I have been called a bitch more than I have been called probably any other word/adjective in the English language. Close runner ups include catty, snarky, cold, stand-offish, aggressive, intimidating, harsh, and my personal favorite: just plain mean.
But as far as I’m concerned, I’m not any of those things. Not unless I want to be, anyway. Am I direct? You bet. Am I unafraid and opinionated? Hell yes, I am. Do I say what I think and sometimes, those things aren’t what someone’s wanted to hear? Yeah, that’s definitely happened as well.
Here’s the thing: I know for a FACT that I’m not the only one. Every day I hear or sense a co-worker hesitating at speaking up because she’s worried about the negative connotations associated with her disagreeing with something. I roll my eyes when I hear another boyfriend calling his girlfriend who got upset with him “bitchy.” I see girls adding exclamation points at the end of sentences that shouldn’t normally need them in emails to come across more bubbly, more smiley. I hear my own voice raise three pitches when I talk on the phone, or order a latte, outside of the raspier, more more mezzo tone my speaking cadence usually has. And I hear my mom’s do the same thing when she goes from telling me about her day to saying hi to an acquaintance on the sidewalk.
So what are we doing? Well, we’re trying to seem “nice.” In the simplest sense of the word.
And don’t get me wrong! I don’t think there’s ANYTHING wrong with being nice. Nice is fantastic. Kindness is extraordinary. Sweetness and likability and pleasantness are all absolutely admirable qualities.
But when did being nice become the only conceivable option? When did we, as women, become so worried about rubbing people the wrong way and being seen as anything less than the rhyming element to sugar and spice, that we put it as a priority above all else? When did we put nice at the top of the pedestal and stop worrying about being anything that might knock us away from achieving said niceness?
When did being called a bitch become the worst thing you could possibly be?
Here’s the thing.
I think saying that you don’t care what people think about you is a lie. We all want to know who likes us and who obsessively stalks our Instagrams from the safety of their own home. We want to know what people say about us in group texts and behind our backs and in the hushed whispers after they make eye contact with us at a party. We want to know what adjectives come after our name when we’re brought up in conversation. We care. We care what people think about us. We do.
But the thing about being considered nice? It’s boring. It’s uninteresting. It’s simple. It’s frankly easy.
What’s difficult is being fair.
And I would so much rather be viewed as fair, than nice.
To me, fair means being able to listen. Fair means wildly, even passionately disagreeing with someone or something, and not allowing it to dictate a response from you unless you CHOOSE to let it. Fair means being able to approach tough situations and come out of it with your head held high, regardless of whether or not you agree with what happened or everyone left it with a smile on their face.
To a lot of people, fair is being cold. It’s being tough. It’s being intimidating. It’s being something that is laced with all of those negative adjectives that I get called (and will continue to be called) all the time.
Because being fair is rarely, if ever, associated with being nice.
But honestly? I don’t give a shit if you think I’m a nice person. I don’t care if you call me sweet or good or gentle or what have you.
But I do care if you think I’m unfair.
We as women are so often shoved into divided territories. The good girl and the bad girl. The shy girl and the wild child. The Madonna and the Whore. The nice girl and the bitch.
But we’re so much more than those stupid labels. We’re complex and layered and flawed and misunderstood and nice and bitchy all wrapped up into one. And it’s too much effort, and too much of a waste of our goddamn time, to worry about being seen as something so simplistic, and so utterly boring, as nice.
So go ahead. Call me a bitch. Say things like, “Well she’s really nice when you get to know her.” Label me intimidating and catty and cold and difficult to read. I don’t care.
As long as I can walk out of situations with my head held at that high level, knowing that I was as fair and as pragmatic as I could have been, I’m fine. Even if you call me a bitch. Even if you don’t think of me as “nice.” As long as I know I’m being fair, I’m still proud of myself.
And proud of myself, is a label I’ll happily (and nicely) take any damn day.