The Bitch in the House

When I was eleven years old, I landed in the home of my maternal aunt and her husband.  My aunt was in her mid-thirties with six-year-old and one-year-old sons.  Suddenly, she was raising my teenaged sister and me.  She made quite a muddle of it, I must say.  Intellectually, I knew that it must have been hard figuring out teenagers she hadn’t raised from early childhood.  Emotionally, I was pretty sure she just didn’t like me very much.

The biggest issue was that my aunt was a bitch of the first order.  She was petty and self-absorbed.  “That’s what happens when a smart woman stops working to stay home with the kids, even though she has a housekeeper and puts the kids into daycare,” I would say rather smugly to friends.  “She just has nothing else to keep her occupied.”

You know what?  I am now more or less the age my aunt was when I moved in, and baby, I get it.  I might have known the reasons when I was younger, but now?  Now I get how The Bitch so easily becomes default mode.

I just finished The Bitch in the House, a collection of essays edited by Cathi Hanauer.  What surprised me about this text was how much I recognized myself in so many women’s voices.  So many of these women started out sassy and fun, only to degenerate into shrews.  Kids or no, fat or thin, married or single, they all have felt the rising of what one woman describes as the inner bitch.

Femaleness is a complicated state of being in our present society.  Expectations are high, both internally and from those around us.  This book layers voices examining how, in response to those demands, we so often awaken our Bitch.  It is a must-read for any woman who often finds herself wondering when she became such an unpleasant person.

Because so many of the contributors are writers, the prose is strong, although I think the primary weakness of the text is a lack of professional diversity.  I found myself wondering whether bitchiness was rampant only among writers or if perhaps we could have heard from chefs and investment bankers, too.

The Bitch, formerly known as The Shrew, has been around for a long time, as long as men have had nasty words for women who spoke their frustration about their situations.  The time has come for women to own her, and The Bitch in the House makes The Bitch ours to define.


10 responses to “The Bitch in the House

  1. Pingback: Floating around the internet « Wheels on the bus

  2. It sounds very interesting. Does it go into the context or reasons why otherwise nice women end up sniping and fighting? I mean, I think it’s almost always about having significant unmet needs. Most bad behaviour is. When I was in tutorial meetings discussing off-the-rails students, we used to say ‘Sad, mad or bad?’ and no matter where we began, we always ended up with the answer: Sad.

  3. yes! it does a great job exploring the reasons.

  4. I think anytime a woman begins to question, threaten, or resist the cultural expectations of being female, our ‘binary’ way of viewing the world jumps right to ‘bitch’ — because there is no in-between. We’re either sugar and spice and yes and nice (as we’re suppose to be) — or we’re a bitch. Part of getting older is realizing that all that sugar and spice and yes and nice is bad for our health… and if not being that way means we’re a bitch, then hey, why not? We’ll own it.

  5. Was it meant to be intended as a uniquely female happening? It seems like the same things contributes to men’s becoming jerks.

  6. I’ve known several women who weren’t maternal and had kids only because it was expected of them. They cared about their children, but they just weren’t good at being with them and didn’t enjoy it.

    Why aren’t men called on their unpleasantness though?

  7. They are, sometimes. Haven’t seen the book called “The Giant Asshole in the House” yet though.

    Sometimes I really am the bitch in the house. I do think there is a way to refuse being a doormat without being a bitch. When you feel confident enough to assert your own needs and opinions, you don’t have to be bitchy about it. This might not be possible with small children, though, because you probably need more than four hours of sleep and a few leftover cheerios under your belt to feel that confident.

  8. I read this book the first time before I had children. I actually felt sorry for so many of the women. Then re-read it with my bookclub a few years later. It was a whole different book for me having had two children and the life experiences that come with being a mother. I heard what they were saying. I wondered how they had gotten into my head. I cringed at my own previous ideals as I tried to firm up my own Line in the Sand.

    There is a companion book called “The Bastard on the Couch” (27 writers talk of love, loss, fatherhood and freedom.) I have not read it though, so I don’t know how it stacks up.

  9. I find myself falling into this too often. I think I should check out the book.

  10. Exactly what I need, validation for my inner bitch ; )

    As I read your review, I expected this was mainly about being a mom. The pressures and demands and sacrifices of raising kids can bring out the bitch, or bastard, in any parent. But no, apparently even single, childfree women can’t suppress their bitchness. Damn, one less thing to blame on the kids.

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