Thursday, September 19, 2002

Women rage on the page about sex, work, marriage

By Deirdre Donahue, USA TODAY

As those push-up bras melted in the flames of feminist fury of the '70s, it is probable that the movement's leaders did not expect women in 2002 to be publishing books such as The Bitch in the House: 26 Women Tell the Truth About Sex, Solitude, Work, Motherhood, and Marriage, edited by Cathi Hanauer (Morrow, $23.95).

Before any feminists stab themselves in the heart with a stiffened underwire, Hanauer, 39, makes it clear that this is not a variation on The Surrendered Wife or a man-trapping manual like The Rules. Rather, the writer, editor and mother of two in Northampton, Mass., wanted to explore the reality of modern women, some of whom are trying to juggle kids, careers, housework and husbands. Others are trying to find love amid society's conflicting messages about money, sex and matrimony.

The Bitch in the House is one of a number of upcoming books that tap into contemporary women's exhaustion and exasperation. There is one connecting element: the kind of rage and guilt that turns a woman into, well, a bitch. "All my friends will admit, 'I feel like such a bitch,' " Hanauer says.

The title is a variation on Virginia Woolf's famous phrase, "the Angel in the House." Hanauer describes her own self-sacrificing mother as an "angel." The wife of a doctor, she raised four children and headed the PTA. But her daughter "needed something more."

Hanauer assembled 26 writers, ages 24 to 66. Among them:

Chitra Divakaruni, the award-winning author of the novel The Mistress of Spices. Living in San Francisco, she receives visits from hordes of relatives from India who expect the guilt-stricken writer to turn into the all-giving hostess, despite having a career and no servants. Guilt rules.
Hope Edelman, author of the non-fiction best seller Motherless Daughters. Edelman writes about the near-collapse of her marriage after her husband decides to start his own company and shared parenting goes out the window. Fury enters.
Veronica Chambers, author of the memoir Mama's Girl. Chambers describes how a struggling artist ex-boyfriend encroached on her life, her apartment and, most of all, her wallet. Yet because he was so different from her violent father, she put up with it — including paying for their vacations and food. Resentment boils.
Ellen Gilchrist, Pulitzer Prize winner Natalie Angier and novelist Kate Christensen also contribute stories. Elissa Schappell describes how she screams at her children when they misbehave.

This is not the first time a book has used the word in the title: Elizabeth Wurtzel, for example, released a book called Bitch in 1998. Hanauer recognizes that certain booksellers and others will be disturbed by it. She compares the title to Randall Kennedy's best seller, Nigger. Women can use the word "bitch," but hearing men use it is different. But the rage so many women suppress should be explored.

"It needed to be said," Hanauer says. "It makes women feel less angry to know other women feel the same."


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