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write me, baby

Who you calling "bitch," bitch? Elizabeth Wurtzel serves a cold dish in Bitch

by Melpomene Whitehead

Yes, I'm as tired as the rest of you at this suddenly reclamation of the word bitch. It was cute when the female rappers did it, but I think Queen Latifah put a stop to all that when she proclaimed I'm not a bitch or a ho. Meredith Brooks is just a few years late and a few bricks short on this one. So what does that make Elizabeth Wurtzel, whose new tome Bitch is supposed to be some sort of ode to women's desire to embrace their inner bitches? It makes you unfashionably late, honey.

Most of Bitch reads like Camille Paglia's Sexual Personae without the art historical references. It consists of endless lists of women who are, in either Wurtzel's or the public's minds, bitches. With little asides as to why they're bitches. When I first opened the book, I thought to myself, Gee, I wonder how long it will take her to get to the 1970s Enjoli perfume song (you know, I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never ever let you forget you're a man...., which I remember, as a kid, my brother and I were totally baffled by. We'd constantly petition my mother to explain to us what it meant, but she wasn't talking...): the reference appears on page 16. Page 16! Darling! You could have at least waited until page 24.

The main reason I personally find this book offense is Wurtzel's assertion that we all must play the game. We hate The Rules, but we abide by them by not calling men or accepting dates for the weekend after Wednesday. We worry about the fact that, after age 35, we have only a very slight chance of getting married. Elizabeth, I don't think I'm the most well-adjusted person in the world, but these things don't bug me (Wurtzel and I are both 30, so it's not as if I don't have the same societal pressures she has). I'm sorry you haven't worked through this yet. But do we need a gigantic book about it?

Yes, Wurtzel's angry, we can tell that by the fact that she's giving us a bare-breasted finger on the cover. But her thoughts are only barely organized, making the anger seem misdirected. The book seems like one long PMS-infused romp through Wurtzel's neurons and synapses, with occasional lapses into lucidity. Much of this seems like a research project that was poorly researched, if at all. It's like it was written completely off the top of her pretty little head (which is fine for a web page, but not for something you expect people to pay for). Are you feeling a little bloated and puffy? I know that after this, I was ready to begin bleeding.

The subtitle of this book is In Praise of Difficult Women, but she seems to bury us more often, herself included. I won't go into the nasty things she says about herself -- there's really way too much! But she makes a point of noting various women's and girls' levels of attractiveness: Louise Woodward (the nanny) is called thoroughly homely, Amy Fisher is just cute, Paula Jones is unbecoming, Mary Kay Place is referred to, obliquely, as homely. I'm not sure what place Wurtzel's opinions on women's beauty have in this book, but I'm sure some could find a reason (you know, I'm being flippant here. Obviously there are reasons for these assertions, she is trying to make a point. I just get so tired of hearing women sell other women out based upon their perceived level of attractiveness! I'm sure Wurtzel gets her share of this, in the opposite way--people assuming she can't write because she's too damn cute. I'm making no such assertions here, I've read both her books and my opinions on her writing are based upon that). And poor Elizabeth thinks menstruation is something that needs to be cured. I agree that if men got pregnant abortion would be free, but I'm damn happy when I get my period each month.

She's so totally off-base on some topics, it's laughable. Like when she calls Yoko Ono a Delilah. How can she imply that Yoko took away John Lennon's power? They were happy; is that such a sin? She didn't force him to take up heroin, nor did she put the bullet in him. And she puts Jane Mansfield, Marie Antoinette and Nicole Brown Simpson in the same list, just because she claims they all got decapitated (when I saw this, I suddenly flashed back to Sesame Street's one of these things is not like the others.... Jayne Mansfield was not decapitated. Urban legend!). She begins one chapter by telling a Bill and Hillary joke, and attempts to hide it as a bit of folklore. As if a joke is too declasse for Ms. Wurtzel! And there's way way too much about Courtney Love, whom Wurtzel clearly idolizes, even as a Versace-wrapped sell-out. (it's interesting, the thing I find attractive about Courtney--her stream-of-consciousness, estrogen-infused writings, is the very thing I find annoying about Wurtzel. I guess the difference being that a song is supposed to hit you on an emotional level and not necessarily be linear and logical, while a work of scholarly non-fiction really should be linear and logical.)

The blurb on the jacket states something about this being an homage to pussy power, but throughout the book Wurtzel seeks to downplay the importance of the pussy, of estrogen, of women being different but equal to men. For example, the "just cute" Amy Fisher is considered a victim by Wurtzel, which I agree with, but throughout the passages on Fisher (and there are pages upon pages of this), she seems to assert that Fisher has no mind of her own and was essentially the puppet of Joey Buttafuco. Which I just can't agree with entirely. I don't like to see Amy reduced to a Buttafuco-bot. So whatever pussy-power poor Amy had, I guess she handed it over to the dickless Buttafuco. According to Wurtzel anyway.

I'm not going to say that Wurtzel can't write, or that she's completely off-base. I do find myself agreeing with some of the things she says in this book. But what I will say is that the scholarship and the organization of Bitch are sloppy and a 434 page book on her opinions is overkill.

I wanted to end this essay with something snappy, like, "Bitch? You haven't earned the title, Liz," but, I think I feel sorry for her. Yes, she has an agenda, the same as mine. We just want you all to love us. Is that so wrong? Now, Elizabeth, come here. Let me put my arms around you. Put your head on my shoulder. Yes, the world is a cruel crappy playground. But you know what? We don't have to play those games.

Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women, 434 pages, $23.95, Doubleday

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