I want to say something about the bad b*tches of the world.
Recently, I was invited to write an article for the November issue of AGMA’s magazine. I can’t wait to share it after the mag is published, as it’s something I’m proud of. It took a while to coalesce, since the topics touched on are thorny and personal ones, centering on power imbalances and ethics in my industry. The essay is personal in viewpoint for a number of reasons, and includes a few short descriptions of sexist/harassing incidents from my schooling and early career. None of these stories are new; they’re all part of the blog post I wrote in 2016 in response to the infamous “Access Hollywood” interview with the current president. I reached out to a couple of trusted friends to get their eyes on it before submitting, and as always their advice was fabulous and made the essay better. One of those friends called a few nights ago, and we had a great talk about the work for equity that’s happening in our field (they are doing such good work in that regard – mad respect).
But I was a little floored when they said to me, “I was really shocked at some of the things in your essay, because if anyone would have told me back then that you’d experienced those things, I would have said, no way. She’s tough. She’ll cut you.”
Hoooo. I just took a DNA test, apparently.
This is a cherished work friend, and we were in the middle of talking about big topics, so it’s not where the conversation stopped to chat. But it’s stayed with me. And it was still there when I had a long chat with another friend last night. They are currently in a workplace where there’s lots of uncomfortable boundary talk (“now this hug isn’t a Title IX violation, is it? Hahaha”), and yet such boundaries are walked right over with my friend all the time, along with language about how they’re “different,” “more experienced,” “tough.” Spoiler alert – of course this is a classical music environment *hand to face emoji*
I think we still carry around a very resilient, poisonous little cultural idea, which is that violence or harassment or bullying can’t really happen to a bad b*tch. That to be victimized you have to be a victim, and victims are weak. That the way to avoid such incidents is to be tough and strong and to just lay down the law. In fact, this is more important than actual law to some people I know, who express impatience with institutional policy and the difficult discussions around equity and ethics that are happening now.
“Why can’t people just say no? I did. You need to just have your values in place.” The words of another friend, recently. Or another, “none of that ever happened to me. I guess I was just too tough.”
And I get it. That’s not wrong. You do need to respect yourself, know what your boundaries are, insist on them. But whenthat sentiment is used as a reason to demand constant punching up, as it has been for generations, I’m sorry – it’s not good enough, and it’s not what we need to change environment and culture.
I am a bad b*itch y’all, even when I’m crying crazy (I mean SERIOUSLY this is the lyric of a generation). But I learned to be that way, I was taught, it was required of me. There are multiple ways to navigate your life, and one is to put on the armor of someone who can’t be hurt – and also, frankly, someone you don’t really want to get near. Nobody comes out of the womb wearing armor. You build it from what you have on hand.
And images of the bad b*tch are something we have on hand, right? SO plentiful. Carmen standing over there, left out of the girls’ little tarot reading. Eboli. Delilah. What happens to them is another essay, one other people have written many times.
Embrace the bad b*tches around you today, consider a bit what you think of them. Why’d they get so bad? Do you admire them? Is their tough surface a reason for you to be less careful? Do you think they can take it?
What do you think weakness looks like, or strength? Which do you admire and which despise, and when?
There are a lot of secrets people are deciding not to keep anymore. One of the tough things for us will be to examine exactly these kinds of questions. We all learned all of this together.
I’m so ready to take the armor off and rest for while. Let’s sit down and take a load off, bad b*tches all.