that regard Marlene Dietrich was every inch a bitch, from cross dresser to amateur boxer, from adulteress to bisexual provocateur, she broke taboos on every front, not as a conscious champion of her gender, or some pioneering feminist, but in service to herself and the life she felt entitled to.

Now that’s my kind of bitch.

JUDITH CHAMBERS

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