Reasons to be a Bitch
I used to get embarrassed of my mother. She has a certain Emily Gilmore-esque quality I found humiliating. If we were in a restaurant or shop and something came not to her liking she would correct the mistaken staff member and ensure she got her way. Sitting next to her as she did this made me want to crawl in a hole, apologize to the kind server who brought her salad with the dressing slopped on top instead of neatly to the side, and vow to never do this. When my face grew too red to hide my embarrassment, she would reason with me. She requested something a certain way and was paying for it to be that way. She wasn’t rude or unreasonable, she was simply expecting things the way she had originally requested them. I worked in customer service long enough to know that plenty of retail workers called my mother a bitch when she left the counter. The difference between the mortified teenaged me and my grown up self, is that I’ve learned to respect my mother’s perfectionism. If only because women are often discouraged from requesting things a certain way without apology.
Why was I so apologetic of my demanding mother? Was it because I was afraid a Macy’s sales girl wouldn’t like me? Am I such a people pleaser that I was actually desperate for approval from someone I met once and would, in all likelihood, never see again? Yes. Absolutely. 100%. Because that was my learned job as a woman. To be polite, to be quiet, and to take up as little space as possible. To that I say, in my loudest voice, with my body as wide as I can make it:
Twice in one day, two friends expressed difficulty saying “no” to something because it would make someone else uncomfortable or be impolite. One was asked by a former boss to do a lengthy, bothersome and possibly mildly illegal favor for them. And by asked I mean not asked at all. It was phrased as though it was assumed my friend would automatically oblige. Another friend, after adamantly quitting a performance group for several valid reasons, felt obligated to go see the group perform because not doing so, even after being mistreated by a number of members of said group, would be impolite. These women were put in difficult and unfair positions by people who expected my friends to obey without argument.
And it’s bullshit. It’s a bullshit fear. It’s the same mentality that allows men to ask us to smile while we walk to work. It’s the same bananas logic that allows a country faced with the most qualified presidential candidate in history to deign ask why she’s not likeable. As if likeability and politeness are our owed debt for being female.
And why, oh why were my dear, smart, independent, strong-willed friends complying? I recognized all too well the fear of saying “no”. Of offending or being rude. Of not being thought of as kind or polite. Of making noise. We are taught, from a young age, to be polite, to smile, and to forgo our own comfort for the sake of others. Even with my ball-busting mother, society won out and my fear of disappointing someone took over.
And it’s bullshit. It’s a bullshit fear. It’s the same mentality that allows men to ask us to smile while we walk to work. It’s the same bananas logic that allows a country faced with the most qualified presidential candidate in history to deign ask why she’s not likeable. As if likeability and politeness are our owed debt for being female. At it’s worst, it is this type of thinking that stops women from speaking up when they are in non-consenual sexual situations and allows men the out of “well she didn’t say no”.
It seems like a small beef. If someone asks you to do something you don’t particularly want to do, isn’t it the selfless thing to do it anyway? The problem is, we’ve lost the ability to differentiate between doing a favor for someone we care about and feeling obligated to do something for fear of being called a bitch or worse. What happens when a man asks something of you which makes you uncomfortable, or worse, doesn’t ask at all? Do we owe politeness then? FUCK NO. Because we owe politeness to no one. (Except maybe our grandparents. Sometimes grandparents make you feel uncomfortable with their slightly racist rhetoric. But like, they’ve lived a long time and will die soon so why start a fight? Cringe and smile and hope that Pop stops using the word “oriental” when not referring to a rug.) If someone makes you feel uncomfortable, speak up. Someone else’s comfort is not more important than your own. Particularly if someone else’s comfort puts your own life or safety at risk. Seem extreme? Ask any woman who’s ignored a catcaller who then screamed offensive rhetoric or threatened violence. Sometimes we are polite because we fear for the repercussions if we’re not.
Be a good person, do good for others, but remember that a large part of doing good for others, is doing good for self first. You are as important as any shit bag asking you to smile on the street. You are as important as your boss, or friend, or significant other who asks something of you which makes you uncomfortable. Your comfort comes first. You’re allowed to say, “no”.
This weekend I attended the Dixie Chicks concert, their first tour in a decade. I sat (very far back) and watched three women who had been berated for speaking their minds and criticizing our former president. For this the country community abandoned them. Before the concert I wondered what they would be like now. Would they be quieter? Less outspoken? Less political? Would their experience and subsequent abuse that followed have damaged them? I was overjoyed to find that the opposite was the case. My own impoliteness-related anxiety let me fear the same for them. Instead, I found an amphitheater full of (mostly) women empowered by the people on stage. Women who were exiled from their community, faced severe damage to their careers and received death threats for speaking their minds. The Dixie Chicks took up the whole stage that night and filled a 18,000 seat amphitheater with their noise. Fuck anyone who threatens them for it.
Be a good person, do good for others, but remember that a large part of doing good for others, is doing good for self first. You are as important as any shit bag asking you to smile on the street. You are as important as your boss, or friend, or significant other who asks something of you which makes you uncomfortable. Your comfort comes first. You’re allowed to say, “no”. Any person worth a dime will respect you for it. Anyone disparaging you for setting boundaries and taking care of yourself wasn’t worth your time in the first place. Your well-being and comfort aren’t important to them, why is theirs so important to you? You matter and politeness is not the currency you pay for being female. Speak up with authority. Be loud. Take up space. Be a godammed bitch. Because Bitches. Get. Shit. Done.