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What’s Up With Bitchy Female Bosses?

Like most overworked urban women, I often come home at the end of a long workday and collapse in front of the TV. It’s a great way to escape, and I love getting wrapped up in the characters portrayed on my favorite shows. But I recently started wondering: how is society (and how am I) affected by […]

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Like most overworked urban women, I often come home at the end of a long workday and collapse in front of the TV. It’s a great way to escape, and I love getting wrapped up in the characters portrayed on my favorite shows. But I recently started wondering: how is society (and how am I) affected by what I’m watching?

On the rare occasions we see female bosses in film and TV, they are usually bitches. Frosty, manipulative, backstabbing bitches. Older, but not any less insecure, they’re jealous of the interns with fresh ovaries. They’ll steal your ideas and pass them off as their own. They don’t care about your feelings or your personal life, just their coffee exactly the way they like it. They want you kept in your place, which is far below the glass ceiling they haven’t completely cracked either.

What’s Up With Bitchy Female Bosses?

Sigourney Weaver stars as a financial executive who encourages her secretary to share business pitches only to later devise a scheme to steal her ideas and claim them as her own.

Male bosses, on the other hand, can be portrayed in a variety of ways—the nice guy, the hard-ass, the jerk, the idiot, etc.—but the female boss? Hollywood says there’s only one ‘type’.

I’m sure bitchy bosses do exist in real life or they wouldn’t strike such a chord with us. The Devil Meets Prada is based on a real person after all. But kind, well adjusted, and inspiring female bosses are out there too. As entertaining as the boss bitch villains are to watch on screen, we can’t be what we can’t see. The negative depictions of female bosses are scaring some women off from leadership roles. Young women don’t want to cast themselves in the role of the villain—and who can blame them?

I’m sure it doesn’t help that A) Hollywood, and the media at large, is largely run by men, and B) because of that, girls are taught (via the media) to be competitive with each other, rather than supportive (I’m pointing at you, Disney!)

What’s Up With Bitchy Female Bosses?

This fashion magazine boss’ icy demeanor has all of the publication’s employees on their guard and at her service.

Female leaders are a rarity, in both pop culture and reality, partially since the working woman is a relatively new phenomenon. Until World World I, the home was the woman’s domain. After the soldiers went off to war, women filled their positions for lesser pay (we’re still battling gender pay gaps today). It’s only in the last few decades that we’ve received the same education as men, and not been bred merely to attract a husband (although that’s still a work in progress in many parts of the world).

But, boy, have girls ever stepped up to the plate and hit a homerun. More girls than boys are graduating college, and women are starting businesses at twice the rate of men—and having far more entrepreneurial success. After centuries of playing the subservient role, we are finally starting to demand more.

What’s Up With Bitchy Female Bosses?

Sandra Bullock plays an overbearing boss who forces her assistant to marry her when she learns that she may face deportation to Canada due to an expired visa.

Still, our model for getting ahead in the workplace is based on men’s ways of doing things. The problem is, emulating men does not work for women. A man can communicate in a direct and impersonal manner and be praised as macho, but a female behaving in the same way would get her labeled one of the B-words. Let’s face it: men and women are not identical, and we will never be: each gender comes with its own strengths. But that doesn’t mean one sex is inferior to the other.

Women have great potential to be strong leaders. In fact, women-run companies have a higher success rate than businesses run by men. So, instead of following the man’s path, we must lead with the strengths unique to us. When a female is deemed bossy or bitchy, chances are she is reacting from a lack of recognition, respect, and self-esteem. This fear-based approach to leadership is not unique to women, but since there are so few female bosses, the ones who act this way give a bad rap to everyone else. Fair or not, we should take it as a cue to do things differently.

What’s Up With Bitchy Female Bosses?

Good bosses: Julianna Margulies and Christine Baranski got very lucky when they were hired to play well-rounded and realistic characters on The Good Wife

What makes a great leader? Confidence, creativity and clear communication skills. The best boss is approachable, inspires others, leads by example, and takes responsibility. These qualities are not exclusive to either sex. When women connect to their internal power and lead from a place of confidence, the bitch labels won’t be a problem.

Every day, I’m inspired by the women around me, from older women with their wealth of wisdom and their generosity to impart them, to gutsy younger women with the confidence I’m sure I never possessed when I was their age. As I take on more leadership responsibilities, I turn to these strong women for guidance. While their types are greatly underrepresented on screen, they are my role models.

Good roles for women are still hard to come by in film and TV. They do exist, and I’ll be watching for more positive portrayals of female bosses so I can count them on more than one hand.

Annie Zhu is the founder of Terumah, a lifestyle site covering ethical fashion, green beauty, art and travel.

Reader Discussion: 39 Comments

  1. ERICA

    Women are born leaders but not everyone believes that. I once experienced having a female boss and there was someone in the office that was almost in the same level as her but he was under another department. What he would do is to always challenge her capabilities and everytime I hear them talk, I could see that he’s trying to intimidate her. He would act all friendly towards her, but I feel like he’s trying to prove something to her. She’s really good in her field but she’s a little soft, maybe that’s why men feel the need to intimidate her.

    • Tanushri

      He’s an ass. Why would he do that?? That’s so mean.

  2. Emily Rose

    I don’t think it has anything to do with media. It takes a lot of things to scare a woman from success. It’s just a matter of how they want to exert their power over their subordinates. Also, women who are too weak or those who can be ordered around can’t exactly be leaders of companies. These women need to be strong and assertive and we just label them as bitchy because we think it’s always the most appropriate term for a woman that we don’t like.

  3. Tabitha Hopkins

    My thoughts exactly. These women are reacting from lack of recognition because they feel overpowered by the men (or anyone) around them!

  4. Marsha Jennings

    I’m so annoyed with the word bitch because it’s used too much to attack ladies that we dislike.

  5. Nicole Ramos

    Truth is, most approachable leaders are the ones who get disrespected. Others think it’s fine to just do that because they’re nice anyway.

  6. Peggy Weber

    You don’t need to be rude to other people just because you’re higher than them. Being a feminist is all about equality, so if you’re in a higher position, treat others with equality as well.

  7. Media is like that because most directors are male. What do you expect?

  8. Can’t we be just proud of these women that were able to make it into the higher levels of the workforce?

  9. When a person is really a leader, they don’t have to forcefully assert themselves to be leaders.

  10. These women are only doing whatever it takes in order to be respected by others. I haven’t really met any boss who was that bitchy to the point that nobody could tolerate it. But come on, we all have our bitchy moments.

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