I did a close reading of the scene, from Americanah on pages 797-798, in which Ifemelu confesses to sleeping with a man in her apartment, Rob, and Curt becomes incensed and calls her a bitch.
“‘You gave him what he wanted,’… it was an odd thing for Curt to say, the sort of thing Auntry Uju, who thought of sex as something a woman gave a man at a loss to herself, would say.
In a sudden giddy fit of recklessness, she corrected Curt. ‘I took what I wanted. If I gave him anything, then it was incidental.’
‘Listen to yourself, Just fucking listen to yourself!’…
‘You won’t forgive me,’ she said, a half question.
‘Bitch,’ he said.
He wielded the word like a knife; it came out of his mouth sharp with loathing. To hear Curt say ‘bitch’ so coldly felt surreal, and tears gathered in her eyes, knowing that she had turned him into a man who could say ‘bitch so coldly, and wishing he was a man who would not have said ‘bitch’ not matter what”
Ifemelu is sexually objectified by Curt and this is revealed when he says “you gave him what he wanted”. This shows that he sees her as a commodity to be passed between men to get what they want out of her (sex). It is not until she corrects him and pushes back against this type of thinking that he calls her a bitch.
The use of the word bitch is a controlling image. Women are not allowed to have the same quality of sexual freedom that men have and when they try to break those boundaries, controlling images are used as a last resort to deplete self assurance and self made independence. When Curt called Ifemelu a bitch, he was trying to plant a seed of doubt in her.
comparing the word bitch to a knife was so shocking to me. It made me realize how violent of a word it is. One that is founded in so much oppression and even self hate. In Ifemelu’s reflection after the incident she says that “she had turned him into a man who could said bitch so coldly”. Ifemelu is reacting to this abuse in a way that puts the blame on herself.