A friend recently called me a bitch while saying warm heartedly that,"it's the thing that she loves most about me." In camaraderie she said that she too was a bitch. I was not comforted, at least not right away.
To be called a bitch to my face, by a dear friend, I must admit that for a second, shocked me. Me? No way? I am strong, I am honest, I am assertive, I am confident, I am sweet, I am kind, but a bitch, I am not! Or am I? And why take offense to the word since I am in great company--Hillary Clinton, Gloria Steinem, Susan Rice, Dolores Huerta are purportedly "bitches" or "bitchy." Funny that when a man is called a bitch it is quite the opposite. But I digress...
Reflecting on what it means to be a bitch
The literal meaning of the word gives us a clue as to how the current cultural meaning may have come about. A female dog has lots of lovers and that that makes observers of dog life--the mostly male scientists--very uncomfortable. Female dogs, they know what's up. But, I digress.
In today's cultural context the B-word is often used to describe powerful female leaders who don't take any kind of shit from men or really, anyone else. They are independent thinkers. These are women with an edge to them. They are bold. They make history. They are brave. "Bitches" in that context are the opposite of meek. They are feminists. These so called "bitches" draw lines in the sand and demand respect. They are women like Huerta, First Lady Michelle Obama, Clinton, Steinem, Gloria Allred and women like my momma, who raised me to be a strong woman, ie a Big-B. We are also marshmallows and generous, and yes, super darling too.
"Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes." Walt Whitman
I love that line because I am large and I accept and embrace my multitudes, including that, when necessary, I can let the bitch that resides within loose, very loose. I recognize that because I am confident in my largess, it may make some small people feel insecure. But that is not my problem and though I don't have bronchitis, ain't nobody got time for that.
I understand my multitudes and I have compassion and even admiration for what those multitudes offer me. Every woman has many archetypes within and being a bitch is but one of them. It is in that knowing that allows me or any female who taps into that wonder to stand in our power.
And here is the thing about that little B-word, it frightens so many female leaders, including me. Who wants to be called that? To be a bitch is steeped in negativity because we want to be liked, loved, and to be called the b-word is no accolade. Perhaps it's time that we redefine the word bitch like the gays have redefined queer. To be queer is now a wonderful thing. When will the day be for a woman to be called a bitch and be a wonderful thing?
As women journey through life--in our personal and professional spheres--we fear that if we demand too much or be assertive, etc etc, then we get labeled... Let's stop living small.
Accepting the bitch within is accepting that you will stand in your power. I stumbled on the blog, Bitches in the Boardroom while researching the B-word and agree with Jessica Miller Merrel when she writes that "when women who are confident, calm, and educated," and speak truth to power, "they are often seen as trouble" with a big T. Sadly, those very traits that make women amazing leaders are often associated with being a B-with a capital B.
Fawn Germer, author of Mustang Sallies: Success Secrets from Women who Refuse to Run with the Herd," writes about the time at a Christmas party that a colleague blurted out that he'd heard that she was a real bitch. That made Germer very sad but thank goodness the former Washington Post reporter has gotten over it. She writes that bold women give off "energy that threatens insecure people so we have to watch every word so we are not misinterpreted."
In that same post, Germer offers some tips for "edgy" women to be more effective. Try her tips so that your words don't land in the bitch zone:
- If you are angry about something, try to wait a day to say or write anything. Cool down as much as you can.
- Always re-read every bit of your correspondence out loud, and do it in the shrillest, bitchiest tone of voice possible – because that may well be the way it is interpreted.
- Do not immediately defend yourself if you are told you have messed up. You have every right to make your point, but do it with a plan and don’t do it when you are emotional.
- Avoid crying. We are hormonal beings and it will happen. But, try to avoid it. When you feel it coming, go to the bathroom, go get a drink of water or do something else to stop or hide the tears.
- Understand that your job is not to win every battle, but rather, to survive to fight another day.
- Ask others what they think you are communicating and make sure it’s a match.
- If others are gossiping about you, do not be afraid to confront it and say, “I would much rather we talk directly and keep our communication open.”
- Build a strong, powerful support group around you to validate you when others are tearing you down.