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.