No filter: Open letters to the self-branded ‘b’-word

No filter: Open letters to the self-branded ‘b’-word

To the women in the veterinary profession who’ve been led to believe they’re bitches for being assertive: It’s time to change that.

"Are you a good bitch or a bad bitch?" (Photo: Shutterstock.com)Editors’ note: We’ll be discussing the word “bitch” in this article. As you know, it’s a female animal, especially a dog. It’s also a slur to refer to a woman. We’ll be referring to the latter here. First, we start with Bash Halow’s encounter with a veterinary team member, then Halow’s and two other people’s thoughts to this employee:

“I’m a big bitch.”

Janet said this with pride. She even laughed.

“I’m the big bitch around here,” she stated with a smile. “Everyone thinks so, but I don’t care. I do whatever I have to do to get the job done, and if that means I’m the bitch? Well, I’m the bitch.” 

We’ve all heard this at some point in our lives: The professional woman who gladly takes the title of bitch for being assertive. After all, the men in charge who give orders are seen as bosses and women are, well … bitches. And, as comedian, writer, producer and all-around boss-woman Tina Fey recently said, “Bitches get stuff done.”

But is that line of thinking creating an even bigger negative impact on an already negative word? And even if it does have negative connotations for the self-proclaimed bitch, is there a better alternative? Here’s what three veterinary professionals have to say to Janet on the matter.

Be the bitch you want to see in the world

Janet,

I know how you feel. As a female veterinarian, I’ve had more than a few occasions to recognize that I was judged by different standards than my fellow male veterinarians. He would say the same words in the same matter-of-fact tone and be described as confident, strong, respected—while I would be described as abrasive, mean, bitchy.

I’ve read a lot and learned a lot about unconscious gender biases, much that I wish I had learned years ago. I suffered years of trying to be perceived as nice and not the ‘B’-word. Now I work hard to find the balance and gain the communication skills that allow me to be confident and direct without seeming bitchy. I call out bias when I see it and try to share with those around me that they should too.

While you may say, “I’m the big bitch around here” proudly, I suspect you are actually just like me: frustrated that in order to get your daily clinic business done, you shouldn’t need to be sticky sweet and gushing, and by being direct, employees have called you a bitch.

If saying “I’m the big bitch around here” means that your team members are respectful and know you care but aren’t here to coddle them, own it. Be a good bitch, not a wicked bitch. Take that word and turn it into a way to call you Wonder Woman. Because, well, bitches get stuff done.

So, are you going to be a good bitch or a bad bitch?

-Karen Bradley, DVM

Owner of Onion River Animal Hospital  


You. Can. Do. This!

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You are more than a slur

Janet,

You’re not a bitch, and I’m sure you don’t like being called one. I’m terribly sorry that you’ve arrived at a point in your life where you identify with such an unflattering, misogynistic word. You are not a bitch. You are a woman who cares about animals and has a great deal of love in her heart—someone who’s searching for happiness, respect and success in her job and this world.

I don’t know how you arrived at this perspective, but I want you to write it down. I want to hear how a young woman full of promise arrived at the point of boasting to everyone within earshot, “I’m a big bitch.” I want you to write it down because I think you’ll discover what I already know: The narrative of such a story is deeply flawed. Though you’ve mistakenly been led to believe otherwise, in the end no one likes being a bitch and no one likes being called one.

You, like so many of us, have made the mistake of listening to a false, ugly internal voice—one that can’t be trusted and one that, if given more airtime, can be seriously destructive.

Janet, you’re a terrific individual. You matter. I want you to promise that you’ll stop being so mean to yourself and, in turn, discover how to get things done without feeling like you’re being mean or ugly to others.

- Bashore Halow, LVT, CVPM

Partner at Halow Tassava Consulting

Bitches help bitches be better 

Dear Janet,

I bet you didn’t think you’d get so many responses, eh? 

First of all, kudos to you for your bravery. It takes giant lady ’nads to choose productivity over playing nice and to choose authentic leadership over people pleasing. That shows an incredible amount of focus, self-awareness and self-confidence. You seem like a woman to be reckoned with—someone to go to when you need stuff done, a strong leader as well as someone to admire. I kind of have a crush on you.

Second, I think you’re fooling yourself. Down at the secret, base level where nobody else is allowed to go, I suspect somewhere inside you do care, and it hurts to be labeled negatively when all you’re trying to do is your best. Frankly, it sucks that, even in today’s society, we judge a woman who takes a strong leadership role that forces her to work harder and better than men. It sucks that we have to strap on emotional armor to deflect negative labels like “bitch” when we dare to step out as leaders and force change.

Because women tend to predominate in veterinary staff, I’m going to assume it’s other women who are calling you a bitch behind your back and unconsciously sabotaging your psyche. That, to me, is what really sucks. It’s just one more way we unconsciously hold women down, hold ourselves down, and unconsciously sabotage each other emotionally. To be honest, I’m over it. I bet you are too.

Most of all, I’m so thankful to be having this discussion. When I graduated from vet school 15 years ago, this subject would have been taboo. The fact that we can discuss this openly and honestly leads me to believe that things are getting better for both men and women in our profession.

So, Janet, continue in your bitchy ways, but be good. Think Wonder Woman, not Mean Girls. Margaret Thatcher, not Cersei Lannister. Lead with confidence, humility and gratitude. One by one, we will change this world for the better.

-Sarah Wooten, DVM

Associate and partner at Sheep Draw Veterinary Hospital

Would you have a different approach to this situation? Comment below and tell us how you’d deal with Janet, or email us at [email protected]