So, like, when did being bitchy become a good thing?

“Rudeness is merely the expression of fear. People fear they won’t get what they want. The most dreadful and unattractive person only needs to be loved, and they will open up like a flower.” – M. Gustave in The Grand Budapest Hotel

So, like, when did being bitchy become a good thing – a thing to be proud of? I posed that question to a young friend the other day. I’d seen someone wearing one of those “Proud to be a Bitch” tee-shirts or something, and I found myself wondering about it – wondering when rudeness became something to brag about. My young friend gave me an answer that I thought was kind of profound. My friend said that young people get their cues about what it means to be an adult from older people – they hear older people cussing and swearing, see “grown-ups” driving aggressively, observe their frustration with work, and their impatience with life – and, because they want to look like “grown-ups”, too, they copy what they see and hear. The only difference, my young friend said, was that young people don’t have the life experience and history, yet, to go along with their cussing, frustration, and impatience – they haven’t really “earned” the right, yet, to swear and be bitchy.

My friend’s thoughts about bitchiness sent me all kinds of directions. I had to wonder, for instance, what kind of example I’d been for young folks. How many youngsters had learned how to be rude and impatient and frustrated by watching me? Now THERE was a humbling thought. Ahem. I quickly moved on from that one to other ones…

What is it that makes us, as human beings, proud of our anger – proud to have “told someone off”? I decided that was all about ego, really – wanting to prove we are somehow better, braver, stronger than other people. And THEN I thought about that and came to the conclusion that a) in my own experience, yelling at other people has never seemed to convince them I was right, or changed their ideas about stuff, and b) it doesn’t take a whole lot of courage, really, to spout off one’s opinions and beliefs, and cuss and swear and be rude.

It is my belief that it takes a lot more chutzpah to love – it takes a lot more courage to trust in  each other’s good will and humanity, than it does to scream obscenities at each other. In fact, when I think about it – the times when I’ve been the rudest are the times when I’ve been the most scared that I wasn’t going to “get my share” or I was going to be left out somehow, or forgotten or over-looked or harmed in some way.

And something in that last paragraph just made me think of a time when I found myself trying to break up a fight in a parking lot – one guy sitting on top of another punching his face bloody, banging his head into the concrete, and a ring of other guys around them – I found myself in the middle of the circle trying to yank the one guy off the other one, screaming, “Stop it! You’re going to kill him! Stop it!” Instinct (and, in retrospect, a kind of foolishness) had put me in the middle of that circle – there’d been no thought given to what I was doing, and so I can’t claim any special kind of courage there. But – and here’s the part that still gives me a kind of awe when I think about it – after security guards had hauled away the brawlers I stepped back and found that another woman – the parent of one of my former students – had stepped into the circle with me. I remember saying to her, in a kind of wonder, “You’re here, too!” And she said, “I wasn’t going to let you stand here all alone.” She HAD thought about what she was doing – she HAD made a conscious choice to put herself in harm’s way for another human being. She hadn’t screamed. She hadn’t yelled. She’d just stood there beside me. Now THAT was courage. Oh gosh. I’m tearing up right now as I think about it.

“There is too much animal courage in society and not sufficient moral courage.” – Mary Baker Eddy

“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” – Gandhi
“Anger is the enemy of non-violence and pride is a monster that swallows it up.” – Gandhi
“A coward is incapable of exhibiting love; it is the prerogative of the brave.” – Gandhi 

yelling

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6 thoughts on “So, like, when did being bitchy become a good thing?

  1. Such a good contemplation Karen. I think that maybe culturally, “Bitchy” started to be seen as a valuable character trait sometime in the 60s and 70s, when it was juxtaposed to remaining submissive to the status quo. Think of all of the large civil liberty movements … civil rights, woman’s rights, gay rights, anti-war movement … all coming to the forefront at that time. A lot of good folks expressing their passion for change, finding their voice and not being afraid to be bitchy 🙂

    I know you valued these movements as we did. It raised our consciousness and had us wanting to get involved and make a positive change in the world. Still, as you so beautifully point out, “yelling at other people has never seemed to convince them I was right.”

    Personally, after being a timid child/teenager, it was refreshing to find my voice a bit in my 20s. Then I took it to the streets, participating in a “Take Back the Night” march. But what transpired as I screamed “Woman fight, take back the night” was the recognition that I was actually matching the violence that I was speaking out against. And so there was an internal swinging of the pendulum and coming back to a deeper contemplation of it all.

    What I’ve come to is that there is a big difference between actually being bitchy versus not being afraid to be seen as a bitch. Unfortunately the cultural trend seems to be about the former … no rhythm or reason, just bitch to bitch, leading nowhere and leaving a trail of hurt feelings and misunderstandings … perhaps an external bravado to mask fear and self doubt. As you so wisely have observed, you do it when “most scared.”

    The good news is that this “bitch” trend seems to be rooted in the latter … a real desire to speak our truth, even when others might disapprove and label us as “bitch.” We truly want to have “moral courage”, but somehow “animal courage” has taken it’s place as the popular norm. Your article helps us to question that trend and contemplate what we’re really about. Like so much of your writings, this article has us asking “can I do better … can I find a gentler more loving way?”

  2. Loved this. I agree with you and the other person who commented here. Sometimes people feel they have to be bitchy to find their voice and be heard, to refuse to be intimidated, and to speak truth to power. They fear if they speak in a soft voice people won’t listen or take them seriously. They think it’s a sign of fearlessness. But really it’s a kind of bullying. When we’re bitchy we’re daring the other person to take us on. We’re saying I’m bigger and badder than you so watch out. Instead of being the answer to intimidation, it becomes intimidation. What you did was fearless though. The fact that you didn’t think about it, you just jumped in, on instinct, shows that. The other woman was brave too, but you are the one who made her brave. If you hadn’t jumped in, she may not have either.

    • Thank you, Deborah! You write, “When we’re bitchy we’re daring the other person to take us on. We’re saying I’m bigger and badder than you so watch out. Instead of being the answer to intimidation, it becomes intimidation.” Wow – that’s really true, isn’t it? Wow. Thank you so much for sharing that insight – yes, I think you’re right about this.

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