Tuesday, October 16, 2007

When it's Okay to be a Bitch

A few weeks back, a friend of mine went on a first date with a guy she met through a friend. She had met him before and had been talking to him on the phone for a few weeks before they decided to go out. She had a nice time, but realized that in person, they didn't have a lot of chemistry, and later told him she just wanted to be friends for the time being. He said he was sad, but that he understood, and hoped she would reconsider soon.

A couple days later, on a Tuesday night at 3 AM, she got a phone call from the guy, saying that he was standing outside her house and wanted to see her. He'd driven over 2 hours to "surprise" her (though there was obviously nothing romantic about this gesture). She was annoyed that he'd woken her up and driven all this way without telling her, but she felt bad about making him turn around and drive home, so she let him stay the night, and asked him to leave the next morning.

When she told me this story, I was shocked.

"After that creepy, stalker-ish gesture, you let him stay in your room?! Why were you even nice to him, that's one of the rudest, scariest things I've ever heard of!" It was all I could do not to scream at her for being so accommodating to someone who had refused to respect her wishes.

"But Meg, I didn't want to be a bitch to him. I have a hard time being mean to people, and I still like him as a friend."

My friend is not the first person to use this excuse for putting up with disrespectful, even alarming behavior. From a young age, society teaches us that girls are supposed to be kind and cooperative at all times. Anytime a woman stands up for herself, she runs the risk of being called a bitch, no matter how abhorrent the situation she's responding to. As a result, women are far more willing than men to put up with others treating them poorly, out of fear of offending someone or being labeled as a bitch.


But there are many situations, like my friend's, where being a "bitch" is unquestionably the right thing to do. Some situations are more extreme, while others happen often enough to become unremarkable.

Unhealthy relationships: If you're in a relationship (serious or not) and your partner isn't treating you with respect, physically, emotionally or sexually, you end the relationship and shut off contact with the person. If you think there's a chance that the person is dangerous to you, himself or others, let someone know and take steps to protect yourself.

Offensive jokes or comments: If someone you're talking to makes a remark that you find offensive, you shouldn't be considered a bitch for politely asking the person not to say that because it bothers you.

Financial negotiations: Studies show that most women are afraid to negotiate for their salary or on purchases, mainly because they're afraid of angering the other person or appearing too greedy or selfish. But asking for fair compensation for your work, or a fair price on an item or service, is never a selfish act.

I've read that women are far more likely to stand up for others than they are to stand up for themselves. They'll demand the best for their children, their clients and their friends, but are often too frightened of being a bitch to stand up for themselves. We've been socially conditioned to put everyone else's needs before our own, and to spend a lot of time worrying about what others think of us. But there's no reason why we shouldn't prioritize our own needs the same way we prioritize the needs of others, even if it means being called a bitch every once in a while.

Do you have suggestions for other situations when it's more than acceptable to act like a bitch? Leave a comment!

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

There's a great book called "The Gift of Fear" that talks about how women ignore their gut instinct in favor of not looking like a bitch - and it can endanger their lives.

Think of the guy who wants to help you with your groceries, or the guy who once chased me in circles around my car in a parking lot while "nicely" asking me to just help him with one little thing. Sometimes it's better to be a bitch. That chick could have gotten raped or worse - it's not always a scruffy looking stranger off the street. It's the nutso acquaintance that you don't quite vibe with that shows up at 2am.

Anonymous said...

Many years ago I had an experience where being a bitch would have served me. I was flying from Munich to Paris and met a guy on the plane. He offered a cup of coffee and then a ride to my hotel and I accepted. When we got to my hotel he asked to come up to my room to make a phone call .... and I said yes because I was afraid of being seen as unfriendly. He tried to rape me. I was very lucky as my crying and fighting made him stop. Needless to say, I learned my lesson.

Anonymous said...

I can totally identify with the situation. Years ago I was on the bus and sat very near the back. There was only one seat available, near a bunch of guys. I took the seat and felt incredibly intimidated by the leers the men gave me, but tried to be friendly by smiling. Big mistake. The one who was beside me took it as an invitation and placed his hand on my thigh. When I turned to tell him off, I smelt alcohol. He was stinking drunk. The man rambled incoherently in Spanish while he stroked my thigh. When I tried tell him to stop it and move away, the men in front (his friends no doubt) laughingly called me puta and bitch. The drunk man then grabbed me tightly and said some very menacing things that I did not understand. I was incredibly frightened and wondered if he or his friends would hurt me.
Although many people witnessed the entire event, no one said a word out of fear. I kept a smile on my face, feeling humiliated all the while that man kept touching me. As soon as the bus pulled into the station, I jumped up and ran out, crying the way home.
Now I keep a healthy length away from all strangers. I'd rather be called names or be saddled with the unfriendly tag than a victim again.

Brava97 said...

All women need to learn that there's no law that says you must open your front door to whomever knocks. If you don't have a peephole or window to look through, don't open the door without asking who is there. If it's a salesman or someone you just don't care to see, shout through the door that now is not a good time (something on the stove, you're on the phone, whatever). I have a skinny window beside the front door that allows me to look out. If I raise the blind and see a salesman on the porch, I shake my head no and close the blind. I keep meaning to laminate a "No Solicitors" card to stick above the doorbell.

However, you should always acknowledge that you heard the knock/doorbell by asking through the door who it is (or showing yourself at the window as I do). Burglars will take silence to mean that no one is home and you may find yourself face-to-face with one as he breaks open a back door or comes through a window. It has happened in my very nice neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

I think part of the problem is associating behaviors such as women standing up for themselves or being assertive with the term 'bitch'. That word has such a negative connotation, and those aren't really negative behaviors, especially since they should be encouraged....

I read "Women Don't Ask" after meeting the author, and thought it was fantastic in terms of salary negotiations and conditioning.

kristine said...

I hate to sound LIKE a bitch, but it is ALWAYS ok to be rude when you are afraid.

Case in point: my brother-in-law, who is a MARINE, seems to look more approachable than me since he actually makes eye contact with random people. We were walking around Boston and this SUPER-sketchy looking guy came over and started harassing us for money. Who did he harass? My brother-in-law! Why didn't he approach me? Because I was acting like "a bitch" and had been walking forward completely ignoring him (to be fair, it was late at night, and I generally avoid eye contact with randos on the street after the sun goes down because it gets intimidating).

My point? It's ALWAYS ok to be a bitch if you feel threatened.

Anonymous said...

I agree. Better to be labeled a bitch than dead.

kamo said...

if the whole issue here is that women are afraid to be called bitches, why even say "it's okay to be a bitch"? standing up for yourself is not bitchy. it's called being assertive. assertiveness implies confidence and composure, and not a sort of hormone-driven loss of emotional control. i think saying "it's okay to be a bitch" is way too akin to saying "it's okay to flip out and be rude." um, no it's not. in some situations (like the almost-rape stories mentioned) that might make the situation worse. it is okay to be assertive, say no, leave, get a manager, call the police, etc.

as for the guy's behavior you mentioned, i honestly don't find it that stalkerish. sounds just like a guy who thought, while lying in bed missing her at 1am, that he could pull some romantic gesture. and guys aren't always so good at those. again this situation doesn't call for bitchiness, unless the guy showed signs of being dangerous (drunk, trying to force himself on her, etc.) she shouldn't have let him spend the night, but she could have told him that while he drove a long way to see her, she's just not interested in that way. ta-da! no bitchiness. just knowing what you want and being honest.

Ana said...

Oh goodness. Forget about being a bitch. What about protecting your safety? The guy drove to her house without telling her. TWO HOURS mind you. He's obviously off and she agreed to even see him AND let him stay the night? What if he raped and/or killed her?! I watch too much SVU, I know, but it is quite possible. Her actions basically tell him she's a pushover and he will continue to harass her.

Christina and Emily said...

Oh Meg, I am so grateful to you right now. This post was so relevant to my life, and you've made me feel way better about some quite bitchy thing I was forced to do recently.
And that is definitely not the first time one of your posts has changed my life (at least a little). You are fabulous.
-Emily

Wintermute said...

B-babe
I-in
T-total
C-control of
H-herself

Maybe I'm perpetuating the sterotype here, but when I'm standing up for myself or what I believe in, I always consider "bitch" to be a compliment.

Anonymous said...

Nice move, Meg...

Meg said...

That guy is totally creepy.

That story reminds me of a friend of mine who had a boyfriend (later husband) who drove more than twice that just because she didn't answer the phone. She was staying the night with me at the time and he managed to track her down. He wouldn't leave without her, and she sheepishly went with him. Unfortunately, he turned out to be a total creep. It's a shame how some women confuse stalking and other psychopathic behavior for love.

Teresa said...

Movies are full of these crazy, stalkery gestures that are "romantic" on film, but creepy and scary when people do them in real life. Imagine some kid you don't have feelings for standing outside your window in the rain all night with a giant boombox. NOT romantic! A friend of mine is living in India and says guys there think the best way to meet a western girl is to be rude and creepy to her, because that works in Hollywood romantic comedies.

Girls can pull this weird stuff too: A male friend of mine got no sleep before the most important exam of his life because his ex was throwing *rocks* at his window.

Miss Janey said...

Excellent post! Miss Janey used to room w/ 3 other young women- back when Ricahrd Ramirez was terrorizing Los Angeles. What a

B-babe
I-in
T-total
C-control of
H-herself

she had to be to her roommates to get them to LOCK the door at ALL times, even during the day. She's happy to note that her best friend continues to do this. (But maybe it was having a baby that finally convinced her. Whatever works!)

Oxanna said...

I read your friend's jaw-dropping story, and was about to post re: "The Gift of Fear", but I see someone beat me to it. :) I think the author called the technique "labeling", e.g. "bitch", "I bet you're not the independent type", "you wouldn't stoop to talk to someone like me". The target then jumps to negate the label, setting themselves up for a fall.

Not that this guy used labeling; that was just plain stalker-ish, and a clear sign of someone who can't accept a "no".

Women need to learn to speak up when it's important. We don't want to be insulting or rude or unkind - that's good. But it's not being "rude" if you tell a creep to Back Off. I definitely know the feeling of not wanting to draw attention - when attention is EXACTLY the thing you need!

And if you like, here's the ideal sort of "b----" to be when dealing with scummy folk. :)

WendyB said...

Eek!!! What a bad story. Look what happened to these woman who were overly nice! Send this to your friend!
http://www.phillymag.com/articles/
features_he_said_they_said/page1

Anonymous said...

I'm in my 30s and am more comfortable in my own skin than ever. I'm treat people well, but I'm not afraid to be a bitch when needed. If standing up for myself makes me a bitch, OK, I'm a bitch. Deal with it. Hear me roar.

In the past year, I've learned to chew out people when needed -- when my mortgage company tried to screw me over, when my builder didn't make promised repairs, when co-workers fell down on the job and created a bunch of work for me. It feels great to be able to take care of myself. That doesn't mean I randomly go around abusing people. But I don't take crap from people any more either. Roar!

Anonymous said...

Yes, I am now in my 30's and I don't take people's crap anymore: I speak up. Especially with men: no more Missus "nice girl". If a guy pisses me off I tell him. Yeah, and so what if I'm a bitch? He needs to know just how terrible his actions are.
I've gotten to the point in my life where I couldn't give a rat's arse if people think I'm a bitch: I got tired of being walked over.