I receive the title question probably once a month from an acquaintance, even more so when I’ve gone through a particularly introduction-heavy period (college orientation, new job, etcetera). I fancy myself as an overall nice person to most people, so this bums be out quite a bit.
Whenever I begin a friendship with new people, particularly women, there’s that initial period where you try to gauge their thoughts and feelings on everything so you can ensure as little offending possible (or maybe that’s just me and my paranoia), so I just assume we had hit it off from the beginning. But then, after a few hangouts–less if this is at a party and we’re both drunk–they will invariably turn to me, take an inhale of a cigarette or a sip of a drink, raise the eyebrows and say, “You know, I thought you were going to be a total bitch before I met you!”
Oh, okay. Uh, how does one even respond to that? “Oh, thanks for the thought but nope! Just your garden variety lame not mean person!” Usually, I just change the topic as quickly as possible but on occasion, I have asked (often later on in the friendship) about it because I’m curious about what exactly makes me so bitchtastic. I think I’m entitled to know if I radiate “bitch,” right?
Wrong–well, at least at first. Most people, upon first questioning, have told me that they were, uh, joking and that I don’t seem like anything negative and they’re sorry they brought it up. I let it go until we’ve had a few more beers, at which point I’ll ask the question again to a slightly more receptive audience.
So what exactly makes a person come off as a “bitch” when you first meet her? Is it a facial expression? A mannerism? A perfume? Does “bitch” have a scent?
According to some I questioned further, it is the way I hold myself and my voice. Others have said it was that they had seen me get heated in discussions during class. One said it was because I scolded a guy on set; sure, he had just made six consecutive transphobic jokes, in front of an actress whose father was transgender no less, then proceeded to make a rape joke, but I was the wet blanket bitch of the matter.
To be fair, they weren’t always wrong: sometimes, I was an asshole. But these were comments that often came from people who had never heard me speak outside of class, if at all, and had simply though I “seemed like a bitch.” This oh-so-shockingly hurt my feelings quite a bit. I try really hard to be friendly to strangers: I always give cigarettes to those who ask, I try to compliment those who seem to be having a bad day, I say “good morning” to people I don’t know and “sorry” to those I accidentally bump against at bars.
Sadly, most of the “you seem like a bitch” comments that I’m aware of are directed at women. Why? Because being loud, strong-willed, confident and vehement about your opinions is, as we all know, “unladylike.” Because loud, strong-willed, confident and vehement about your opinions as a male, though, will ensure you get your own show (although as a woman, you can either be Oprah or get a show with other women with whom you’ll publicly argue and/or interview a lot of men).
You can try as you might, but if you ask every man you know if they’ve ever been told they “seem like a bitch,” you’ll find that it’s a strikingly low number. In my case, upon asking my male friends, I came up with a grand total of “never, unless it was a joke.”
Women can be bitches, men can be… assholes? Pricks? But that’s usually if they’ve actually done something negative already; it’s not really an air that one exudes. Cocky? Sure, but that’s often associated with self-assuredness and doesn’t have half the negative connotation that “bitch” does. Women are oft called “bitchy” even when they haven’t actually done anything that negative impacts those around them besides perhaps be less warm toward others or not be in an excellent mood all the time, but what’s our name for men like that? Asshole-y? That’s not a word, come now; it just sounds like you’re mispronouncing “Ashley.”
There have been exceptions to this rule for me because, fortunately, not everyone I’ve met first thinks I’m a bitch. Oddly enough, though, I’ve noticed that these few exceptions are people who also could be deemed “bitchy” for being decisive, unapologetic women. Ones who will criticize people for rape jokes and will not be forced to smile and definitely don’t, under any circumstance ever, use a slogan beginning with, “Lady in the street but a…”
So while I was in good company on the Supposed Bitch Mobile, and I logically know I haven’t done much to exude some form of unkind air, I still have often felt like I need to project an even friendlier impression towards other people. I tried to come off as a friendlier lady with the demeanor of a 1940s ingenue. Guess what happened then?
People still thought I was a bitch. Why? This time, it was because I was “so nice,” I seemed “fake.” My voice became higher pitched–it’s naturally quite low–and I would over-compliment those around me and I’d be so inclusive, I don’t doubt I seemed creepy. So people around me, many of whom had likely been led to believe in the aforementioned Bitch Theory, sort of thought I was either having a nervous breakdown and on drugs or was being disingenuous.
In a way, they were right: I was trying so hard to not project this supposed bitchiness in myself that everyone was aware of besides me, so I just pretended I felt happier and cheerier and overall more sweet than I actually felt. On the other hand, I mainly just wanted people to know I was a nice person, so perhaps I was genuine in some strange way? Either way, it was still a charade.
I could make my voice higher, my body language more open and my words absurdly friendly, but it wouldn’t be effective in my goal because on the scale of 1-10 of bad personality traits, “fakeness” is much worse than “bitchiness.” I think.
In any case, I’ve decided to stick with my original mannerisms and overall personality because, after all, if I’m going to come off as a bitch, I might as well be genuine about it. After all, that’s why there are tons of amazingly successful women portrayed as bitchy on television shows, right? Fuck it, I’d rather be Glenn Close in Damages than Regina George pre-bus accident.
Pics via Fragrantica, ABC, Lionstgate and Newline.