I WASN'T always a bitch promoter, though I certainly became one before Newt Gingrich's mom told the world what her son thought about Hillary Clinton.
Growing up during the late '50s and '60s, I was trained by experts in the field of Toxic Niceness, a syndrome that most women recognize by virtue of their own training. At the same time, I was immersed in the art of challenging authority, no matter what form it took. As a result, by the time I hit adolescence, I was a rebel without a pause who couldn't help succumbing to the allure of the Cult of the Doormat. That is, I always apologized profusely after standing up for what I believed in.
Needless to say, I suffered from a crisis of intentions (and identity) at a point during my early thirties. All of that apologizing, and the attendant habits of agreeing too readily, putting the needs of anyone and everyone else first, smiling through my tears -- you know, the classic co-dependent profile -- had worn me out. Although it was years in the making, there was a moment when it became clear to me that the only thing standing between me and true happiness was niceness. This moment had to do with a man I was dating, and the operative word here is "was."
The important thing was this -- I'd had enough of being too nice. And I wrote an article about it called "Getting in Touch With Your Inner Bitch." Originally published in the premiere issue of Hysteria, a feminist humor magazine, the article was basically a call for women to stop being doormats in their relationships with men (no matter how cute they may be). It proved to be a benchmark event in my life.
Various alternative weekly newspapers across the country ran the story and then the Baltimore Sun picked up on it. In a singularly humorless bit of reporting, they consulted a number of academics and other writers to comment on the concept of the Inner Bitch. Then radio disk jockeys from around the globe called for interviews about how the Inner Bitch affected relationships (both romantic and platonic), how She could be put to use in business (if at all), what the history of the Inner Bitch was, and so on. Then came the most flattering publicity of all -- Rush Limbaugh attacked my ideas on his radio show.
I called Limbaugh's producer. He admitted that Rush had been talking about me and that Rush was planning on doing a piece on his TV show about the Inner Bitch.
"Does he get it?" I asked.
"Just between us," the producer said, "I don't think so."
Watching Rush Limbaugh talk about me on TV was an amazing experience. He expressed his "outrage" at my "militant feminist" stance. Eventually, Limbaugh's comments made their way into his second book, where he upped the ante by referring to me as a "radical feminist theorist."
I hadn't realized. I knew I was a feminist, because how could I not be? But a radical feminist theorist? Golly, not bad for a high school dropout.
I had never been so inspired. Thanks to Rush, I set to work on expanding the initial idea of the article into a book.
During all those radio interviews,it had become clear to me that there was no area in life where the Inner Bitch was inapplicable. I realized too why the concept of the Inner Bitch was so appealing -- everyone can recognize Her.
The Inner Bitch is that part of ourselves that says, "I don't think so" to all the bizarre demands that are a part of our daily life. Those demands that add up to our eventually kicking a wall or yelling at the kids or running away to the islands with some inappropriate stranger (hey, like you've never though about it?).
The Inner Bitch is a reliable friend in dealing with those little catastrophes that bombard us daily. You know, like those kamikaze scent purveyors in department stores. The ones who spray first, and then ask "Would you care to experience Raison d'Etre?" How do we deal with this, other than a pre-emptive strike? The Inner Bitch saves you from layers of scent that bear absolutely no resemblance to one another (or our chosen perfume).
Or how about that encounter with the driver who backs into your car's passenger side, dislodging the side\view mirror, an impact that (according to the other driver) will have little impact on our lives. "The rearview mirror's all you really need, sweetie," says he. Chances are, ripping off his sideview mirror would be difficult. Not to mention the fact that most people aren't as sanguine about their own property as they tend to be about ours.
The Inner Bitch has a better way, a simpler, and terribly effective, way: "I don't think so," she says. It's a great phrase; short, catchy, and it rolls off the tongue. Try it out. Play with it. Make it yours by adding emphasis to whichever word you wish. "I don't think so." Nobody can argue with it, after all. They can't say you do think so. (Well, they can, but not with much authority.)
Being in touch with your Inner Bitch is even (or maybe especially) useful in the more pleasant areas of life -- like sex and food. Our attitude toward both can often be summed up simply: "Nice girls don't." We use the most judgmental language: "I was so bad!" And that doesn't mean we slept with someone on the first date. We mean we ate the strawberry cheesecake. Then we condemn ourselves to a diet of raw vegetables and bottled water, which we call "being good." How many single women refuse to eat like human beings in front of men we date? We order salads and pretend to be satisfied when what we really want is fried chicken. It's almost as if we're claiming the moral high ground by denying ourselves.
The same with sex. We have been known to pretend to be satisfied with (how shall I say it? Oh, I just will) inadequate sex. We say things to ourselves like "Well, I wouldn't want him to think I was dissatisfied!" We're embarrassed. We're too shy. Or voracious.
This is Toxic Niceness, that little voice inside that says, "What would he think?" And the Inner Bitch answers, "Who cares?" Good question. And that's why the notion of Getting In Touch With Your Inner Bitch has caught on. That, and the fact that it's fun to have an excuse to say "bitch" in what my mom would call "polite company."
Of course, a number of people, not only Rush Limbaugh, have misinterpreted my message. One DJ wondered if I was anti-woman. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. If women can laugh about their Inner Bitch, it makes it easier to talk about it. Humor breaks down the walls between us and enables us to recognize our shared truths.
Another inevitable consequence of having written this book is that people like to call me a bitch. Not behind my back (that I know of), but to my face. Does this bother me? Nope. The only reasonable response is to say, "Thank you." And, in extreme cases, send flowers.
I am, by the current definition, a bitch. I say what I think; I demand excellence of myself and others; I don't back down from what I believe in (or apologize for saying what I think); and I rarely slide back into Toxic Niceness. Even with my boyfriend.
So to those who believe that I am reinforcing a degrading stereotype, I say this: "I don't think so." It's time to re-define the word, to make it our own, wear it as badge of honor, and maybe even take it to the next level. After all, just by virtue of being myself, I will be called a bitch. If I have the name, I might as well have the game. Elizabeth Hilts is the acting editor of the Weekly, a newspaper that publishes in Westchester County, N.Y. and Fairfield County, Conn. She is also the author of "Getting in Touch With Your Inner Bitch" (Hysteria Publications).