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:

 


3 responses so far

  • ImDrB says:

    Yes, it is absolutely possible to be strong without being a 'bitch'. Having a clear knowledge of your research goals, being willing to work with others, saying no when you know it's the best thing to do, demanding high levels of work from graduate students, teaching those grad students how to be a professional, setting high demands for undergrad/grad students in coursework, and above all, being a kind and attentive listener... even if you disagree with what you hear or have to firmly say no to a request... this is my idea of strength.

    Let others rage and complain. You be a listener. Be an observer. Be firm in your yes's and no's, but be kind, not harsh. You will be respected...and that's the best kind of strength you can have.

  • Anonymous says:

    "Let others rage and complain. You be a listener. Be an observer."

    Let others do the hard work of being vocal about what has to change while I sit passively by, "listening" and "observing"? Um, no ... this is not a strong woman to me. Sometimes it's necessary to speak up, and sometimes that means a little bit of rage and complaining. Sometimes women need to be "assertive," like men. Except that because they are women, this will be seen as aggressive and bitchy.

    Sadly, I have learned that being strong is my choice. I can be choose to be all of the wonderful things that ImDrB writes about. But this is no guarantee that I won't be labeled a bitch by someone. Being a bitch, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Strong women know they have no control over this and try not to worry about it.

    • ImDrB says:

      I do agree, there are times when we must stand up and speak, loudly and with strong emotion. If we don't, things that are very important will be ignored. What I was trying to get across is that by being considered and thoughtful in our responses, we get more attention for those important things.

      This works for me, I'm sure it's not for everyone.

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