B*tching has transformed since we first learned this dark art in primary school and Sophie White has to face some harsh truths when trawling through her screengrabs
Bitching is a form of cardio for me. I get that many might take issue with that but what can I say, I'm a b*tch. I once listed b*tching under the 'hobby' section of a questionnaire I was filling out. I've been b*tching long enough to have completely rationalised this admittedly toxic practice. It's not hurting anyone as such, as long as the subject of the b*tch sesh doesn't find out, it's a harmless bit of conversational entertainment.
Of course, b*tching does go awry. There's barely a person I know who hasn't sent a text or email to the wrong person at this point, 20 years on and we still can't work the internet, it seems.
Pre-tech advances, our b*tching efforts were delightfully, charmingly low fi. I vividly remember my introduction to the catty intrigue of bitchiness in senior infants. It was 1991 so naturally I was wearing pink lycra cycling shorts and my fave Mini Mouse Jumper when the coolest girl in Mrs. O'Connor's class walked over and spoke those magical words that every awkward girl in Our Lady Of Mercy Convent School longed to hear.
“Cool shorts.” I was frozen to the spot unsure whether I was hallucinating this dream scenario or if it was really happening. Then she dealt the cruel follow up blow: “I used to have some just like them.”
Oh, she gaveth and then she taketh away.
Now, as an adult, I can respect what a brilliantly devised and executed put down this was. With a subtle shift in tenses “used to have some” she let me know that I'd lost this little social interaction and left me confused, trying to fathom why what sounded like a compliment, felt so much like a slight. It was a truly impressive piece of b*tching. And in one so young. She clearly had a stellar career in the art ahead of her.
My teens were the era of three-way calling, whereby one person would stay silent on the line while the other would call a mutual friend and attempt to get them to say something incriminating about the silent party. It was kind of like an FBI wire tap only with more talk of what happened in Geography. Other topics covered included who was saying what about other people – and therein lies the problem with our teenage b*tching. Our adolescent world was fairly limited, we really had little to b*tch about but other b*tches, who presumably in turn were off somewhere b*tching about us.
Since the impotent bitching sessions of our teens, the medium of bitching has been radically altered — and, I think, elevated — by technology. Bitching has become a multi-disciplinary art form of infinite inventiveness and, crucially, evidence.
From the transgressions of the very powerful, to the petty, and painstakingly nursed grudge we harbour against that person who barely knows we exist, we have the evidence to back the bitching up. “She’s got the receipts” gleefully crowd GQ when b*tching professional Kim Kardashian did the 2016 equivalent of three-way calling and outed Taylor Swift via Snapchat with a carefully preserved video as having lied publicly about some very catty and convoluted backstabbing going on between TayTay and the Kardashian-Wests. It's complicated I know but the point is that even the most casual grudge can now be backed up by tangible, audio visual support materials. That’s right, we have the receipts to hold our enemies accountable and all is fair in the game of enemies but what I'm noticing more and more is a kind of unnerving social monitoring in the form of the screengrab.
My WhatsApp groups are replete with screenshots of the style missteps, cringey captions, bad fillers and or dodgey facetuning and it's starting to feel a bit, well, icky. Even for a b*tching aficionado like me, the amount of screengrabbing I'm doing is a bit gross. It's essentially the b*tching equivalent of pointing and laughing at someone behind their back, the ambulance chasing of the b*tching world.
Before, when defending my love of b*tching I would argue that at least it's a democratic model in that only the most perfect people have dodged either being the subject or instigator of a good b*tching session.
As a person prone to testy outbursts, I have frequently felt that unnerving unease when a Whatsapp group goes silent. “They’re on a side group now saying what a b*tch I am,” I b*tch on a separate side group. The realisation has been slowly dawning that perhaps b*tching is not as victimless as I'd first thought, though increasingly I'm thinking that we ourselves are the victims.
I was recently grappling with the storage on my phone (oh the storage woes are unending) and my friend suggested I delete my screenshots. I quizzed her on whether or not she was trying to imply that I'm a b*tch, however to my horror when I checked the camera roll I did have an embarrassingly large number of screenshots. Like more than pictures of my kids.
It was certainly becoming a tad unseemly just how much I was delighting in my perceived personal superiority over a random blogger who has a fairly innocent enjoyment of posting pictures of her ‘tranquility corner’. I binned the entire roll of screenshots and later when on my hourly amble through Instagram I resisted when the urge to screengrab anything hit me.
I'm still capable of a rousing live reading of irritating work email threads, it's a cathartic way to purge one of rage and is a fairly innocent entertainment among friends. But I'm giving up the grab for good. Largely, I'll admit because I've growing concerns that people are being alerted to them when I do it but also because let's face it, it is verging on toxic.