So I was channel surfing last night and I got sucked in to a reality show about a competition to choose the ultimate bartender for Coyote Ugly. For those of you who don't know, Coyote Ugly is a famous New York City bar that has become a franchise in a number of cities around the U.S. Its schtick is hard liquor, country music, hard classic rock, and beautiful female bartenders who do choreographed dances on the bar and offer body shots (where you suck the booze out of the bartender's navel). I have never been that interested in Coyote Ugly because it's a chain, and chains are always gimmicky and canned. Nonetheless, I found myself drawn in to the reality show by the personality of Coyote Ugly's founder and owner, Liliana "Lil" Lovell. (She has a blog here and there is a very good article about her and her bar here.)
Lovell is a classic example of a tough, brassy woman, the kind of woman I am not but whom I really admire. Lovell is all about getting stuff done, and getting it done right-- HER way. She is always absolutely sure that her way is the right way (and I imagine it is since she is making money hand over fist). She doesn't care if people like her. She doesn't worry about sparing people's feelings. If she has something critical to say to someone, she says it bluntly. She makes no effort to soften her message. Employees strive to earn her praise because they know her praise means something.
I have been lucky enough to know a few brassy chicks like this. I always try to cultivate them and learn from them. Because whatever it is that makes them brassy, I don't have it. I am hardly ever really certain that my way is the right way, and I am quite easily persuaded that others know better than I do. And I absolutely hate making other people feel inadequate or stupid unless it's in a formal context like a trial or unless the person has really offended me. I also tend to make excuses for people and not expect very much from others. I excel at tact and diplomacy but sometimes at the expense of getting my message across or having things happen the way I want them to happen.
The secret of brassy chicks I have discovered is two-fold: (1) A lot of it is just constitutional. That's just how they are made. I can't try to remake myself into a brassy chick because that is just not who I am. Brassiness would not work for me because it would be fake. I can, however, incorporate some of their moves into my repertoire for use when appropriate. (2) The real secret though is that brassy chicks are driven. Lovell herself said on her blog, "I am not mean. I am driven." The brassy chick puts her mission (such as building a successful bar) above everything else. She is not going to worry about your feelings if soothing your feelings will compromise what she is trying to accomplish.
This makes sense to me because, as I write this, I realize that I DO have an inner brassy chick. My inner brassy chick comes out in only one situation, though -- when I am in trial. A jury trial is an all-consuming event and, when I am in trial, the trial becomes the most important thing in the world to me. I don't give a crap about anything or anyone as long as the things necessary to try the case successfully fall into place the way I want them too. It is total focus-- which means I bark orders, I make demands, and I turn police officers who are testifying for me into quivering masses of jelly who WILL show up on time and WILL have a good attitude and WILL remember all the facts from their police reports. I don't care if everyone ends up hating me as long as the trial goes smoothly, the exhibits are ready, the witnesses are on time, etc. As soon as the trial is over, I return to my easy-going self. A real brassy chick is like this all the time.
Of course, another insight I have reached is that being brassy isn't always the greatest thing. Last year, I worked with a new associate in my law firm who was a brassy chick. She had a super-loud voice and she was so confident that she would tell senior partners in staff meetings that their ideas or policies were stupid. The partners mostly loved getting a frank opinion from an entry-level associate, and they also figured that if she was so assertive with them that she would be just as assertive in adversarial situations with opposing counsel. She was the darling of the firm. But there were times when she offended people unnecessarily to the detriment of getting things done. After one of these occasions , she came to me and said she wished she could learn how to get her point across in a more tactful way like me! I was so flattered that a brassy chick (even a much younger one) wanted to learn something from me that I almost fell out of my chair.
But she was right. A smart person (of either sex) should cultivate both brassiness and diplomacy and use whichever is appropriate to the situation. I suspect most of us, at least most of us women, are more comfortable with diplomacy and need to work on stepping up the brassiness. There are other personality types who need to work on stepping up the sensitivity. Since I am in the former category, I will always love and look up to brassy chicks and try to learn from them.
NOTE: I should note that not all brassy chicks are feminists. One of the brassiest chicks I ever knew was an elderly lady in my grandmother's conservative Texas church. She was at her brassiest when railing against the idea of women ushers or women pastors. Liliana Lovell is arguably more like an old-time madam/saloonkeeper than a true feminist. But I do think the persona and the conduct of the brassy chick is very feminist even if she is not herself espousing feminist ideas.