Are We Bitches?

In a conversation with one of my female colleagues recently, she referred to me as a “strong woman.” I was surprised to hear that. Maybe because I would really like to be viewed as a strong woman, but not sure I fulfill all the criteria. So then I got to thinking, what are the defining characteristics of a strong woman. What does it take to be strong? Passion? Having it all? Confident? Being hard working? Impervious to criticism? Driven by and focused on a goal? High-achieving? Is a strong woman someone who is able to stand up for herself? Or take care of herself independently of a partner?

A brief Internet search revealed a couple of quotations that mention the word “strong” and “bitch” in the same context. Does a strong woman have to be a bitch? The word “bitch” seems to shift meaning, depending on context. Typically it is defined as aggressive, unreasonable, belligerent, malicious, or rudely intrusive to be strong. But in a feminist context, it can also indicate an assertive woman. Why the discrepancy? If a strong woman, with passion and integrity, does whatever it takes to reach her goal depending on the context, does it make her aggressive or assertive? Which one is it? Does it matter in the long run? Interestingly, I also learned that the term for bitch appears to be derived from Greek goddess Artemis – goddess of the hunt who is free, beautiful, cold, and unsympathetic. To paraphrase, a so-called strong, driven leader with an icy heart who demands respect. The Greek definition was coined a long time ago, does it still carry meaning in the modern society? Can a strong woman be benevolent, kind, thoughtful, respectful, and at the same time tough-minded?

Yes, I would like to think I am a strong woman. However, I would like it if the definitions carried less of a negative connotation – I would like to be strong without having to be a bitch. Is that possible? Which definition comes to your mind when discussing strength? I guess for me it starts here:

 

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4 Responses to Are We Bitches?

  1. I Heart Rosie says:

    I like the quote and agree whole-heartedly. It takes strength to help others flourish and still be secure with yourself. I’ve been fortunate to have good examples of that in my life… and some not so good examples, but the bad ones make the good ones shine even more!

    Getting to the broader point of this article, I have a particularly strong distaste for the adjective choices women are given. We can be “nice/compassionate/helpful” or “strong/bitchy/assertive”. Society seems to want to put us into these columns, and I feel like we’re all a mix of both. A little of column A, a little of column B. In the last 20 years, I’ve been called everything from ditzy to harsh from smart to clueless from closed off to bleeding heart. All depending on the context in which people interact with me. I used to be hurt by things people said that felt unfair or inaccurate. Sometimes I still am. However, after 20 years of this nonsense, I’ve pruned the List of People Whose Opinion I Give A Sh*t About to a very short one, and mostly ignore the rest. I’m still not sure if this is the best course of action, but it’s helped me through some rough times!

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  2. saraswatiphd says:

    Thank you for your response, I Heart Rosie! So eloquent and succinct. I agree wholeheartedly!

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  3. Kevin says:

    After talking with a lot of my female friends and hearing about the crap they have to go through, you can hold your head up high. Nothing wrong about being a “strong” women or a “bitch”. Great post!!

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  4. xykademiqz says:

    I really hate the term “strong woman” because it’s overused and it implies that the default of woman is weak. I don’t mind being a bitch at all. The warmth is reserved for my family and my students. I am not a mother or sister or ego nurse to male colleagues. Bitch suits me just fine.

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