Chapter 10 – Bitches
The woman who does not require validation from anyone is the most feared individual
on the planet. –Mohadesea Najumi
- Informal, often offensive, a malicious, spiteful or overbearing woman.
- Informal, offensive, used as a generalized term of abuse and disparagement for a woman.
- Informal: Something that is extremely difficult, objectionable or unpleasant.
A book titled The B Words would be woefully incomplete without addressing the most famous B word of all: bitch. The traditional – perhaps old-fashioned – reaction is to be offended. On the other hand, to a younger generation and in certain work environments, the word can be considered a compliment. The reaction of the woman on the receiving end of bitch is definitely influenced by generation and context.
In the traditional sense of the word, it’s sad but inevitable that a working woman will, at one point or another, be called a bitch. It typically occurs as a woman shifts from the babe role (Chapter 4 – Babes) and becomes more confident and knowledgeable in her position. Perhaps it is related to a promotion or perceived advantage over someone else, like a flexible schedule or a raise. In my case, it happened early and often; as a sensitive, perhaps emotional person, it not only hurt my feelings but shook my confidence, made me question my self-worth and values. One little word had so much power.
As explored in Chapter 9 (Bullies), name calling and backstabbing are, unfortunately, not confined to the elementary playground and middle school. Bullying is rampant among adults as well. In spite of HR departments, rule books, ethics and harassment training, hostile behavior still permeates the workplace. Like bullying, calling someone a bitch is gender neutral behavior; it can come from a man or a woman. In the male dominated field of construction, I knew as I rose up the ranks that I was making a few men uncomfortable, and I guess I had expected some form of retribution. What I was not prepared for was other women stabbing me in the back and doing everything they could to set me up for failure.
Just like other inflammatory words from the past, bitch is losing its stigma among the younger generation. Rap lyrics push boundaries, and words that were once considered derogatory and insulting may have lost their impact. On college campuses, sorority sisters affectionately refer to each other as “bitches,” and complaining together is known as a “bitch session.” Reality star Stassi Schroeder of Bravo TV’s Vanderpump Rules recently wrote a book called Next Level Basic: The Definitive Basic Bitch Handbook, which celebrates basic bitch rights. While the connotation of the word in certain contexts has changed, women of all ages know the difference between fun and degradation. It is all in the delivery.
While the world of language is changing, there are still some things you can do to recover when someone calls you a bitch to your face or, worse, sabotages you behind your back in an attempt to derail your success. Carol Mitchell’s book Breaking Through “Bitch” provides some insight.
When we think of leaders, we have familiar phrases that reinforce the maleness of power and leadership. What we expect of men in our society is virtually identical to what we expect of leaders, so it is easy to confuse leadership and masculinity. An effective leader is admired for his command of situations and for “being a man.” Masculinity is consistent with powerful, authoritative leadership. Men demonstrate power physically, financially and/or intellectually, and masculine terms are perceived as good while feminine traits are seen as bad.
Women generally fall into three stereotypes that reinforce expectations:
- Nurture, caretaker, mother.
- Seductress, sexually idealized women, Barbie.
- Saint, pedestal, Mother Teresa.
Feminine traits such as warmth, caretaking and expressiveness are emphasized and highly valued in society, but they are not associated with leadership and power. When a woman ignores this set of expectations and demonstrates strong, competent leadership, she’s often criticized. She is regarded as harsh, abrasive and aggressive, which may ultimately lead to being labeled a bitch.
Mitchell’s 20 years of research show that it doesn’t need to be this way. Women can turn their unique feminine traits into an advantage. According to Breaking Through “Bitch,” women need to be assertive, driven and in control while filing smooth the hard edges associated with stereotypical male leadership.
To avoid the brick wall of “bitch,” women can draw on three perceived “feminine” traits to achieve big things without ruffling male egos.
- Collaboration: According to Alice Eagly, a professor of women studies at Northwestern University, women are naturally more democratic and collaborative than men, and when women do not act collaboratively, they are ineffective. People do not like being ordered around, especially by a woman. Collaboration takes a knack for finding common ground and requires admitting that there is tension and working with another person to resolve it. Women naturally show more empathy than men and, as a result, can see situations from another’s point of view.
- Transformational Leadership: Women have a tendency to treat people as individuals and develop personal relationships. In the case of leadership, this translates to a woman naturally becoming a role model, an inspiration. It is much easier to follow a woman who is inspirational than one who is perceived as confrontational.
- Positive Discipline: When it comes to discipline, leaders will take a reward approach or a negative punishment approach. Women naturally gravitate toward positive discipline: “How can I help you be successful?” Men tend toward a negative approach: “If you don’t do this, I will fire you.” By embracing their natural tendency toward positive discipline, women will be more successful in leading people and teams.
At the end of the day, name calling is a symptom of stress, a lack of self-control, and immaturity. The more women are visible in all roles in the workplace, the more women need to support one another and form lasting relationships. Bonds and friendships provide not only support but also opportunities for networking, which is critical to a woman’s success. Bonds are where relationships, business deals and lasting friendships begin. They make life more interesting and rewarding and provide grounded connections on the playground and in the boardroom.
Some days are diamonds, some days are stones. –John Denver
Excerpted by permission, edited for length and clarity. The B Words: 13 Words Every Woman Must Navigate for Success by Tricia Kagerer (Brown Books Publishing Group; 2020). All rights reserved.
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