The Bitch is Back

The Hindu Goddess of Empowerment, Kali
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“Sometimes you have to be a bitch to get things done.” ~ Madonna

In memory of Debbie Ford

About twelve years ago I went to an Omega Institute Conference in the heart of New York City. While there, I attended a lecture that the late author and teacher, Debbie Ford, gave on Shadow work. I clearly remember that day. Debbie was lithe and beautiful in a black pant suit.  She bounded to the stage and took the mic after her introduction. Her lecture was candid, funny, ironic.  But what surprised me most (when addressing her own shadow side) was her admission, “I am a bitch.” She said the word — that word — like it tasted yummy.

The air in that packed ballroom immediately grew still.  You could almost hear every woman in the room thinking, “She did not just say that.”  We shifted uncomfortably in our seats. After all, who wants to be a bitch?  It calls forth all sorts of terrible images of harpy shrews and she devils. (Ann Coulter, anyone?)

What that image evokes is this sense that a woman who takes no crap is an abomination. She is the anti-woman. She’s (obviously) forgotten that she should be demure and pliable and open and giving and nurturing and, well, sweet.  (Can you tell that I was raised by a woman who was raised by a Southern lady?) (Can you believe that I am a feminist?)

“Yep.  I can be a real bitch.”

Those words still resonate all these years later.

Debbie went on to explain that being a bitch had its upside.  (Something that, at that point, had never occurred to me.)

“Sometimes, you need to be a bitch,” she said.  “Especially if you want to get things done.  Especially if you want to be treated with respect.  Especially if you don’t want to be a doormat.”

She spoke that day of how many women will silence the part of themselves that needs to come forth (the shadow).  But doing so, she said, “Is like putting ice cream on top of a pile of poop.”  It was clear that that wasn’t a good combo.  And it was a perfect metaphor for what many women do.  We embrace the yin of our personalities but neglect the yang.  And, everyone needs both a receptive, inner, yin aspect — and an assertive, out in the world, yang aspect.


What got me thinking about this was a writing workshop I attended a few days ago on writing from our shadow side.  Predictably, all attendees were women. (I suppose given the nature of the topic, that was a good thing in the end.)  We were encouraged to write freely, using a stream of conscious technique to dump whatever came up for us around our shadow.

The first words I wrote were:

Be a bitch.  Be fierce.  Be raw.  Open up the box of snakes and let them slither around the room…

Hello, Kali.


A lot of subterranean soul sewage came up. And, I admit, I was a little surprised because I thought that I had this shit handled.  For a while now.

However, my inner goddess did not concur.

So, I wrote a bit of a rant and got all the gunk out of my system (for the time being).

The workshop facilitator had us pull Soul Cards, examine their images, and then write up our “gut” reaction to the image. It was illuminating, to say the least.  My card featured an image of a luminous white aura, with stars surrounding it.  Inside the body shaped image were the faces of a woman, a child, and a man.

I wrote:

You cannot be loved for what you neglect or leave behind the door.  You must integrate and love all aspects of yourself.  The powerful male energy, the wounded magical child, the woman, the nurturing, fair, open version of you — you are all these things.  You cannot be fully present in your life unless you can love the dirty, ugly, wild, brash, loud and obnoxious parts of you.  

You are surrounded by stars, by the cosmos, by darkness and light.  But at the center of the center of your life, you are clear.  You know.

You know.


Coincidentally (there’s no such thing), this week I’ve been reading The Secret Dowry of Eve by Glynda-Lee Hoffman. Hoffman is unpacking the Genesis myth from the old testament, using her extensive knowledge of the Qabalah (Jewish Mysticism).  The book’s emphasis is on a woman’s role in the development of consciousness: Eve, our soul sister, mystic mamu, and all around gal pal. Her actions were meant to wake up the inner life of the human being. Contrary to what many of us have been taught, what she did was brave and fierce and awe-inspiring — not evil. She is the little twinge in your gut that tells you if something is shutting you down or encouraging you to walk out on something that you absolutely must do. She’s the original empowered bitch.

And, I am sort of loving her brashness and guts and, well, cajones. The woman had balls. She listened to the snake. She danced with the darkness. She realized (mythologically) that we need to have both an inner and outer life.  We need balance. We need that.

Particularly now.

The world has worshiped the outer, aggressive, warring, male energy for too long. We need some bitches to step forth and get things done using the strengths that women bring to the table. We need to build a world that values the gifts that the life-giving, nurturing female brings.

That, to me, is what the global movement around stopping GMOs is all about. That’s what sustainability and the green, perma-culture movement is about. That’s what movements for girls (like Half the Sky) are all about. We must integrate and include women. Women have not been invited to the big table where they are most needed.

Therefore, we are crashing the damn party. Get ready for girl power. Get ready for some wild, angry bitches with ideas. We are here and we have good ideas, workable ideas, creative solutions. We don’t want to live with constant strife, war. We want a sustainable, compassionate, fair world. And if we have to step on a few toes to take our place at the table, so be it.

As the Dalai Lama once said, “The world will be saved by the Western woman.” And, damn, I realize now, he was right.

© 2013  Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved

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