How I Became a Manipulative Bitch Without Trying

Let’s talk about why women don’t ask for what they want directly, and why it’s causing me to fight with Joe about lamps.


It was only a matter of time before Meryl made her way into this blog.


When girls and women ask for what they want, they’re labeled a bitch. Imagine saying something like:

“Hand me that pencil.”
“Stop tapping your foot.”
“I want Chinese food tonight.”

Oh God. I feel itchy just imagining being so direct. Who am I, Sigourney Weaver?! Please. So, like many women, I have learned to imply or to beat around the bush when I have a request.

“I have nothing to write with!”
“That tapping is annoying.”
“How do you feel about getting Chinese food tonight?”

That way, no one gets hurt by my demands, right? Well, not so much. Sadly, I have recently realized that this doesn’t stop you from being seen as a bitch. It just makes you a manipulative bitch. Now you’re just a girl who gets her way by trickery.

So what have we learned? Never ask for what you want. Blog post completed, everyone go home.

Kidding. Certainly there are nice, in-between ways to ask for what you want. But this takes time, practice, and stealth. It’s not just a matter of adding “please” and “thank you”—your tone must be perfect, your wording exact. And it’s hard and annoying to constantly pay so much attention to the way you’re speaking. I’ve learned through conditioning that it’s easier to get what I want with the indirect approach, never really realizing why I did it, but understanding that asking more directly would make me “pushy,” “bitchy” or (dun dun DUNNNN) “bossy.”

This is how women get this stereotype of being manipulative, or expecting men to read our minds. For example, if the heater isn’t on and I’m cold, I might say, “I’m cold!” when what I really mean is “Joe, can you please go turn on the heater?” I’ve only recently realized how ingrained this is. Not only do I ask by implying, I often assume that Joe is doing the same. Here’s an example:

Yesterday we were in the kitchen and Joe said, “I hate how this floor mat moves around all the time!” I used my silly lady ears to hear his indirect request: “Emily, please make it so this mat doesn’t move around all the time.” Turns out, that’s not what Joe was saying, because Joe hasn’t been conditioned to make indirect requests like I have.

This is one of our #1 fight-starters: Joe says something that I take as an indirect request, and we both end up hurt and confused. Sometimes I work hard to fix his (not actually real) indirect requests, which leaves me resentful. For example, about two years ago, Joe would complain that he doesn’t like grocery shopping. I took this as an indirect request that I should do it alone. So I did, because I wanted him to be happy and it felt like an easy way to show him that I cared about him. Cut to me having a mental breakdown after a few months of dragging groceries home by myself.

But lately I’ve been doing more thinking into what it means for us to be equal partners, and making sure that we both feel like we’re doing equal amounts of work. So what happens more often now, instead of trying to fix his (again, not real) request, is that I turn it around on him. When he says, “The lighting in here is weird,” I think, why do I have to fix everything in our home? If he wants better lighting he should get some fricken lamps, and I say to him (slightly more annoyed than I should, considering the situation) “Then buy some lamps!” And suddenly we’re fighting about lamps and Joe feels baffled at my annoyance when he thought he was just making a casual statement about mood lighting.

I haven’t learned the secret to fixing this discrepancy, but I’m hoping it’s a good step that I’ve noticed it. It’s likely we need to just talk it out when it happens. Which is annoying, because who wants to sit and calmly discuss their feelings about a moving kitchen mat? Not me, certainly.

I’m not totally sure the best way to respond when Joe complains. But I think it’s the same as what I would want from him: “That is frustrating. Can you add it to our shopping list and we can pick out a new one?” Or maybe it’s as simple as clarifying what he means: “Are you asking me to do something about that?”

I don’t believe men are right and women are wrong in their approach. There’s plenty to be said for softening your requests at appropriate times, and being aware of how harsh you’re coming across, which a lot of men could benefit from. What’s more important to remember is that 50% of people do things one way, and 50% do things another way. Both sides need to understand that they say and hear things differently. If we can remember that, even when tensions are high, it helps us keep the lamp fights at a minimum. Although he was right, the lighting is pretty weird in here.

What do you think? Have I hit on something? Or am I all alone and you guys are like “Shyah, I am Miranda Priestly, hear me roar, I ask for what I want!” *z-snaps*

7 thoughts on “How I Became a Manipulative Bitch Without Trying

  1. My wife likes to complain quite often about anything and everything. I also understood her qualm to be a legitimate issue that needs a solution. What I learned was that this is not the case 95% of the time. She’s literally just venting and does not require a solution. We used to fight because I would say, “oh, that stinks, you should (take direct action) about that.” This is because I was used to communicating in a more direct fashion. All issues need solutions, right? No.Wrong. Completely wrong. A cautionary tale, I guess. Try to keep the comments in context of the person.

  2. Have you read anything from Dr Laura? She has made several similar observations about communication differences between men and women. Men fix things, if you bring something up to a man he assumes you want it fixed, even if a woman is just venting about that thing.

  3. I’ve read a bit about the fix-it vs venting differences in communication (actually from Men Are From Mars, and not ashamed to say it. That book has good insights). It’s definitely something else that we deal with, but it’s not always the source of the problem–though related.

  4. Very interesting post. As a very direct person (male) myself, I find it’s much better for communication to be open about your needs and wants. For example there is a big difference between:

    * I think it would be nice if we fixed this. (asking for an improvement that could happen next year).
    * I think we need to fix this. (asking for an improvement that needs to be fixed asap).

    By the way, it’s not just women who do this. Men have the same problem of internalising a lot of problems and not communicating them with their partner. The trick is to (initially) bluntly come out with it all and work towards an equilibrium together.

    • I keep thinking about your comment, and while I agree, I want to point out that saying “it’s not just women” sounds a lot like saying “not all men.”

      By which I mean: of course this isn’t a 50/50, straight down the middle gender disparity. Nothing is. But if we don’t talk about issues that lean toward one side or the other (and I do believe this is one of those issues), we risk not talking about them at all.

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