SHE’d been at school just one day.
Just one day, when I heard Elsie say something unpleasant. Something that she would never say in a million years and something that I’d never ever heard her utter before.
It was the morning of her second day starting reception class and as she muttered along to herself as little people do, I heard this: “I don’t want to be friends with you and your ugly friends.”
Aghast, I immediately pulled her for it, explaining that she should never say anything like that to anyone because it was hurtful and cruel. She burst into tears.
I knew then, straight away as her mum, that she had no idea of the impact of the words she had said and was simply mimicking something that she had heard. I thought it might have come from a television programme but when I asked her, she explained that she’d heard another girl say it in the playground.
Just one day.
One day at school and already my daughter had come home with a new mean phrase in her word arsenal, a hurtful phrase designed to cut a girl or group of girls down to size.
“Your ugly friends.”
Like all mums, I understand that children can be cruel at times and often unwittingly, by simply repeating things that they have picked up or overheard. But it really stopped me in my tracks and made me think. Where on earth does this come from? And does this kind of female bitchiness ever really stop?
At 36 years of age, I am no stranger to bitchiness. Either being on the receiving end of it or on occasion, even being a bitch myself.
I’d love to sit here and tell you all how I’ve never said anything unpleasant or cruel about another woman, but to be quite frank, well that would not be true.
Because I have.
On many occasions.
Throughout my life.
And believe me, that doesn’t make me proud in the slightest. In fact, it makes me feel pretty damn ashamed.
I like to think that I’ve improved over the years and that as bitches go, I’ve always been way down on the lower end of the spectrum, but yet even the fact that I’ve been stood on the spectrum on occasion makes my conscience squirm.
I’m a kind person, I do good deeds, I love my family and friends and I’m a big ol’ proud and vocal feminist and yet still I find myself in the bitch camp at times.
I know better. Yet still I enter.
Over the past year or so, I’ve spent a great deal of time doing quite a bit of soul searching. Mostly because certain circumstances have forced me to take a good, hard, uncomfortable look at myself.
It hasn’t been easy.
In fact it’s often been pretty dark. Getting to my own ugly truths has been hard, filthy work.
I’ve uncovered behaviour I’m deeply ashamed of, relived painful memories of dreadful ways in which I’ve treated some people and listened in horror to ugly words that have come from my own mouth, fired at people in anger.
I try my best to be good, as we all do but I’m human. I ‘cock up’. And I have cocked up many times.
Being an occasional bitch is better than being a full time, but still I want rid of mine and am desperate to pack her bags.
But it’s a funny thing is bitchiness.
Because even when you’re on your best behaviour and doing brilliantly at keeping it at bay, isn’t it true that when we find ourselves in a group of women, from somewhere the bitch suddenly reappears and struts back in?
Think about it for a second.
How many times recently have you somehow found yourself in the middle of a bitch fest about another woman, only to think about it later consumed by guilt and wonder:“how the hell did I end up in that conversation?!”
It happens. To all of us.
Some women are bigger bitches than other. Some seem to even thrive on it and the vulnerable, questionable power it gives them.
But I believe that most of us are inherently good and want to be that way too. I look around at the women I know and I see their big loving hearts in action all the time. I see that most of us love the company of other women, are inspired by each other, support one another and damn well love being part of the sisterhood.
But yet somehow we all end up at bitch camp from time to time without even really knowing how we got there. Which is what makes it all so much harder to understand.
Why does our inner bitch exist within us, lurking, ready to take over the best of us even when we do and should know better?
Are we born with her? Is it part of our female DNA? Are our parents to blame?
As I get older, I’m getting better at getting a tighter grip on my own personal bitch behaviour.
I try not to get involved in those type of awful gossipy conversations which we can all find ourselves being dragged into. I frequently give myself a stern talking to if I slip up and I listen much more carefully to the words other women say about other women because I get that it tells me everything I need to know.
And as for Elsie? Well, I can’t stop her picking things up in the playground. She’s going to overhear things, she’s going to witness horrid behaviour from some girls and sadly, will no doubt be on the receiving or giving end herself one day.
But I can be a bloody good example. I can ban TV shows which encourage and almost celebrate our most unpleasant female trait (have you watched the modern My Little Pony?!) and I can raise a girl who is kind and respectful of other girls.
A few months ago, I stumbled across Maya Angelou talking about the power of words and what she said has stayed with me.
In a nutshell, she believed our words have power. For good or bad.
And when I think of this, well it just makes me more determined than ever to locate my inner bitch and mute her ugly voice for good.
P.S I said earlier in the post that I have no idea where this female bitchiness comes from but this short Oprah clip certainly sheds some light and is well worth a watch if you’ve got a couple spare minutes.