The Bitch in the House was a bestselling book in hardcover in 2002, and the first shot in one of the many battles in the so-called American culture wars. In the editor’s postscript to the 2003 paperback edition, she professed satisfaction at having had a dialogue with women. Some of the reviews, friendly and hostile, are on the book’s web site. Megan O’Rourke’s review appeared in Slate.
The writers are all modern feminists, and they are all fluent in expressing their feelings and identifying the myriad ways in which life proves to be confusing, frustrating and unhappy. Most identify their feeling as anger, which was the selling point of the book – angry women sharing their anger. They trace the cause of their anger to unsatisfactory relationships. As feminists, they mainly believe that the cause of unsatisfactory relationships is the inequality of women. Most identify with Virginia Woolf, who thought that women with artistic goals were unhappy, under the conditions of society because they lacked money and independence, and defined themselves by having to subordinate their freedom to the needs of others.
The anger, of course, is expressed tastefully, and never aimed squarely at their children, their current partners or their parents. Voyeurs of real emotional extravagance will have to look elsewhere. There is a sense that there is something wrong with Woolf’s famous aphorism – that a woman who wants to write fiction needs money and a room of her own. They have money, they have work, they have the freedom to choose their sexual encounters and whether or not to conceive and deliver children, and yet they aren’t feeling happy and fulfilled.
There are a lot of people to take the blame. Their mothers were poor role models. Their fathers were cold, withdrawn, unavailable. Nobody warned them that work is hard, that their partners would be needy, unreliable and selfish, that their children would be demanding and unreasonable, or that people will exploit, fail and betray them.
As modern writers and modern women, they like choice and freedom. They expect social recognition and support. They want to consume quality goods. They want rewarding, intense, happy relationships. They are so secure in their sense of entitlement to that life that they think the world that denies them those rewards must be warped and flawed. They are trapped princesses, waiting to be recognized and crowned, and rewarded by power, wealth, love, and everlasting happiness.
Most of the writers are quick to label almost all men and most other women as needy and manipulative. They share Woolf’s assumption – it may be the common assumption of women since Eve – that men have better and more satisfying lives than women because men have power and don’t subordinate themselves to the needs of others.
There is probably something wrong with this picture.