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 […]


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.

Avatar of Annie Zhu

Annie Zhu is a writer from Toronto. Visit her at

Reader Discussion: 42 Comments

  1. Avatar of Naomi Vickers

    Naomi Vickers

    Most of the time, the employees are the ones to be blamed because they treat male and female bosses differently. Employees often direct personal problems like internal fights and emotional situations to female bosses, whereas male bosses receive more business-related issues. Let’s think about it. What makes female bosses become the bitch that they are? Why are they not treated the same way as male bosses?

  2. Avatar of Trevor Glenn

    Trevor Glenn

    “Is there some reason my coffee isn’t here? Has she died or something?” – Miranda Priestly, The Devil Wears Prada. Meryl Streep’s acting is truly a golden one that it epitomized the common misconception of females in corporate leadership. And yes, the media and entertainment industry are the ones behind it. Oh, wait, let me rephrase that. The big white corporate males in the media and entertainment industry are the ones behind it. Thank you very much.

  3. Avatar of Chantal Trescott

    Chantal Trescott

    Female bosses should never imitate their male counterparts. Everyone has their own strengths. They shouldn’t assume that just because they are in the level of corporate top-notch, they should be hard on everyone else around. Remember that there’s still this notion that female trying to act too assertive that it becomes out of place is nothing but “a real bitch.”

  4. Avatar of Ocean Bickley

    Ocean Bickley

    God, I remembered Joanna on “Friends,” Rachel’s boss in Bloomingdales. She tried to sabotage Rachel’s interview for a higher position, and she’s very hard with Sophie. Though the reason she did that to Rachel is she likes Rachel so much as her assistant. On the other hand, Sophie never had the chance to get Joanna’s favor no matter how she tried to be kind to her. When Joanna died in the series, what I can’t forget is Sophie’s smile as she entered their office.

  5. Avatar of 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.

  6. Avatar of Emily Rose

    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.

  7. Avatar of Tabitha Hopkins

    Tabitha Hopkins

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

  8. Avatar of Marsha Jennings

    Marsha Jennings

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

  9. Avatar of Nicole Ramos

    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.

  10. Avatar of Peggy Weber

    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.

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