In Defense Of 'Petty'

How women are reclaiming a word once used to diminish them.
The queen of petty. 
The queen of petty. 

When news of Blac Chyna and Rob Kardashian's budding romance first came to light, there was one word that kept appearing on Twitter, on Tumblr, and in the comments sections of tabloid Instagram accounts: petty. The fact that Chyna had managed to win the affections of the only Kardashian son, much to the dismay of her ex-BFF Kim Kardashian and nemesis Kylie Jenner seemed like a Machiavellian stroke of pure genius.

What Chyna had pulled off was petty, and the pettiness of it all turned her into a kind of folk hero, a figure to be celebrated for the unapologetic spitefulness of her move. 

But social media's celebration of Blac Chyna's pettiness is just a small part of an overall renaissance of petty, one that has really bloomed over the past year. The word petty has become part of the vernacular of Twitter and Tumblr, used liberally on black gossip sites and message boards like The Shade Room and Lipstick Alley. The Shade Room even has its own #PettyWap tag, used to highlight the week's most delicious moments of petty, be it Candace Parker demanding and getting $109k a month in alimony from her cheating ex-husband, or Chyna and Rob announcing their own Kardashian-style show on E!.  

Some "petty" merchandise from gossip site The Shade Room. 
Some "petty" merchandise from gossip site The Shade Room. 

Today, pettiness can mean throwing perfect, scathing shade (see: almost everything Mariah Carey says), or deftly turning the tables on an unpleasant person or situation in order to get ahead (a la Blac Chyna). But when did petty, especially in respect to women, become an almost positive concept, a badge of honor, something women across social media proudly and gleefully declare about themselves through memes, T-shirts, and tweets?

Pettiness has traditionally had negative connotations. It's one the many less-than-desirable traits that has been coded female, right up there with cattiness, manipulativeness and bitchiness. 


A photo posted by china😘 (@1finechina) on

Like "bitchy," men are almost never described as petty. It's a word that has primarily been used to devalue the actions and motivations of empowered women; a word even used to belittle feminists and feminism on the whole.

The textbook definition of petty is "trivial" and "insignificant," and thus the word has long been used as a dismissal of the supposedly insignificant ambitions and emotions of women. Women "pick petty fights," live for "petty drama," and play up their "petty victim-hood" whenever they call out sexism.  

Over the last decade, there has been a movement to reclaim "bitch," and now it seems that "petty" has been reclaimed, too. There's a whole group of women who are owning up to the fact that they have the capacity for pettiness, and they are unapologetic about it.

This isn't to say that the new conception of pettiness is always positive or always "feminist." But there's something deeply compelling about the idea that a woman like Blac Chyna can be celebrated for her petty, and that Beyonce's groundbreaking "Lemonade" album can be praised with memes and headlines like "Fresh-Squeezed Petty." 

Perhaps there's a kind of power in being willing to be the "bad guy," to be uncompromising, to be a little messy or crazy, and not worry about how that makes you look -- because at the end of the day, you still slay. Perhaps there is, in fact, a power in pettiness. 



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