Am I A “Bitch” At Work?

Talking-in-coffee-shop Photo : Alanna Bagladi

I started doing this thing at work where I don’t say “sorry”. And I mean that in the way that “sorry” is used as a replacement word. I don’t say “sorry” if I do that awkward walking-down-the-hallway dance with someone or try to open a door at the same time. I don’t say “sorry” if I’m just trying to get to my desk and someone’s in the way or into a conference room for a meeting. I’ve been working on saying “excuse me” or “pardon me” instead and so far, it’s sticking.

This might seem trivial but I hate hearing myself apologize for not doing anything wrong or for basically taking up space. I’m walking, going about my day, trying to get things done. Why exactly am I supposed to be apologetic about for that? Oh right, because I was in the way – or your way. Got it.

I started doing this when I really started becoming more serious about my self care and the work I was doing on myself. It obviously is a process and as you grow, you adapt and change. One change I really wanted to work on was not apologizing as much. I really didn’t like saying, and then feeling, sorry for doing completely minor and borderline insignificant things. I think this organically grew into being firmer and more direct with my coworkers and working on maintaining boundaries (like no work emails after I left the office) that I’m finding to be healthy.

I started not so much noticing as actually feeling some resistance to it when I started working on these things for myself. And I struggle with figuring out if it’s because it is different from my ‘normal’ disposition which has typically been accommodating and friendly to a fault or also because women are just expected to be that way at work. I know there is a connection, that I have these cultural expectations ingrained deeply into my psyche in ways that I probably don’t fully comprehend. But I can’t help but feel that by working to be more clear and precise with even these little things, and how their translate to larger ones, I’m perceived as a bitch.

I’m not particularly bothered by the word bitch but more by the implications and ideas tied to it. That being a bitch means you’re cruel and most likely friendless and that you’ll never find anyone to be happy with because you drove everyone away by being such a bitch. You could replace bitch with shrew or harpy and it would have the same effect: a carved our and hollow woman that is repellent because she’s bossy and will let you know her opinion and probably hasn’t had sex in forever.

And again, I can’t help but be bothered by how much these deeply wrought expectations and biases about being well liked and agreeable with everyone are also causing me to struggle with this. It makes me want to shake any of my male coworkers that have man-splained or interrupted me and say, “can’t you see this isn’t working? I’m trying on my side, try on yours!!” But still, I feel the word bitch percolating in the air when I ask someone not to interrupt me or if I don’t smile when I pass by someone.

I think, too, I am just getting sick of all the micro tasks that women are expected to do at a traditional corporate office – like make the coffee, replace the paper-towels, organize the birthdays, and give directions. Um, hi, are you an adult human that works here, too? Then I’m sure you can do any of those things, too.

Feeling the weight of all these things pile up is something I’ve really struggled with over the past few months, especially given the fallout from the election. Because the message I received from that (among many others) was no matter how could you are at your work, it’s still not enough. And I’m sick of that already, even this early in my career. So maybe it’s not healthy or professional to be a little more curt or direct or not-here-for-your-nonsense at work. But it also motivates me in some way to look back and say “excuse me?” Because chances are, I’ll already be gone, and onto my next task, my next meeting, my next accomplishment.

Katharine Donohoe : lives and works in Virginia. She (sometimes) has very little chill but enjoys the simple things like GChat, Trader Joe’s frozen snacks, and listening to a healthy amount of podcasts.