Bitch

This post is inspired by Jessica Valenti’s book He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know. But I’m going to take a different approach to my response on this book because I want to talk a little bit about feminism first.

I am not a feminist. Or at least, I never thought I was. My sister would probably say I am, I just don’t know it yet. I think what I struggle with most is the term “feminist” itself. Because of the connotations it has. Because I’ve had countless annoying English classes where people argue that every piece of literature is actually about repressing women. Because I’ve had a very close encounter with a group of the pointing, accusing kind of feminists that give the word a bad reputation.

But what is a feminist, exactly?

I believe in equality - sexist, racist and ageist. I believe that women are treated differently than men in society, that we have a different set of expectations. I believe that we are conditioned to be a certain way and raised to behave differently and have different expectations. I believe that there is inequality between men and women, professionally and personally. That’s not even a belief so much as a proven fact.

So I guess what I’m saying is that this makes me a feminist. Still, I shy away from that word. This is probably one of the biggest challenges facing women’s rights today, the stereotypes that go along with “feminism.”

I am an intelligent, successful woman. I know what I want in life (most of the time) and I fight not only to get it but to excel at it. I am not a pushover. I was raised to go after what I wanted.

Because of this, I have been called a “bitch” more times in my life than I can count. I’m a bitch because I know how to get what I want. I’m a bitch because I’m in control of my workplace. I’m a bitch because I’m not a pushover, because I will stand up for myself and for what’s right. I’m a bitch because sometimes I simply refuse to stand for the patterns of social niceties that we’re expected to perform. Because sometimes people just really need to be told that they’re not doing what they should.

Let’s take my friend Kaitlyn for example. Kaitlyn is the smartest person I know. She’s driven and focused. She does amazingly well in school. She doesn’t accept anything less than perfect from herself or anyone else. And because of this, she’s already gotten so far in the last 22 years, and I’m sure will soon be working for Pixar and making millions. But you see, Kaitlyn is a bitch. Because she dares to question her teachers. Because she dares to demand better. Because she stands up for herself when no one else will. Because she’s a woman in a “man’s field” and she doesn’t fade into the background.

Apparently, “bitch” doesn’t mean “nasty” at all. Apparently “bitch” is actually a compliment, because Kaitlyn and I are both glad that we’re all of those things.

But I guarantee you that a man with the same approach as Kaitlyn or I would never be called a “bitch” or even an “asshole.” No, he would be the boss, a go-getter, competitive. This is absolutely the most annoying double standard that exists in the vast world of sexism.

I am tired of being called a bitch.

One day I was having tea with my sister, and I was particularly upset about being called a bitch, yet again. “I don’t think I’m a bitch,” I said. “I care a lot about people, I have lots of friends. I go out of my way to help people. But if everyone keeps saying it, it must be true, right?”

My sister looked at me and said, “You’re not a bitch because you’re not nice. You’re a bitch because you’re a strong, empowered woman and you’re not what society says you’re supposed to be.”

It was with this in mind that she leant me the book He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut, insisting that it be one of the 50 Books that I read for my list.

The book really opened my eyes to things that I already knew. That is to say, what she was saying seemed so obviously true that I was surprised I had never really thought about it before.

19. He’s the Boss, She’s a Bitch

“If you’re a woman in a position of power, you’ve probably been called a bitch… Or maybe you’ve been called a “boss lady.” Or ball buster, ball breaker, or some other word that means castrating, pushy, loud, and basically out of line. Why out of line? Because women don’t belong in positions of power, silly! So if you’ve gotten there, you must be a bitch. Men, though, arenatural bosses. Just think of the way men and women in the workplace are described. Men are ambitious, women are ruthless; men are commanding, women are bossy.”

1. He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut

“Despite the ubiquity of ’slut,’ where you won’t hear it is in relation to men. Men can’t be sluts. Sure, someone will occasionally call a guy ‘a dog,’ but men simply aren’t judged like women are when it comes to sexuality.”

Jessica Valenti has another book called The Purity Myth alllll about this obsession with women’s virginity. I haven’t read it yet, but I plan to.

7. He’s a Bachelor, She’s a Spinster

“There’s something hot about single men. They’re bachelors, with cool apartments and the freedom to do whatever they want without judgment… Single women, on the other hand - especially single women who have the gall to be over thirty - we’re old maids. Spinsters. Desperate to be Bridezillas and moms. There’s no such thing as a happy single woman. We’re all just wives-in-training or crazy cat ladies.”

I will not be a crazy cat lady. If no one worthy comes along then I will be a) a single mother  b) a lady who was always crazy and has always liked cats and c) probably better off anyway.

22. He’s Himself, She’s Mrs. Himself

“Now, most American women who marry men will change their last name [...] to their husband’s… The reason I hear most often when women talk about why they want to take their spouse’s last name is tradition. To which I say, meh. I’m unimpressed. There are plenty of traditions worth keeping… But holding on to traditions that not only make your life more difficult - legally changing your last name, and all the paperwork that goes along with it - but are also mired in sexist ideals of women being owned? That’s just too much. (Quick remedial lesson on last names for those not in the know: The idea is that owmen were passed as property from father to husband; we don’t really have an identity of our own - just that which the men in our lives define for us.)”

I have a lot of personal feelings on this one because my mom never changed her name. When asked why, she simply answers that she knew exactly who Shirley Francis was and hadn’t a clue who Shirley Montgomery was supposed to be. This is highly unconventional, even for our time. Countless teachers and friends asked me growing up if my parents were divorced. The other day my banker just assumed that my mom was a single mom. But I agree completely with my mom’s choice and I’m pretty sure I will chose the same. Mostly because I plan to have made a name for myself in the world before I get married, and why would I want to take that name away?

There are a lot more double standards to read about in this book, and all very interesting at that. These are just the ones that really got the feminist in me going. Now just don’t talk to me about bush shaping and we’ll be okay.

If you’ve ever been called a bitch and hate it as much as I do, Valenti suggests we take the word back. The next time someone calls me a bitch, I’m promising to say “Thank you” in return. And for now… change your Facebook/MySpace/Twitter status to “is a bitch.” and be PROUD!

15 Comments

  • By Court, May 29, 2009 @ 8:29 am

    Ooh, Jessica Valenti, so much love. I felt the same way about calling myself a feminist until I read her first book, Full Frontal Feminism. And that opened the feminist floodgates!

    You guys are the coolest bitches ever!

  • By Laura, May 29, 2009 @ 9:39 am

    YES! I knew this book would make the blog!!! Jessica Valenti is amazing (she started the blog, Feministing) I will lend you Purity Myth. Good job my bitch sister. I am glad you are a bitch!

  • By Mike, May 29, 2009 @ 10:59 am

    I’m proud of you and your friends with or without labels.

  • By Sebastian, May 29, 2009 @ 12:50 pm

    You go girl!!

    Just remember, there is a reason such expectations exist in society, and have done for millions of years.

    I’m of course not going to claim that women are somehow lesser in a mental or philosophical sense (though hormone/brain chemistry is very different), but PHYSICALLY, you are different people.

    Those physical differences are what define the huge chasm between male and female ‘equality’. Who knows if men are ACTUALLY better at leading, but for millions of years they have. It might be because they have a more go-get-’em view of the world, or maybe it’s just because they are stronger.

    Women couldn’t catch and wrestle the deer to break its neck. They COULD raise children however.

    *shrug* I don’t think I really have a point to add here, just that it’s not as simple as ‘Hey, we’re all the same here, stop being so narrow minded.’

    We’re not the same. Genetics, and millions of years of living (successfully) as the most dominant race on the planet will set up some fairly firm-set expectations!

  • By Kaitlyn, May 29, 2009 @ 3:15 pm

    I agree with the genetics bit, though when it comes to things like “leading”, I really think it falls more on the “nurture” than the “nature” side of the debate. I was raised in a family where half of the women were born & raised in New York, and the other half were tough farm girls. So there was pretty much no chance in hell I’d be a pushover.

    Being in a “man’s field”, I’ve always felt I had to prove myself: prove I wasn’t stupid, prove I could lead, and, in a way, prove I could not only compete with the boys, but beat them (or at least the stereotype that whatever I can do, they can do better).

    Yet, the one thing that really stood out to me these four years was that for the most part, the boys didn’t stand up for themselves. They didn’t lead. They didn’t question authority. The only two people I can ever recall beginning a debate with professors, or leading with strength (and an occasional iron fist), were both female. That may just be the nature of my field, but it’s still something.

    I was always the first to volunteer where help was needed, driving out of my way to make sure people got home safe, and staying during my breaks, and late into the night in the labs helping with other people’s projects when I had my own to do, because they’re my friends, and I love them. So why is it that helping others makes me a compassionate person and good friend, but helping myself makes me a bitch?

    If there’s one thing that I’m thankful for learning from my family & the past 4 years in a male-dominated program, it’s that I’m not stupid, I can lead, and I can compete with (and beat) the boys just as well as anyone else. And if that makes me a bitch, then I’m happy to be one :)

  • By Sebastian, May 29, 2009 @ 3:24 pm

    Ah, but you’re talking from a nurture perspective too. You’ve been brought-up to be headstrong and selfless and all that jazz.

    Nature is the fact that we have bigger muscles and taller frames, thicker bones. Nature is the fact that we react differently to various sensory impetus due to differing hormones coursing through our system.

    Of course, anyone can be a good leader of people. Women might even be better in today’s world. God knows we’re not living in the same world that made men better leaders — we’re not still hunting deer and making fires.

    Adversity (and necessity) are two of the strongest survival forces. If the world wasn’t the way it is, you probably wouldn’t have grown up the way you have.

    I assure you, there have been strong girls in the past, but they were always kind of ‘quaint. Now that there’s a torch burning under your collective asses, it’s suddenly become a whole lot more serious. You WILL be noticed. You WILL stand out. Women WILL be equal!

  • By James, May 29, 2009 @ 3:43 pm

    Consider the direction we’ve been trying to take our society: equality for both sexes. How do we do that? We tell women to stand up for themselves, and we tell men to not be so pushy and aggressive. Net result? the olny people Kaitlyn sees at school that stand up to the professor are women. The men are having it nurtured out of them by society. The men that refuse to go this way are considered troglodytes, apes.
    It’s tough on men, too. Just because our fathers had the upper hand, doesn’t mean it’s a walk in the park for the younger generations. Where do we stand? Men still don’t get equal consideration as stay-at-home dads. Those that do are often viewed as lazy, those that don’t are perpetuating sexist stereotypes.

    Having said all that, I’ll add that where I was brought up, bitch wasn’t used like you present it, but if that’s the label you are hit with, let’s change the connotation of it. Be a bitch, and be proud!

  • By Faebala, May 29, 2009 @ 4:24 pm

    The thing about feminism is that it contradicts itself. It fights the men who expect the extreme-non Feministic side of a woman… for example, the obedient house wife, cookie cutter image, saying that women can be whatever they want and just as good as men…. but then they tend to get pissed off and be ashamed of the women who CHOOSE to be in that stereotypical female role of wife and mother. Girls can do whatever the hell they want, even if they want to stay at home making sure their hamburger helper meals are ready when their husband walks through the door. Maybe, standing up for themselves and being strong, IS - to them - taking care of their family from home.

  • By Hezabelle, May 29, 2009 @ 6:13 pm

    Men and women are definitely genetically different. And it definitely effects what they chose to do with their lives. But that’s the key word - chose. We’re way beyond hunting and gathering now and we need to make sure that whatever a person chooses they’re treated equally. Be it a woman CEO or a stay at home dad.

  • By Jes, May 29, 2009 @ 6:24 pm

    Just read this book review today on rabble. Can’t wait to read the whole thing. Ironically, i was called a bitch today, mostly because I knew something that a guy (read: pompous jackass) at work didn’t.

    Well, i guess i’m a bitch then. And proud of it!

  • By Eleni, June 3, 2009 @ 12:15 am

    I’ve also been bothered by the stud/slut, bachelor/spinster, and boss/bitch double standard. I think I’ve been relatively successful in my life so far, but I have managed to avoid being called a bitch (at least not much, to the best of my knowledge). Maybe if I were a “bitch”, I could be more successful! I’ll have to try it out in the future, but I don’t know if I could do it; I fear I’m just too non-confrontational.

    Now allow me to go on a bit about names, since it is something I have been thinking about lately. I really dislike our society’s last name tradition. For men, their family name is something they can take pride in, passed down through the generations from father to son. For women, we take on the name of whichever man we currently belong to–father then husband–meaning that our family name is first impermanent and then borrowed. These days, we can choose to keep our maiden name, but that has a couple problems. First, tradition still mostly gives children the name of their father, so it leaves maiden-name mothers with a different family name than the rest of their family, causing much confusion and implying a certain lack of association between a mother and her children. Second, it’s still our father’s name, not our mothers, though our mother’s name is still her father’s name anyway, etc., so we can’t ever hold on to a name that truly represents female equality. Then there’s the hyphenated name. My mom hyphenated her maiden name with my dad’s last name, but the rest of us just have my dad’s name. This also causes confusion because people tend to assume that your mother is “Mrs. [your own last name]“, and she always gets offended when people get it wrong. Some people give their children hyphenated names as well, but this leaves the children the dilemma of what to do when they get married. If Shephard-Ford marries Austen-Littleton, do their children become Shephard-Ford-Austen-Littleton? That quickly becomes too much. I know some people where both husband and wife change their names when they get married. This has a pleasing symmetry, but it ruins any clarity in lineage.

    My solution is this. Let’s say my husband and I are Mr. and Mrs. Shephard-Ford. Shephard comes from my husband’s side of the family, and Ford comes from my side (where exactly they come from will become apparent). Our children also take the name Shephard-Ford. When they grow up and get married, our daughter will keep the Ford, and our son will keep the Shephard. My son marries a woman previously called Pace-Dawson (Pace from her father’s side, Dawson from her mother’s), and their shared name becomes Shephard-Dawson. My daughter marries a man called Linus-Carlisle, so they share the name Linus-Ford. And so forth. You follow? This preserves the male benefits of the current system–the family name is passed down from father to son indefinitely, and women carry their father’s name until it is replaced with their husband’s–but it gives women equal benefits. And it only requires two names with one hyphen. Sweet. Now, this is probably not an original idea, and I do not expect it to catch on, but if I ever end up founding and ruling my own society, you can bet this is what I’ll set up.

    That said, the question I have to answer to myself is what I will do with my own name. On the one hand, I am already a published author and expect to publish more papers before I get married, so it would be particularly inconvenient for me to change my name. On the other hand, I don’t particularly like my last name (no offense, Dad, but really…), so I would likely welcome a change. On the one hand, I think on principle it’s a bit sexist for me to have to change my name for my husband, but on the other hand, the fact that I have my father’s and not my mother’s name is already kind of sexist. Basically I can’t win. I guess I’ll cross this bridge when I come to it (which, let’s face it, will NOT be any time soon).

    All right, I’d better end my rambling sort-of-rant there and go to bed.

  • By Hezabelle, June 3, 2009 @ 8:38 am

    Wow, Eleni… that’s so well thought out! I was talking about that predicament the other day actually. Since my last name is SUPER long I don’t really want to hyphenate it, and I wouldn’t want to doom my poor children into being Francis-Montgomery-Shepherdson-Allen or something. As it is, MY name doesn’t fit into most forms.

    I had a high school teacher who gave one of his children his last name and the other one his wife’s last name. The only problem with this is that then the two children don’t have the same last name…

    My grandparents had an interesting idea. My grandma’s last name was Shirley so they named their first daughter, my mom, Shirley. Because of this I’ve often thought of naming my son Montgomery (unless I’m a single mother and his last name is Montgomery).

    Phew.

    “If I ever end up founding and ruling my own society…” hahaha Perfect. Let me know if you do, I could be your vice-Queen! Or at least live there, in the land of equal last names.

  • By Sebastian, June 3, 2009 @ 9:00 am

    Was that some Mass Effect influence there, Eleni?

    The Icelandics have an interesting naming scheme — sons take on their father’s name, and daughters take on their mother’s name, so there’s no recurring family names at all.

    Ragnar has a boy, his son is called David Ragnarson.

    Susan has a daughter, her daughter is called Mary Susandotir.

    David’s son would be Peter Davidson… And so on.

    The only way they can keep track of families up there is with family trees!

  • By Eleni, June 3, 2009 @ 1:28 pm

    Hez - Yes, I suppose some last names are already long enough on their own, which makes hyphenated names a problem. My mom’s maiden name went into my brother’s middle name, but I don’t expect it to continue beyond that. And I would be most honored to have you as my vice-Queen!

    Seb - You mean the “Shephard”? Not Mass Effect, that would be Shepard (no “h”). But there is a theme. Guess again!

    My understanding is that while some daughters in Iceland take the name of their mother, it is still much more common for them to take their father’s name, as in Mary Ragnardottir. But I could be wrong.

  • By Chandra, October 19, 2009 @ 6:30 pm

    DAMN! this is a powerful piece…I still vote you are egalitarian though…not really a feminist. But I don’t know a lot about these things :P

Other Links to this Post

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment