I’ve been reading the essays in The Bitch In The House. The book was hard for me at first. I hated the cover – the snarling “sexy” lips on the front. I was irritated by the introduction – editor Cathi Hanaeur bemoans at great length how we modern women have “too much to do in too few hours” and how this resorts in an epidemic, smoldering anger – however well denied or obfuscated – in all domestically-partnered women (with or without children). In contrast, speaking of previous generations, she writes:
At my age, my mother was in the midst of a fifteen-year interruption of her career in order to cheerfully raise four children, head the PTA and the Brownie troop, and serve our family three home-cooked meals a day, plus meet my father’s every demand.
I put down the book and left it for a few weeks after reading that. The word cheerfully irritates me the most. How selfish; how shortsighted. As if a few generations ago women were less ambitious (both personally and in the working world) and just happier to settle for less – more peaceable about the mundane fate of running a home and baking brownies.
Compare this Donna Reed lens with my real mother’s own testimony: how she married young in part to get out of her own mother’s house (my grandmother herself spending decades in an often tempestuous, often chaotically fun household of five children she raised while her husband was off at war – and the children, my mother and aunts and uncles, suffering in a variety of ways from my grandparents’ lack of a cohesive parenting vision), had a baby right away (she describes it as almost “playing house”), felt ill-prepared for the realities of young marriage with an infant, and essentially abandoned this first family to run off and play even less fun games of house with a series of other men – men who treated her anywhere from decently to downright shitty.
My mother’s story and that of her first family – including my sister, seven years older than I – takes a happier turn after those first few years – but I’m not going to take the time to write about it now. My point is, it doesn’t take much to hypothesize that all the women before us who certainly felt less empowered and perhaps less inclined to seek out lucrative careers still had the same shit – figuratively and literally, in diapers – to deal with as we do now, and the same temptations to overextend. Today’s domesticated female complains about how hard she works juggling the Important Career while Pursuing One’s Own Creative Drive and Clothing One’s Child In Today’s Organically-Grown-Cotton Fashions. But that’s just today’s version of smoke and mirrors keeping us from digging into the same domestic difficulties women have faced for years. Running a home has it’s share of meaningless or repetitive tasks; then and now. Husbands want sex; wives (often) have trouble giving it (then and now). A main difference is that today’s females have more choices at how to fufill themselves and keep a home. But a key few of these women, like the ones who contributed to this book, choose not to celebrate these choices and pursue what they and their partner believe is right for them – however retro or jet-setting that may end up looking – but instead focus on bitching about how overworked they are.
Still, the essays have engaged me with more content than I’d expected. I’ve found seeds of truth and moments (sometimes “moments” lasting years long) in relationships that are captured more eloquently in this book than in any movie or work of fiction I’ve consumed recently. “How We Became Strangers” sent chills up my spine – the story of the courtship and sweetness of marriage, then what the birth of the first child can do, quite suddenly, to that sacred twosome – and I recognized movements that have occurred in my own marriage.
But not much beyond the second-layer sadness and anger is explored. A reviewer on Amazon.com wrote the following:
To me, the lips painted in juicy red lipstick on the cover imply that the book is a racy provocative book; and the theme of the book, women’s anger, also promises more than it actually delivers.
I believe the subject of women’s anger is interesting and, despite all the bitching and nagging at others – partners, society, our parents, our children – that this anger is often aimed at, it is usually at its core self-directed. So far in the essays I’ve read the women have at least tentatively explored these waters. But all in all, from what I’ve read, the writers in this book aren’t ready to commit to deconstructing their anger at Self; at least, not for more than a few paragraphs at a time.
We may be angry but we don’t have to justify it by blaming society and our domestically handicapped or disinclined partners. I hope the next book I read on the subject has moved on from just expressing our anger to finding a way out of it. And I would wish the same on the women – single, married, widowed – I know who have longstanding partnerships, relationships in a rut, or who are looking for a warm body in their bed in the immediate future.