Why Not Every Assertive Woman Is A B*tch

by Cassandra Bustamante

Imagine it’s your first day of a new course, the day that everyone loathes because the class is required to introduce themselves to one another through cheesy icebreakers. You notice a person walk in briskly and take a seat in the front row.

After the professor talks for about 20 minutes, the routine starts where everyone goes around and introduces themselves by sharing their interests and what they want to do in the future. It comes time for the person you noticed walk in to share. While most people in the class keep their introductions brief and rush through them in a way that makes it seem like it’s painful to speak, either out of mere indifference or nervousness, this person speaks clearly and distinctively.

This person speaks in a firm, self-assured tone, with heightened interest as he or she explains their goals for the future that appear risky, challenging, and to some, a little out of reach. This person says this in a manner that leaves some annoyed, others intimidated, and a few impressed.

Most people would assume this person to be a man. One might infer this because this person’s behavior is associated with typical male traits, such as assertiveness, directness, and risk taking. And this man, let’s call him Dillon, would be perceived as cool, confident, and likely attractive to his female peers.

Now, what do you think of the person as a woman? Let’s call her Jasmine. Some people would be off-put - like a taste not sitting well in your mouth - and perceive her to be aggressive, abrasive, or acting “like a man.” Some would even be quick to say she’s probably a bitch.

Any why is that? Because we are socialized to believe that women only behave gracefully, and are passive, and submissive? Since her behavior doesn't display those defined by traditional female traits she is said to be acting “like a man,” and for that reason she is somehow less of a woman? Why must she be perceived as acting like a man as if her interests and demeanor are not her own?

Let’s define a bitch in this context: Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines a bitch as a malicious, spiteful, or overbearing woman —sometimes used as a generalized term of abuse. I guess it’s safe to assume that because she’s not behaving like a traditional woman, she must be ill intentioned, heartless, and wishes only to inflate her self-importance by making the lives of others a living hell.

Judging a person’s behavior solely based on gender stereotypes of women to assume she is a bitch is a serious error of judgment. We all use stereotypes because they are a shortcut to processing information almost immediately when first meeting someone. It is the way our brain works.

The problem is when we start to use these stereotypes to categorize a person and judge him or her inappropriately based off an idea we’ve created and accept that as truth, rather than their true character.

There is no doubt that there are some women who are assertive and seem to have a true bitch disposition. That just means that she proved right all the people who initially made that assumption about her. In any case, she probably knows this and doesn’t care anyway.

But that is not who this article is about. It’s about all those women out there who are unjustly labeled with this stereotype because of gender biases. Which brings me to my point: not all assertive women are bitches.

Why can’t I, as a woman, be assertive, firm and confident without people thinking I’m a bitch? I care about my friends and family, am considerate of others, I open my heart to give and receive love, and never aim to intentionally cause anyone harm. I am, however, not perfect and have had my share of bitch moments, but I am not by default a bitch.

It simply makes no sense to me why being assertive labels me, or any other woman, as a bitch. If I were a man, no one would even question my behavior. These gender boundaries that define what is and what is not acceptable for a woman’s behavior are limiting and need to forgotten. It leaves no place for those who do not fit the cookie cutter norm and punishes them because of it.

This may not seem like much of an issue in social settings like the classroom, but it certainly becomes a larger issue in the workplace. In an already male dominated environment, nothing dishonors an assertive, competent woman, known to get the job done, more than by labeling her a bitch.

Unfortunately, if a man acts in the same way, he’s simply seen as successful. This really becomes a problem when women are evaluated for promotion and are unfairly passed up by their male counterparts due to their demeanor, for fear that it may get in the way of leading others or negatively affecting communication with people in the office or clients.

These gender role limitations dishonor individuals deserving of recognition, and invalid perceptions based upon them lead to errors in judgment that affect the way we treat these people.

Traditional gender roles were developed long ago to distribute divisions of labor, where men worked to financially provide and women worked to upkeep the household. Our roles have changed since then, but the way we look at gender hasn't.

We cannot ignore that these biases exist. It is something to be aware of and talked about so that we can begin to change the way assertive women are labeled to prevent this disempowerment and unfairness from continuing.

It is our responsibility as a society to correct this unfairness and misjudgment from gender biases and prevent the inequality that occurs as a result. When you come across a woman who is assertive, don’t automatically assume she’s a bitch. Judge her for her character, not by these outdated and limiting social conventions.

Rules are meant to be broken, challenged and changed when they no longer serve their purpose. And to all of the bold and assertive women stirring up conversation, keep being unapologetically you, regardless of what anyone says or expects. Bold and assertive women are the game changers of the world, who are going turn it on its head. Never let critics steal your spirit; we got a lot work to do.

Top Photo Credit: WENN