Break down the Bossy-Intimidating-Tempered-Cunning-Hysterical.
Sometimes I think to myself, are we going backwards in time? In sixteenth-century England and seventeenth-century colonial America, there were a number of interesting reasons why a woman might have been accused of being a witch. The most popular characteristics included:
a. Being female
b. Being middle aged
c. Being married but with few or no children
d. Being a widow
e. Being contentious and stubborn with a turbulent reputation
f. If a woman led, and I quote, a ‘naughty’ kind of life…
g. If a woman spoke out of turn (outspoken)
Overall, if you were a woman that was considered ‘different’ or who deviated from the norm, it is likely you would be considered a witch.
I know we might not be running around calling masses of women witches, but it now seems to be commonplace to refer to such women as bitches. Today, if a woman is stepping outside of the norm—her stereotypical role as a quiet, submissive female—then she is considered a bitch. If a woman in today’s society is freethinking and assertive, she is sometimes deemed a bitch. If she is ‘demanding’ or ‘bossy’ she’s considered a bitch. This might be in the workplace, in the home or in general social settings. We have transformed from The Witch to The Bitch.
It might be a bit much to ask sixteenth-century society to accept these women as independent and freethinking, but why today, in 2014, are we not considering these women as powerful or assertive? It could be suggested that this view of powerful women being ‘bossy’ starts at a young age. Many young girls are conditioned and socialised to believe that the way to get others to like you is to be ‘nice’ and ‘sweet’. One should avoid being confrontational. One should most certainly avoid hurting other people’s feelings. In addition to these traits, we’re taught that it would be wrong or even worrying for a young girl to express too much anger; this is in fear that the young girl might be deemed wild or, god forbid, even ‘crazy’. But what do we teach our sons? To stick up for themselves? To stand their ground? To stifle emotions and not to cry because these are things that girls do? Yes, this is what we teach them. These are damaging thoughts that are absorbed into the brains of our young. Of course, this is not representational of all contexts and cultures, but we can still see these traits seeping into the modern day.
Since I was young, I told myself I wanted to change the world. I wanted to change lives, be it through my teaching career, through my business ventures, or through my charity work. I knew that during these endeavours I would have to be authoritative and formidable. If I was not, I knew without a doubt that I could not succeed. But if I am considered a ‘bitch’ for upholding such characteristics solely because of my gender, then I wonder what on earth I am fighting for.
I was watching an episode of Scandal the other week, and Kerry Washington’s character, Olivia, hit the nail on the head. One of the male protagonists enters the room and exclaims “So, Abby’s kind of a bitch,” as soon as he walks into her apartment. “Don’t say that!” Olivia immediately hits back. “The words used to describe women! If she was a man you’d say she was ‘formidable’ or ‘bold’ or ‘right’.” Olivia’s reaction couldn’t have been more accurate. The continuing double standards that we allow to be upheld in society and in our language need to change. We need to change the way we speak about men and women. We need to stop such gendered language tropes that have been living with us for centuries.