I’m Afraid To Seem Like A Bitch


I’m a strong and assertive female. As a kid, I never worried about being the only female in my higher-level Calculus classes. I practiced my condescending look of superiority all through middle school and high school, so I could stop an insecure or immature boy cold in his tracks. Later in life, I married a man who respected an independent woman. He assures me that one of my most attractive features is that I don’t need him to take care of me at all. I feel pretty empowered.

In my work life, I’ve never been scared of a fight. On a daily basis, I deal with twenty men who want something done, someone to blame, or some time to loaf. They aren’t terrible people, but they all tend to be stubborn and sure of themselves. Though it’s taken a couple years, I’ve made a name for myself as someone who gets her job done, but doesn’t take any crap. I don’t think my co-workers would call me a bitch, at least not to my face. But they wouldn’t call me a push-over, either. I work hard at my career and I’ve excelled.

For someone so strong and self-assured, I’m still a little terrified of being perceived as a bitch. I didn’t realize it was an issue until my husband was in the hospital. We didn’t know what was wrong, so the experience was pretty tense and strenuous. Even friends who worked in the health care industry were telling me, “You have to be your own advocate.” As my husband lay in bed for days waiting for tests that never came, nurses I knew were instructing me to ask for a specialist. But I didn’t want to question the nurses and doctors we were working with. I was afraid of seeming pushy or ungrateful.

Feeling like such a helpless patient, I realized that fear of bitchiness went past the hospital. Anytime I find myself in the role of the customer, I become meek. If I receive poor service, I rarely comment on it. If I need something extra, I apologize profusely and thank copiously. As a consumer, I’m the type of subservient and timid female that I could never imagine being in my private or professional life. I can’t explain this phenomenon. People smarter than me would make conjectures about social protocol and the indoctrination of young women. It might have something to do with that. Or maybe it’s my years in retail and food service that make me empathize with those in service positions. Whatever the reason, I have no problem being strong, assertive, forceful, or even a downright bitch when my life or my career calls for it. But as a customer, I’m as soft-spoken as a ’50s housewife.

So I guess I’m wondering, is this just an odd personal quirk or a typical female reaction? Do we work hard to be assertive in our professional lives, only to strike a deferential and hesitant tone when we step outside of our position of authority? Or is this a whole lot of words to say that I’m afraid someone will spit in my food?

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    • Jenn

      Wow, I kind of feel like I could write a counter-point to this called “I’m NOT afraid to seem like a bitch.”

    • Eileen

      Hmm. I think as a consumer, I tend to be overly polite – but it’s not about being afraid of making a stir; it’s about knowing that the person I’m talking to is probably not the person who makes the decision. If it’s bad service, I’ll complain to the server; if I just don’t like the dish, I won’t say anything to him. If a salesperson is rude to me, that’s not okay – but if she’s just explaining a policy I don’t like, I’m not going to flip out. “Being a bitch” as a consumer is when you’re rude to someone who has no control over the situation.

    • kjon

      I agree with Eileen concerning customer service. If it’s truly out of the waiter/salesperson’s control, what’s the point of causing a scene besides convincing people you’re an irrational crazy ass?
      I relate to this article a lot. I think for a lot of women ‘bitch’ is a label that stings. Unlike our ‘slut’ discussion, ‘bitch’ is harder to refute and let go of because, in my opinion, it makes a girl think “Am I really?” (even just for a moment).
      At the risk of talking too much (sorry), I had a very recent run-in with a neighbor who was making too much noise (usually yelling, slamming on neighbor’s doors and throwing things — he’s an addict so this happens often) and after telling him to “shut up and stop slamming on my door” he lost it. I didn’t back down and eventually he ran into his unit and locked the door then proceeded to drop the b-bomb repeatedly. I live in a high-rise with a lot of other University students by the way so not really ghetto or an environment for full-blown narcotics addicts (to my knowledge).

      He runs away like a coward and I’m the bitch? Weak.

    • Cassieleigh

      In some ways, I’m the opposite. I always work to kick-butt at work, but as a customer, I see myself in a position of authority. After all, with out my patronage, certain establishments may not exist. I try to never be rude but I certainly will get my way. I’m particularly fierce when it comes to travel arrangements. Just remember, you’re not a bitch, you’re merely a woman who knows what she wants and how to get it.

    • Jon

      As a guy, I must ask: what is the difference between a legit bitch and a c-word?

      • Dove

        That’s like asking what the difference is between an asshole and a douchebag: it depends more on the bitch calling him the name than the guy who is being the idiot.

    • El

      I’m the same way…fierce at work, the last person you want to meet up with if you’ve messed with my loved ones…but the politest person ever if I’m the customer.
      I worked in hospitality/retail for ages. I realized what the people working in this industry go through, and promised myself I’d make myself at least one customer who didn’t just assume service, but thanked them for the their trouble. Yeah, it’s their job: but lets not make it any harder than it has to be.

    • porkchop

      I think it’s just a rational reaction to others. Some workplaces and some homes reward assertive behavior, but hospitality and retail settings reward friendly relaxed behavior.

    • Anne

      Oh, I hear ya loud and clear. When it comes to work-related things, I’m always pushing the envelope, but in everyday life, I tend to be afraid of being perceived as a bitch. It’s not that I’m a doormat, but I feel like there’s a right way and a wrong way to do things, and I’ve witnessed people exercising the wrong way (wrong in that it causes unnecessary hurt or insult) so many times that I’m determined not to be that person. Consequently, though, my boyfriend sometimes tells me that far from being a bitch, I’m actually not as much of a bitch as I probably need to be. I suppose in that respect, I’m striving to be a positive bitch, rather than a negative one– if that makes any sense. Strong, but not unnecessarily mean.

    • Jamie Peck

      There is nothing cowardly about being nice and respectful towards people who work in the service industry. Just because you give ‘em hell at work doesn’t mean you should give hell to the poor frazzled people who wait on you for minimum wage + whatever tips people see fit to give them. These two situations are apples and oranges. You should totally keep on being an assertive bitch with people who have more power than you, but kind to those who wait on you. It’s just good karma!

      • Jamie Peck

        Err, I mean sub-minimum wage.