20 Questions: Debra Condren

The House now has its first female Speaker and there are more women in both chambers of Congress than ever before. So this week 20Questions features Debra Condren, author of amBITCHous, in which she muses, “Let’s face it, there’s just one word that our culture bestows on that supremely ambitious woman who unrepentantly values a career: bitch.”

What inspired you to write amBITCHous?
I started an organization that was a genesis of the women’s business alliance. During meetings I started to notice common themes: They would feel guilty [for being successful] and I would see women apologizing.  

In what areas can women generally improve?
Many women avoid [office] politics because they say they do not want to do politics. They learn the hard way. Work is a competition. People mark off their own territory, and we have to realize that.

What can women do?
[They can] take their own ambition seriously at a really deep level.

What do you mean by that?
[Ask yourself,] “Do I buy into the media’s image?” People see a woman in an Armani suit and Manolo Blahniks and want to see her knocked to her knees. No wonder we feel reluctant to take our ambition seriously.

Did your six-year, long-distance relationship make you more ambitious?
It was hard. [Some women] buy into the idea that we’d have to give something up. As ambitious women, we have lives. We don’t have to choose one or the other.

What makes it so difficult?
It’s a balance thing. Women twist into pretzels for work/life balance and waste so much energy.

What does your husband think of amBITCHous?
He’s very proud of me. He’s happy to play Mr. Debra Condren sometimes.

How do husbands/significant others play a part?
You have to be really conscious of the partner you pick. We need feedback, a sounding board.

Why is the book named amBITCHous when you are advocating that women should not be bitches?
A lot of women were reluctant to say, “I am ambitious.” If a woman is ambitious, she is a bitch. I’m encouraging women to redefine [“ambition”] not to be a dirty word.

How often has your message been distorted?
Only one time was it deliberately distorted. Oftentimes people will look at the title and say, “Oh, she’s advocating being bitchy to get what you want.”

Is there such thing as too much ambition?
Yeah. If you compromise your integrity, ethics or break the law, that’s too much ambition. It’s the dark side of ambition. You always have to act with integrity.

What’s your advice to women in Congress?
Ask other women to run.  

Do you have many critics?
Yeah, it’s not always a civilized British tea party.  

Who is the best example of amBITCHous?
Barbara Corchran [real estate entrepreneur]. She’s amBITCHous in the purest sense.

It has to be asked: Are you a bitch?
No, I’m not a bitch. People like me. I have a very strong sense of integrity and ethics. Maybe my son would think so every once in a while (laughter).  

What do you think of Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue and the character portrayed by Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada” ?
I’m certain that any so-called devilish qualities, any ambitious qualities were played to the extreme.

Who are your role models?
Artist Frida Kahlo; poets Adrienne Rich, Jane Hirshfield; singer/songwriter Sarah McLachlan; and Eleanor Roosevelt.

How many hours a week do you work?
I work maybe 70–80 hours a week, or even more.

Does being blond, like yourself, hurt amBITCHous women?
No, it’s not about the color hair we have; it’s about how we present ourselves.

To recommend a political personality for 20 Questions, call Betsy Rothstein at (202)628-8516 or email at betsyr@thehill.com