The “Bitch” Seat

Kirsten Ogden

I’m sitting with my boyfriend of 16 years having lunch at some chichi restaurant in Pasadena and
a long-bearded man goes by on a Harley, his female companion clinging to his leather vest with
just her fingertips, her red cowboy boots poised for action atop the chrome side bars.  For a minute
I’m wishing I was on that bike, and then my boyfriend pops up.

“Do you know what that open space on a Harley behind the driver is called?”

I’m forking in a mouthful of spinach and wishing I had ordered his garlic-cilantro fries instead of
my steamed green glop and vegetable soup.  What was I thinking? I’ve never ridden on a Harley.
I’ve ridden as a passenger on motorcycles just a handful of times in my life – once as a child with a
family friend, and once with a boy who was so in love with my sister that he constantly came over
and chatted with me just to be nearer to her, and occasionally he’d give me a ride up Sharp Park
Hill on his bike.  I didn’t feel cool back then, either.  I was self-conscious about holding onto his
waist as he went up the hill.  I wanted to look cool, but now I know that when I’m thinking about
looking cool, it’s pretty obvious that I simply cannot be cool.

The woman on this Harley my boyfriend points out in front of us doesn’t look like she feels self-
conscious at all.  In fact, she looks right at home on that Harley, like she was born on it.  She’s tan
and is wearing a string bikini top with tiny American flags on each breast cup.  It’s so cliche I want
to tell her, but it’s sad because as stupid as I want to say that bikini is, she looks really really cool.
Suddenly I want a Harley.

My boyfriend is smiling his perfect teeth smile, the rows all shiny and white and even.

“I dunno,” I say to him. “What do they call the space there?”

He is about to answer, but then moves his finger to his teeth.  “You’ve got a little something…” he
says, and I run my tongue over my teeth to catch the green spinach.  Not cool.

“Thanks,” I say. “So, tell me, what do they call it?”

All proud, and looking like he feels cool for this knowledge, he says, “The bitch seat!”

The bitch seat, he says.  The bitch seat.  I wonder if this is only on Harleys, or if all of the empty
spaces behind drivers on motorcycles is called the bitch seat.  This would mean that I am a bitch,
because I have ridden in that space.  This doesn’t make me happy, of course.  I don’t want to be a
bitch.  It may be kind of cool to be a bitch by Hollywood standards, but bitches in Hollywood are
blonde and gorgeous with great bodies and Juicy Couture.  That’s not me, no matter how many
nights I’ve cried into my ice cream sundaes and buckets of popcorn wishing it was me.  My
boyfriend ignores my gasp and goes into summarizing an episode of “King of the Hill” for me.  It’s
the one where Peggy and Hank buy a motorcycle, but Hank hurts himself and has to ride behind
his wife Peggy in the bitch seat.  This is supposed to be funny, of course, because it’s normal for a
woman to be in the bitch seat, but not to be riding high on the hog with a man in the bitch seat
behind her.  What hilarity.

I want to communicate this irritation I’m suddenly feeling to my boyfriend, that it shouldn’t be
called a bitch seat – that it’s not fair at all that men don’t ride in the bitch seats of the world more
often, but then I suddenly feel stupid and self-conscious, as I often do when I begin to think
Feminist with a capital F because I wonder, is it just me? Am I being too sensitive? I know that
feminists aren’t cool, because my students have told me this over and over on many occasions.  In
class whenever Feminist issues come up, there’s a collective sigh and much rolling of eyes.

“Missss Ohhhhh,” they whine, “Not cool.  C’mon! Do we gotta talk about this stuff? Can’t women
just get over it already?”

My boyfriend drops his garlic french fry into his mouth like he’s some sword-swallowing circus
freak.  I think about his mother asking when we’ll get married, just as she does every Christmas.
Answering this question is, in my mind, only possible after my boyfriend passes a series of
well-calculated tests.

“Baby,” I say to him in my sweetest voice, “would you ride in my bitch seat?”

He smiles.  I look away for a moment waiting for the correct answer, and I catch the eyes of the
hostess at the front of the restaurant looking in her pocket mirror.  She’s applying her lipliner
painstakingly, filling in the ridges with Red Drama.  I look back to my boyfriend and he says,
without hesitation, “Of course! I can be your bitch.”

This is funny, because he’s a man.  We giggle together.  I know he said this to be sweet, and he
knows I know he said it to be sweet.  It was the correct answer, after all.  The humor of it all should
offend my Feminist sensibilities, but it doesn’t.  The waitress comes and takes away our food.  She
asks him how he liked the garlic-cilantro fries.  He smiles and says “Great”, and I notice what the
waitress notices – a small leaf of cilantro delicately floating on the upper part of his right bicuspid
like a tooth tattoo.  She smiles back at him, giving nothing away.

“Cool,” she says. “Any dessert?”

He raises his eyebrow at me and makes the fake burp face, like he’s so full he’ll explode.  When I
do that I look fat, but when he does it, he looks cute.  It’s sick, really.

“Yeah,” I say.  “I want dessert.”

The waitress walks away to get the tray and my boyfriend looks at me and smiles.

“What?” I say this in a self-conscious way, like I’m embarrassed to be me all of a sudden.  He runs
his tongue over his teeth.

“How are they?” He flashes me a winning, cilantro-tattooed toothy smile.

I nod. “Perfect.”

He reaches across the table.  “You’re so cool,” he says, and I know he means it, and without an
ounce of guilt, I smile.