So it’s harmless, right, to label a wine Bitch. Or Sexy Bitch or Sweet Bitch or Royal Bitch or Crazy Bitch or any other of the 48 “bitch” names for which producers or marketers have applied to the TTB (common shorthand for the Federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) that oversees and approves labels for alcoholic beverages in the U.S.

I mean this is all just a joke, right, and if I am increasingly bothered by the proliferation of such “humorous” bitch labels then I must be a prude or completely lacking in sense of humor or just plain old, because the bitch labels, the critter labels, the goofy labels, the surreal labels, the double ententre labels — Pinot Evil, Herding Cats, Plungerhead, Screw Kappa Napa, Rude Boy and Rude Girl, Hair of the Dingo, Full Montepulciano, Smoking Parrot, Arrogant Frog and on and on — are intended, we are told, to draw the attention of young people who (quoting a press release) “are intrigued by fun wines freed of the burden of snobbery and geeky Old School connoisseurship.”

Actually, I’m not a prude, and I have a pretty active and slightly bent sense of humor — I won’t comment on the age issue — but words have meanings and consequences, and I think that the “bitch” label phenomenon — apparently launched by the R Winery in Australia, a collaboration between winemaker Chris Ringland and American importer Dan Philips that ran into serious financial trouble last year — offers a serious critique on attitudes toward women in America.

What is a bitch? A female dog, to be sure. Also a complaining woman; a competitive woman; a woman with a superior attitude; a demanding or assertive woman; a woman who denies a man sex; in short — women, because to many segments of American culture, all women are competitive, demanding, assertive, balls-breaking bitches. Unless, of course, they manifest the other side of femininity, promulgated in mainstream Hollywood movies and television sit-coms, as the sweet, non-threatening girls you would be proud to take home to meet Mom and Dad. (Maybe not Dad.) Hiphop, one of the dominant if not the dominant form of pop music in America (and an incredible influence on world culture), is defined by its deeply misogynist stance on women. Who hasn’t stopped at a red light next to a thunderously booming sound system that you feel in the marrow of your defenseless bones that churns out the refrains of “Slap the bitch,” “Fuck the bitch” and “Kill the bitch”?

Whatever advances were attained by women and their male supporters in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, popular culture has succeeded in dumbing down or, at least in the collective imagination, turning into a charade, a caricature of progress. Look at the two women involved in the latest public displays of unhinged male prowess, the still-unnamed chambermaid assaulted in a New York hotel — excuse me, allegedly assaulted — by IMF director Dominque Strass-Kahn, and Mildred Patricia Baena, the housekeeper who worked for Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver for 20 years and who after an affair with Schwarzenegger gave birth to his child in 1997. Both women are being demonized on websites and blogs all over the world, the maid for daring to accuse a man far her superior in wealth, status and importance, and Baena for not being hot enough. Like, who do these gold-digging bitches think they are?

There’s nothing wrong with humor and irreverence in the naming of wines and the design of their labels; if irreverence and creativity bring more people into the wine-drinking fold, I’m all for it. Do we, however, have to continue to demean women in such automatic, casual, degrading manner? Let’s have a moratorium on “bitch”‘ labels. Let’s be better than that.

Bitch Grenache image, slightly altered, from aglassafterwork.com