The first and only time I was called “nasty” to my face was by a young, junior, female teammate.
I am not sure how many times it has been said about me without my knowledge, but I don’t really care. When my co-worker said that word, it took me aback, not just because of the word itself, but mostly because I thought it was a crude thing to say to anyone in any capacity.
It also felt unfortunate that the sentiment was from one woman to another.
As a confident woman who always looked out for my client’s interest, I knew my experience and my “no mollycoddling” attitude triggered this young woman. So when she said Nasty Neelam, I looked at her squarely without reaction and excused myself.
The thing is, I had stopped by her office on that day because I wanted to console her but also be able to give her assurance about a situation with the client. In me, she could have had a friend and a mentor.
The quick backstory that brought me into this situation: I was a newcomer to a pharmaceutical brand that brought in about $8 to $10 million in revenue to a renowned advertising agency in the heart of Midtown in New York City. I was the trailblazer, asking for more from the team and challenging a poorly-designed process. I handled my co-workers—was who’d usually want to move at a glacial pace with client deliverables—with a pretty direct approach. Generally, it was not a very healthy environment.
I recall the lead administrative assistant saying to me, “Neelam, they don’t like your goodness. They don’t like the fact that the client likes you so much. They don’t like being told how to do or choose to do the right thing. They will pull you down and you, baby, you have to fight to stay you. Always. Don’t let them break you or come anywhere close to your heart and what you stand for. You have bigger things to offer the world and this is just a quick stop before you get to what you are supposed to do.”
Nasty. Nasty. Nasty.
That word was unfurled at another woman just the way it was at me. I wasn’t standing in front of a live audience or being televised across the world but I know firsthand what it feels like to be labeled as such.
It sent chills down my heart, spine, the back of my ears and through my pelvis because it was yet another scary reminder of how society views and treats women in leadership—women who dress the part; women whose bodies are not “mainstream;” women who are different and bold; women who take charge and go for it unapologetically; women who are strong yet soft.
For women who get the job done. For women who have dedicated their lives to their mission, service and good for others.
For women who have goals. For women who are competing in sports, technology, research, politics and education. Every day. Without fail. They are showing up despite the emotional bruises and physical drain their souls or their beautiful bodies endure.
What Donald Trump really wanted to say the other night was: Hillary is a bitch. If she is a bitch—all women are, or could be. Apparently we are nasty, too, because we are standing strong, instead of cowering under pressure. Relentless. Poised. We are wild, a far cry from the damsel in distress. We are not always right. We know we could have done a few things differently. We know those exact things we did not do differently will be used against us.
Yet we survive, in many ways, we thrive in the face of lies and fears that are rallying against us in our jobs and lives.
We stand composed, facing slanderous remarks and words thrown to label us or our integrity both as women and as human beings. We are women who have lived through: men leaving us, men cheating on us and men getting away with more than we could even murmur under our breaths. But look at us. Really look at us. We are not whining about the cards we were dealt—instead, we are choosing to take a stance. We are choosing action. We are garnering our inner feminine power in a highly charged masculine world. We are not isolating anyone, even those who do not understand us or are out for our destruction.
We are not looking for approvals of any kind. We just keep moving. That’s what we do.
We keep forging in the direction that is calling to us.
Imagine our audacity.
Honestly, if all or any of this is what being nasty is, then let’s make it a requirement for all women to revel in being nasty so they can outshine life. Let’s make sure we learn to never cringe or react when that word or other derogatory ones are being used to describe us.
Let’s make it a word that garners solidarity and is perhaps now the rally cry for all feminists.
Let’s teach our daughters that we can spend our lives working hard, but people will still ask us to “prove” ourselves regularly. Let’s all make it a point to also tell our daughters and ourselves that we are not changing to make those people comfortable.
We are here.
We are staying.
We are rising.
We are nasty women—and we are just getting started.
(P.S. About that job: the advertising agency ended up losing that business. I found another job before eventually leaving the advertising business and the corporate world to pursue writing/poetry and coaching full-time. That young misguided female co-worker was promoted right before I left, and is now actively thriving in mediocrity).
Author: Neelam Tewar
Image: Screenshot from the The Rogue Angel on Twitter
Editor: Renée Picard