Is Amy Poehler Right that 'Bitchiness' Is the Secret to Success?

In Amy Poehler’s new book, Yes, Please, she gives it to us straight: “I am not as nice as you think I am.” She’s not lying.


In her memoir released last week, the Parks and Recreation actor recounts chasing down a bullyish man on an airplane to scream: “Fuck you and your fucking opinions, you piece of shit!” She doesn’t mince words on her sex tips for men: “If you don’t eat pussy, keep walking.” And Poehler doesn’t hide her disdain for strangers who drop scripts in her lap, expecting success the easy way: “I am not impressed when you assure me the story has ‘lots of twists and turns’. I doubt it does and how dare you.”

I’m not a fan of the various iterations of “bitch” – Basic Bitch, Boss Bitch, Betches– that popular culture has adopted lately. But Amy Poehler’s “bitchiness” is the kind to which we can all aspire.

Instead of telling us that her success is thanks to good luck and other people’s good will, Poehler makes clear in the book that her path to fame was paved with hard work and a refusal to take any shit. It’s an all-too-obvious but still much-needed call to women who’ve been told for far too long – at the office, at school, all over the internet – to be too nice if we want to get ahead (or just get along).

I’m sick of powerful women who rely on self-deprecation and likeability to make people feel comfortable with their success. Modesty and niceness are overrated – and I don’t believe for a second that they are the traits of wildly successful women. Tell us how you really got there. I know it wasn’t just “taking a seat at the table” or because you stopped saying sorry.

Poehler’s brand of not-nice has been the stuff of feminist lore for a while now, thanks to an exchange she had with Jimmy Fallon, retold in Tina Fey’s Bossypants. Poehler was being vulgar in the Saturday Night Live writer’s room and Fallon, in Fey’s telling, “turned to her and in a faux-squeamish voice said: ‘Stop that! It’s not cute! I don’t like it.’”

“Amy dropped what she was doing, went black in the eyes for a second, and wheeled around on him. ‘I don’t fucking care if you like it.’”

That sentiment has become so loved, it’s since been made into a t-shirt. (Yes, I own one.)

Now, refusing to put up with jerks and being unapologetically ambitious is not actually “bitchy” or mean – the word has become a kind of shorthand the world uses as a pseudo-slur against women who don’t adhere to the nonsense standard of femininity that says we have to eat shit with a smile. It’s like the old Rebecca West quote: “I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.”

I’m glad Amy Poehler doesn’t pretend to be a doormat, and I wish more women would take a page from her (actual) book and stop acting like we don’t deserve everything for which we’ve worked so hard. It’s as basic as that.

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