Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange as Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in Feud

WORK ADVICE

Ambitious women shouldn’t be afraid of the word “bitch”. Or the term “ambitchous”

Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange as Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in Feud (Photo: Getty Images)

Sometimes we all have to do things that other people don’t like. It doesn’t make us bitches, says Viv Groskop

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By Viv Groskop on

I was talking to a friend about a big step-up she was facing at work and she suddenly said, “I know I need to do this. But I’m hesitating because I am scared people will call me a bitch.” My reply was harsh: “They might call you a bitch. It doesn’t mean you are one. In fact, I know you’re not one. And you know you’re not one.” What is she, instead of that word? Ambitious. Assertive. Self-driven. Decisive. Brave. Those are not bitch qualities. They are the qualities of self-preservation.

I absolutely admit that I’ve done this, too, many times. (I.e. not done things because they risked being seen as bitchy.) But I’m now less interested in why women do this (habit, self-deprecation, patriarchy...), and I’m more interested in how we can stop doing it. So, of late, I have started to think to myself: What would a total and utter lunatic bastard do in this situation? This can be very entertaining as an exercise, especially if you imagine yourself doing this thing.

So, for example, say you are facing a job interview and you want a three-day week (which is not on offer). You think to yourself: What would be a “bitchy” ask? Think about the total and utter lunatic bastard who would say, “I have already been offered seven other jobs at this level and they have all proposed triple the pay you are offering for a two-day week. Why should I even be talking to you?” (I did say this person was a lunatic.)

It is not bitchy or ambitchous. It’s a statement of what you want and need. It’s not wrong to know or state that

This gives you a measure of what really counts as bitch/bastard behaviour and allows you to row back from that extreme point. At least you are not as much of a bitch/bastard as that person. So, instead, you might say – assertively – “I’m only considering jobs at the moment that can offer flexibility. What’s possible?” This is not bitchy or ambitchous. It’s a statement of what you want and need. It’s not wrong to know or state that.

There are two issues here, of course. First, a lot of us care way too much what other people think. Of course, there are people whose opinion matters: the people closest to you who trust you and know you best. You can always check with them whether you’re being a bitch or not. (I bet you’re not.) Second, the word “bitch” is a reaction from someone who doesn’t like something you’ve done. But that doesn’t mean they’re right.

Sometimes we all have to do things that other people don’t like. It doesn’t make us bitches. It’s not our job to do only the things that will make other people think that we are nice. (Like working a five-day week when we really don’t want to, and seething internally with resentment for many years as we shrivel away towards death. Not that I’ve felt this way or anything.)

 The word “ambitchous” is in the urban dictionary as “striving to be more of a bitch than the average bitch.” (Which, let’s face it, is a pretty fine ambition. Anyone seen Feud? In a parallel universe, I’d kill to access those levels of bitch-dom. As long as I get the same costumes.) But, in her book of the same name, Debra Condren defines “ambitchous” as something many of us can identify with: “A woman who (1) makes more money (2) has more power (3) gets the recognition she deserves and (4) has the determination to go after her dreams.” See what I mean about not bitchy? Just normal. Just not doormat. Now go think about the lunatic bastard and get closer to that.

@VivGroskop

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Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange as Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in Feud (Photo: Getty Images)
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