Books During her publicity tour for Bitch (recounted in the later book More Now Again), Elizabeth Wurtzel became intensely irritated with repeatedly being asked who she considered to be the great bitches. It tells both her and us two things. That the interviewers hadn’t read the book and that for many people the idea of a ‘bitch’, a sort of Margaret Thatcher / Alexis from Dynasty are very different to the kind of woman this book is about. Over the course of five essays Wurtzel tries to capture why it is that women are described with this kind of negative branding and described as manipulative when in fact they’re not really doing anything any more scandalous than their male counterparts, and that frequently they have to give up their independence as well, piggybacking on a man.

The mood of the book is perfectly captured by a story at the centre. She describes how Bill and Hilary Clinton drove into a garage, only to find their car being services by one of Hilary’s childhood sweethearts. The ex-President apparently turned to her and said: “If you’d married him you’d be the wife of a gas station attendant, “ to which she replied, “No, I wouldn’t. I’d be married to the President of the United States of America.” One of the stronger themes in the book is that behind most strong men there is an even stronger woman just behind. And that most of these strong women are also basket cases because the masculine presence creates an emotional glass ceiling; they literally can’t live with him or without him.

In fact, in this case the title is as much a verb as the assumed noun. There is a lot of venom on display in the book; Wurtzel is ultimately disappointed with the poor showing of her gender on occasion after occasion. In the essay dealing with Anna Nicole Smith, who could diplomatically be described as the late wife of OJ Simpson, it’s clear that she can’t understand what Smith was still doing in the relationship, especially when ‘spousal battery’ (her words) are on the agenda. She offers examples from the popular culture (notably the musical Carousel) in which violence in a relationship is portrayed as acceptable, even as a display of affection. But this is a book which doesn’t even try to provide answers. It just thoroughly explores the questions as much as possible.

This makes for a very dense read. Like a channel changer on a tv, three different subjects are covered one page, then another subject is described slowly over twenty-five, which also causes things to be slightly uneven. And Liz really bangs away at those subjects. In place, I felt that a point had been made well enough, but it was still given another a five pages to breath through. This kind of repetition makes things quote difficult in places. But it’s so gloriously well written that you don’t really want to skip ahead in case you miss something interesting.

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