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On the Subject of Bitches

By Michael Divine

When a man in charge is frank with his opinions, curt with his commands, and just has abrupt no-nonsense way about him, he is seen as a guy who knows how to lead and is respected and well-regarded. He may not always even be the nicest guy – he can be kind of a dick even – yet something about him seems to command respect. Well, people say, it’s the fact that he’s intelligent, level-headed, and knows what he wants and, though he might even be a bit headstrong, he really does know how to do it and he gets it done. He may not even be the clearest and most honest person in every corner of his life but when it comes to work, he knows what he wants and how to get it and goddammit, people say, you just gotta respect that.

Put a woman in his place, though, and people call her a bitch, if not to her face then behind her back. So hard to work with, they say.

When a woman is the one in charge – issuing commands and getting shit done (because that’s how you have to do it sometimes) – and knows what she wants and is intelligent, level-headed, and, well, all the things I described above… people have a hard time just accepting her as she is and instead cast her in this derogatory light.

This kind of thing is everywhere and I see it in my own communities. These places that are so-called smashing the patriarchy and full of men who think they are breaking out of gender norms fall right back into this ingrained learned behavior where whenever a woman is forward and/or considered headstrong and/or non-nonsense and takes-no-shit: she’s considered a bitch, hard to work with, etc.

To put it plainly: it’s a sexist simple minded view of the world.

For a human who identifies as a women: leading the charge is not an easy thing to do and it challenges most men’s ideas of power.

See, it’s a funny paradox that gets created: women are told that they should be strong, powerful goddesses. They can just reach out and “manifest” they want. They need to speak their feelings! They should be powerful co-creators (emphasis on the ‘co’).

However, when they decide to be the one in charge… well… It challenges all those men (and some women) who are supposedly so in touch with themselves. It’s a deeply ingrained belief system. While we have moved past the general ‘woman should stay home with the kids thing’ and beyond ‘women should always wear a bra’ we still have this issue with women in charge.

“That man just told me what to do in a stern no-nonsense kind of way! What a leader!”

“That woman just told me what to do in a stern no-nonsense kind of way! What a bitch!”

Why?

She told you what to do in a stern no-nonsense kind of way and now your man panties are in a bunch because you don’t feel like you’re in charge? Like somehow you’ve been castrated? Like, eek, your deeply ingrained gender normative roles are deeper than you thought and, gasp, there’s still learning (and unlearning) to do?

I interviewed some lady friends of mine about this recently. I am blessed to be friends with some wonderful and powerful women.

Here are some thoughts on this subject from some women I know:

AB: “Now that I am in a role of more ‘authority’ I have experienced [this sexism] quite a bit. [My partner] can say the same thing I do and he is a strong leader and everyone loves him. Me – bitch. Until we (men and women!) uncover these attitudes and beliefs we will never be in truth with one another.”

KJ: “Oh… Wait… So there’s a chance I might not be as ‘bitchy and … radically self entitled’ as they said I am? I thought I was just looking out and being self reliant and responsible… That’s okay right? or wait, no..?

“I’ve seen it, and have been the recipient of it before… From ‘conscious’ dudes in our ‘community’. Honestly… it has made it challenging to feel community support, and instead, invokes feelings of shame and isolation, for being truthful and speaking it.

“Though I feel nervous publicly sharing this – and sorry if this sounds bitchy – it’s a place where I’ve been confused for some time.. especially upon immersing into this tribe (a more appropriate word than community in my opinion) When I didn’t assert myself, out of shyness and respect for others, it was labeled as unattractive or acquiescence. Then when I stopped being a doormat, grew a spine, and stood up for myself, while still being mindful about other’s feelings, I got the “bitchy and demanding” name tag by guys that I have seen walk all over people because they expected respect based on their popularity, status, etc. Okay, so I feel I deserve to be treated with respect. Does that alone make me entitled or demanding? Maybe so but I believe everyone deserves to be treated with respect. So is that really just me being bitchy and self entitled when I feel that everyone else deserves the same kindness that I expect, and that I get upset when I feel disrespected or see a fellow person being denied respect? Really, I feel sometimes like neither way of being is okay to others, and feels like an inner psychosis.. Catch 22, what to do? WTF? I’m glad to hear that maybe my feelings are valid and that maybe I’m not just the crazy bitch.”

AL: “I struggle with this. I get a reflection that I am cold/sharp/ unfriendly when people first meet me. I think they approach me when i’m super busy with lots of people around, or on my way to a gig or something, and then I get that label. Also I feel like less men are attracted to me or more intimidated by me and see me as less “feminine.” I want to be even more outspoken and expressive in the future while retaining and magnifying my femininity…what to do….”


EG: “This absolutely true… as a manager/leader in an industry that is completely male dominated, I frequently get this label. How to balance the masculine energy I am surrounded by with my own femininity has been challenging…”

As EG notes, there’s this idea of what ‘masculine’ is and what ‘feminine’ is and that supposedly feminine is supposed to be this softer more receptive and submissive thing in order to be attractive. Before, we get caught up in antiquated ideas of gender and such, we really need to understand that masculine and feminine are just words – they are not male and female but are yin and yang (which are neither male nor female) – two sides of coin and opposite ends of a spectrum. They are present in all things and all people. To say that dominance and submissiveness are male/female characters is to get caught up in the whole culturally conditioned charade.

When people who are seen as women, present themselves as women, and/or identify as women rock a bit farther towards the balance of that spectrum – where they embody the side of them that needs to command at times – they get called ‘bitch’. It scares the men and intimidates the women.

Well. Look. Fuck that.

I wish we could all just be who we are. Let women lead when they lead! Get out of the way of the good ideas! Let men lead when they lead! If a woman counters you, treat her as anyone else: a HUMAN. A PERSON deserving of compassion, respect, and love, encouraging their creativity and their desires to excel. If we really are doing this together – and we are, there’s no doubt about that – if we really are making the world a better place TOGETHER – then we need to respect each other AS WE ARE and ferret out those deeply ingrained patterns and be better humans than the ones who came before us.

***

I wrote this 9 years ago. I edited it a bit for this but, unsurprisingly, not a whole lot has changed.

On the Subject of Bitches

When a man in charge is frank with his opinions, curt with his commands, and just has abrupt no-nonsense way about him, he is seen as a guy who knows how to lead and is respected and well-regarded. He may not always even be the nicest guy – he can be kind of a dick even – yet something about him seems to command respect. Well, people say, it’s the fact that he’s intelligent, level-headed, and knows what he wants and, though he might even be a bit headstrong, he really does know how to do it and he gets it done. He may not even be the clearest and most honest person in every corner of his life but when it comes to work, he knows what he wants and how to get it and goddammit, people say, you just gotta respect that.

Put a woman in his place, though, and people call her a bitch, if not to her face then behind her back. So hard to work with, they say.

When a woman is the one in charge – issuing commands and getting shit done (because that’s how you have to do it sometimes) – and knows what she wants and is intelligent, level-headed, and, well, all the things I described above… people have a hard time just accepting her as she is and instead cast her in this derogatory light.

This kind of thing is everywhere and I see it in my own communities. These places that are so-called smashing the patriarchy and full of men who think they are breaking out of gender norms fall right back into this ingrained learned behavior where whenever a woman is forward and/or considered headstrong and/or non-nonsense and takes-no-shit: she’s considered a bitch, hard to work with, etc.

To put it plainly: it’s a sexist simple minded view of the world.

For a human who identifies as a women: leading the charge is not an easy thing to do and it challenges most men’s ideas of power.

See, it’s a funny paradox that gets created: women are told that they should be strong, powerful goddesses. They can just reach out and “manifest” they want. They need to speak their feelings! They should be powerful co-creators (emphasis on the ‘co’).

However, when they decide to be the one in charge… well… It challenges all those men (and some women) who are supposedly so in touch with themselves. It’s a deeply ingrained belief system. While we have moved past the general ‘woman should stay home with the kids thing’ and beyond ‘women should always wear a bra’ we still have this issue with women in charge.

“That man just told me what to do in a stern no-nonsense kind of way! What a leader!”

“That woman just told me what to do in a stern no-nonsense kind of way! What a bitch!”

Why?

She told you what to do in a stern no-nonsense kind of way and now your man panties are in a bunch because you don’t feel like you’re in charge? Like somehow you’ve been castrated? Like, eek, your deeply ingrained gender normative roles are deeper than you thought and, gasp, there’s still learning (and unlearning) to do?

I interviewed some lady friends of mine about this recently. I am blessed to be friends with some wonderful and powerful women.

Here are some thoughts on this subject from some women I know:

AB: “Now that I am in a role of more ‘authority’ I have experienced [this sexism] quite a bit. [My partner] can say the same thing I do and he is a strong leader and everyone loves him. Me – bitch. Until we (men and women!) uncover these attitudes and beliefs we will never be in truth with one another.”

KJ: “Oh… Wait… So there’s a chance I might not be as ‘bitchy and … radically self entitled’ as they said I am? I thought I was just looking out and being self reliant and responsible… That’s okay right? or wait, no..?

“I’ve seen it, and have been the recipient of it before… From ‘conscious’ dudes in our ‘community’. Honestly… it has made it challenging to feel community support, and instead, invokes feelings of shame and isolation, for being truthful and speaking it.

“Though I feel nervous publicly sharing this – and sorry if this sounds bitchy – it’s a place where I’ve been confused for some time.. especially upon immersing into this tribe (a more appropriate word than community in my opinion) When I didn’t assert myself, out of shyness and respect for others, it was labeled as unattractive or acquiescence. Then when I stopped being a doormat, grew a spine, and stood up for myself, while still being mindful about other’s feelings, I got the “bitchy and demanding” name tag by guys that I have seen walk all over people because they expected respect based on their popularity, status, etc. Okay, so I feel I deserve to be treated with respect. Does that alone make me entitled or demanding? Maybe so but I believe everyone deserves to be treated with respect. So is that really just me being bitchy and self entitled when I feel that everyone else deserves the same kindness that I expect, and that I get upset when I feel disrespected or see a fellow person being denied respect? Really, I feel sometimes like neither way of being is okay to others, and feels like an inner psychosis.. Catch 22, what to do? WTF? I’m glad to hear that maybe my feelings are valid and that maybe I’m not just the crazy bitch.”

AL: “I struggle with this. I get a reflection that I am cold/sharp/ unfriendly when people first meet me. I think they approach me when i’m super busy with lots of people around, or on my way to a gig or something, and then I get that label. Also I feel like less men are attracted to me or more intimidated by me and see me as less “feminine.” I want to be even more outspoken and expressive in the future while retaining and magnifying my femininity…what to do….”


EG: “This absolutely true… as a manager/leader in an industry that is completely male dominated, I frequently get this label. How to balance the masculine energy I am surrounded by with my own femininity has been challenging…”

As EG notes, there’s this idea of what ‘masculine’ is and what ‘feminine’ is and that supposedly feminine is supposed to be this softer more receptive and submissive thing in order to be attractive. Before, we get caught up in antiquated ideas of gender and such, we really need to understand that masculine and feminine are just words – they are not male and female but are yin and yang (which are neither male nor female) – two sides of coin and opposite ends of a spectrum. They are present in all things and all people. To say that dominance and submissiveness are male/female characters is to get caught up in the whole culturally conditioned charade.

When people who are seen as women, present themselves as women, and/or identify as women rock a bit farther towards the balance of that spectrum – where they embody the side of them that needs to command at times – they get called ‘bitch’. It scares the men and intimidates the women.

Well. Look. Fuck that.

I wish we could all just be who we are. Let women lead when they lead! Get out of the way of the good ideas! Let men lead when they lead! If a woman counters you, treat her as anyone else: a HUMAN. A PERSON deserving of compassion, respect, and love, encouraging their creativity and their desires to excel. If we really are doing this together – and we are, there’s no doubt about that – if we really are making the world a better place TOGETHER – then we need to respect each other AS WE ARE and ferret out those deeply ingrained patterns and be better humans than the ones who came before us.