Twenty-seven years ago, in the Chicago Airport, I wanted to get home to my 6 month old son. My X and I were on a layover gone bad. The ticket agent informed us that we were not leaving any time soon since the plane to Pittsburgh was indeterminately delayed. This was not the answer I wanted to hear. I needed to get home to my kid.
I instinctively pulled myself up to my full 5-feet-10-inch height and leaned over the counter, closing the distance between myself and this unsuspecting man’s face. I informed him, in a dangerously quiet voice, tears in my eyes, that I had a son I needed to get home to and I WOULD be leaving soon. Very soon. And he was going to make it happen.
He did. He found a flight that got us home late that evening. Maybe he was glad to get me out of there. Maybe he was a dad and understood my panic. Either way he sent me home.
My Was-band called me a Bitch for speaking to the ticket agent that way. I was infuriated by his lack of support that expressed itself in his name calling. I was also a bit ashamed of myself for acting badly to that nice man behind the ticket counter.
Two years later, when our son had a febrile seizure, the doctors insisted on doing a spinal tap. Hearing his terrified screams from the procedure room, as he was being held down by a team of nurses, I got-in-the face of another man, the doctor. Holding his white jacket lapels–mostly to steady my weak knees, I breathlessly asked if the spinal tap was absolutely necessary. He said it was. My X later told me I was (again) being a Bitch.
I did not intentionally try to be the B word. I knew the rule; If you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all. People wouldn’t like me if I was not nice. I was clearly aware, thanks to my mom’s early training, that it was my job to keep everyone happy-especially her. So I learned the act of pleasantness.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author of one of my favorite books, Women Who Run with the Wolves, tells the story of being asked why she had to get so loud and angry when something negatively impacted her. She responded along the lines of, “You don’t listen when I am quiet.”
Why does an assertive woman get called a bitch? Why is standing my ground considered bitchiness?
When I reached my mid 40‘s something began to change inside of me. I stopped feeling guilty for my edginess. In fact, I rather began to enjoy it. I liked speaking up, even if the other person didn’t like what I said. I didn’t stop being kind. I did stop being nice. There is a difference.
Several years into this transformation my X, once again, called me a Bitch. I don’t remember for what. I do remember thanking him for the compliment; explaining that I had been working very hard to develop this skill and I was glad he had noticed.
At 51 I divorced…and decided the world needs more bitchy women.