Is Bitchiness the Key to Success?

I've been listening to an audiobook of Amy Poehler's new book Yes, Please on my phone over the past little while.

Most of what I know of her is of her character on Parks and Recreation and at first I had trouble reconciling Lesley Knope's ridiculously-cheerful character with Poehler's aggressive statements and observations about success, such as "sometimes I worry that not enough people hate me".

Throughout her book, she paints a clear picture that she got to where she is by busting her ass and not taking shit from people. 

What struck me about this is that the scenes she uses to illustrate these points - such as screaming at some jerk on an airplane who was harassing her - are commonly identified as being "bitchy behaviours." Even though she spends all of her time working to promote herself and further her career, she still has to deal with people who refer to her as A Bitch.

As a businessperson I totally identify with this - I haven't accomplished what I have by sitting back and waiting for it to come to me. I've blogged for years, maintain an active online presence, jump at the option to speak publicly and share my knowledge, and make a living hustling to get my name out there. Sure, it's paying off, but it's taken time and dedication and I've definitely been called names once or twice during that time -largely when I've stood up for myself.

So as I've been listening to the audio book I've found myself wondering "obviously a no-BS attitude is the key to being successful, but does that actually classify as 'bitchy behaviour'?"

I don't think so, and here's why:

Being "a bitch" actually doesn't mean refusing to take shit from people and being ambitious as hell, it means being mean and deliberately nasty, which we should all strive not to do regardless of our career aspirations.

However, unfortunately women are often classified as being "bitches" when they exhibit ambitious behaviour or stand up for themselves because of larger (unfortunately in many cases still extremely pervasive) gender inequality issues that exist within our society. 

Too often, our society uses negative language to discredit successful women and to downplay their efforts.  By calling an assertive woman a bitch, we're stripping her of any power that she might have because it implies that the only reason that she got to where she is in her life was through underhanded and nasty tactics. She doesn't actually deserve your respect, attention, or admiration because she's just a bitchy woman, nothing special. 

I've seen men do this far too often, and -perhaps more worrying- I've seen women do it as well. Women are taught to be jealous of other women's successes, and name-calling is one tactic that we employ to justify our feelings of jealousy or insecurity. 

So how can we be successful without being "bitches"?

I think the secret is to start trying to reclassifying what is actually "bitchy" (nastiness, underhanded behaviour, etc) and what is just plain old ambition and drive, and to start focusing more on the ways in which women work together to be successful. 

Women need to say nice things about other women.

A great local example is the Women's Enterprise Centre of Manitoba. There are heaps of super-talented ladies involved with helping one another working there, and nobody is going around saying things like "this totally successful bitch taught a class the other day."

Instead, they say things like "I met this amazing woman the other day. She was driven and focused and really knew what she was talking about. She doesn't take shit from anyone!" 

These are the kinds of stories that we should be telling about women in business, and when women like Amy Poehler publish memoirs like Yes, Please, which encourage women to stand up for themselves and not be doormats who wait for their careers to be handed to them, we should applaud her efforts, not call her a "bitch" and downplay her drive.