Soon I’m going to be graduating. And I’m going to have to get a job. Not a summer job or an “internship,” but like … a job-job. Currently, I’m student teaching in preparation for my future, hypothetical job-job. My main concern right now is, essentially, trying to establish myself as some kind of authority figure with my students, but also trying not to come off as a “bitch.”


Katie Steen

Actually, one of my readings for the School of Education offered advice on how to not seem “bitchy.” Seriously, that was the word that was used in the paper. The problem is, normally I pride myself on being a bitch in situations that call for bitchiness. But now, I have to try to essentially make people like me — and not just because it feels nice and warm and sunshine-y when other people like me — but because it actually affects my job. Students will typically try harder in your class if they like you — or at least show up to class.

But what exactly constitutes being bitchy? Is it the pitch of my voice? My smile, or lack thereof? My posture in heels? My hand on my hip? My persistence? Is one teacher’s assertiveness another’s bitchiness? Can male teachers be bitchy?

I’m reminded in particular of an ad from last year — for Pantene Philippines, incidentally — that addressed gendered double standards in the workplace. Ignoring the fact that, much like Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign, this ad is ultimately more capitalist than feminist (and ignoring the bizarre background music of a cover of Tears for Fears’ “Mad World”), the commercial brings up several valid points. Why is a man persuasive, but a woman pushy, for instance?

I don’t know if my students think of me as pushy or bitchy or if they even think much of me at all at this point (currently, the majority of my school day is spent swimming through endless piles of paper to grade), but it’s something I consider every time I tell a student to stop talking (for the third time) or to put away her phone (without saying please). How does my gender affect the way they interpret this? Am I just a “nag”?

And of course, there are my colleagues to consider. I’m thinking of an article in The Atlantic that cited a Pew survey on gender preferences in the workplace. Most people don’t have preferences as to the gender of the people they’re working with. But, within the category of men and women who do have gender preferences, both men and women prefer working with men.

But why? Is it because we’re too bitchy? Too moody? Too mean? Too sensitive? Too menstrual? Too distracting? What?

I think the reason females who have gendered preferences prefer to work with males is that they’ve bought into the same sort of rhetoric that causes women to say, “I’m not like most other girls.” The same rhetoric that causes girls to say, “Yeah, most of my friends are guys,” with a bizarre air of pride. This is the message that says that women, in general, are somehow bad — ditzy, irrational, catty, slutty — take your pick. A white male is the perceived default in America — normal and rational. A stick figure is a dude. Add the long hair, the dress, the boobs, the period, the passive aggression, the gossip and rumors, the uncontrollable bursts of emotions and tears and feelings — OK, now that’s a woman. Phew, no wonder guys are just easier to work with, right? To be friends with? To have as the protagonist of a movie, TV show, novel or comic book? To lead our companies? Our country?

I’m getting carried away. I could go on about all the stereotypical negative qualities of males and list off all the ways that females could be perceived as superior. But that’s childish and doesn’t do anything really except start/continue the “battle of the sexes” (though it can lead to exciting tennis matches). Anyway, the truth is, we’re all human, and we have more similarities than differences. And we can all be good colleagues, teachers, leaders, friends and people in general — don’t let social constructs tell ya any different.

Katie Steen can be reached at katheliz@umich.edu

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