Top Quotes: “Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women” — Elizabeth Wurtzel

Introduction

“While Vanessa Williams may not have wished for the unsanctioned exposure, she is the only Miss America to have a real, infomercial-free show business career — Phyllis George, Lee Meriwether and Mary Anne Mobley are examples of title holders who have not-real not-quite-careers — and it’s probably in no small part thanks to the photographic revelations of her raunchy un-American activities.”

Bad girls understand that there is no point in being good and suffering in silence. What good has good ever done?

It has started to seem that even if we act like good girls, the world is still quite likely to find us bad. So to hell with dignity. Dignity has got nothing on Rita Häyworth singing “Put the Blame on Mame” in Gilda, and absolutely nothing on Mae West in anything. It seems far more exciting to be a Siren beckoning with her song or Calypso captivating on her island than to be Penelope, the archetype of female fidelity, weaving and un-weaving at her loom, sending her suitors away, waiting for the errant Odysseus to return, waiting while he luxuriates in lotusland, waiting while, as one correspondent to The New York Times Book Review put it, he “commits adultery with various gorgeous, high- class women,” waiting for her husband like Lucy waits for Desi at the end of the day, or Alice waits for Ralph at the end of the night. Bad girls don’t wait around — one doesn’t get to go everywhere by sitting by the phone.”

Like the WNBA — whose sales and attendance in its 1997 debut season exceeded expectations by margins so large that the league is swiftly expanding — women’s boxing has attracted spectators sickened by the antics of Mike Tyson and millionaire male fighters who have substituted theatrics and hysterics for admirable athleticism.”

“”Girls at around age ten develop a powerful, sophisticated technique that, although not physically assertive, uses alienation and rumor-mongering to vanquish a rival,” writes Michael Segell in one of Esquire’s periodic attempts to remind its readers why women are not to be trusted. “This style of indirect aggression can emotionally devastate the victim, who often has no idea why, or even by whom, she’s being attacked. Organizing social intrigues as a way of ganging up on a peer not only prolongs conflict but kindles larger group discord. As girls enter adulthood, they become even more skilled at using gossip, aspersions, and social ostracism to assault their adversaries.” This doesn’t even touch on the way women either do or are thought to use sex as a weapon, but it suggests the developmental model for the iconic bad girl, for the woman who thinks that bad means sassy, sexually manipulative, intriguing, a woman who knows that her persona is greater than her person. It’s a woman who understands that she will achieve her apotheosis when anybody can project any idea, any neurotic impulse or erotic fantasy, onto her person, because she is the parallax view, the human Rasbomon — because she is either that beguiling or that empty. Doesn’t matter which is true.”

Celebrity Culture

“Women are naturally more iconic than men are: there is a female quality, perhaps it is passivity, the ability to be objectified, to be the face that launched a thousand ships without so much as saying a word, that makes women perfect for ongoing and mesmerizing examination, even once they are six feet under. Women are idolized more for what they don’t do — for how they look and what they project — while men must be men of action. That’s why the female villainess is always more interesting than her male counterparts.”

One reason I think many bad girls come to a nasty end is a lack of conviction: they recoil at their own badness and try to be the sweethearts they were raised to be. They revert to type, a tad bit embarrassed that they actually stood up and stood out and demanded and demolished at will — at Nietzschean will — and try to cover their steps, back their tracks and be angelic. It is the mixed message, the ambiguity and ambivalence, that finally destroys them. The strong clear vision that is required to be a woman of heart and mind, of her own free will, is really quite hard. Just ask Madonna or Courtney. Why do you suppose that every so often — say, every third news cycle — those two will do interviews where they speak of their loneliness and vulnerability, where the reporter writes in astonishment about how ladylike they seem.”

“The point is that the world does not have room for women with big strong personalities — it simply will not tolerate their existence past a certain point, so they just kind of have to behave periodically, if they’re smart (and the footnotes of the history of Hollywood, of literature and of rock and roll are littered with the names of the ones who weren’t smart).

In contemporary cinema, it is not so much the great beauties whose private lives are found to be wanting as the ones who are career women or more generally manipulative. And most of the energy that should be going into creating compelling plots on-screen seems to go into the construction of personae off, so that insofar as films revolve around women at all — and mostly they don’t — it doesn’t much matter what happens, because the real fantasy is going on in gossip columns and on talk shows and tabloid TV. Put it this way — if people like to see Mel Gibson, Tom Hanks or Tom Cruise on the big screen, it’s for what they are doing on-screen.

Not that we aren’t interested in who they’re married to and what countries they are adopting children from and all that, but it is secondary. However, when we watch Julia Roberts, Sharon Stone, Cher or Barbra Streisand it is because of their messy, madcap private lives as much as anything: they are movie stars much more for their entire creation and being than for their talent per se. Actresses who cannot quite manufacture fascination, who don’t have that Vanity Fair cover-story way about them–like Meryl Streep — can be very successful, but they will never be movie stars. Never. And the ones who do, even if their talent is minimal or unclear — think Drew Barrymore, Elizabeth Hurley, Madonna — will always find work, will always be on our minds, even if by all rights they have no business preoccupying anybody.”

Women, you see, only become interesting if they give you the feeling that something is not quite right. In fact, altogether better if it’s clear that things are very, very wrong. Your life may be miserable, but your death will be immortal.”

“Go to any bookstore and there are hundreds of titles in the self-help section about how to overcome love addiction and fear of abandonment and the like, and while there are plenty of books for women about how to deal with commitment-resistant, impossible men — Smart Women, Foolish Choices and the like — there is not one book addressed to men about how to work out their own damn problems with relationships. No book for men about how to get over fear of commitment, how to learn to open one’s heart, how to stop running from emotional involvement — I know, because I searched high and low for such a thing for my last boyfriend and it doesn’t exist.

Do you know why?

Because it doesn’t need to. Men don’t have to change the way they sexually assess women, the way certain triggers and indications of female power or feminine weakness may frighten them off. They don’t have to change the psychic messages inculcated into their brains from way back in their preverbal, pre-Oedipal days. They don’t have to because we women will learn to behave.

We could all enact, by collective will, an emotional Lysistrata of sorts, we could all walk out, like Meryl Streep in Kramer vs. Kramer, like the woman in Mary-Chapin Carpenter’s song’ “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her,” like the women in a zillion country songs — we could all say that we abdicate all responsibility for the emotional well-being of our relationships, let the men learn to cope with it all. But we don’t. And there’s no indication it would do any good anyway. So we’ll “adjust” — the word Betty Friedan used over thirty years ago in The Feminine Mystique to describe how intelligent Seven Sisters types learned to accept the notion that Mop & Glo was intellectually stimulating — and if we’re from Venus and they’re from Mars, we’ll learn to speak Martian. We’ll follow The Rules: We won’t call them, we won’t ask them out, we won’t talk about ourselves, we won’t make snide comments, we’ll be good.

Well, I for one am. sick of it. All my life, one person or another has been telling me to behave, saying don’t let a guy know you’re a depressed maniac on the first date, don’t just be yourself, don’t show your feelings. And the truth is, this is probably good advice, men probably don’t like overbearing, hotheaded women who give blow jobs on the first date. In all likelihood the only man who will ever like me just as I am will probably need to believe I’m somebody else at first. I probably do need to learn to behave. But I don’t like it. It seems like, all this, all these years of feminism, Mary Wollstonecraft, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Simone de Beauvoir, Virginia Woolf, Gloria Steinem, Susan Faludi — all that smart writing all so we could learn to behave? Bra burning in Atlantic City — so we could learn to behave? Roe v. Wade — so we could learn to behave? Thelma & Louise — so we could learn to behave? The gender gap — so we could learn to behave? Madonna, Sally Ride, Joycelyn Elders, Golda Meir, Anita Hill, Bette Davis, Leni Riefenstahl — all those strong, indefatigable souls so we could learn to behave? What good really have any of those things done if we still get the feeling that we have to contain our urges and control ourselves in the interest of courtship and love?

The Rules

“If we had really come a long way, baby, if men’s perceptions of women had transformed fundamentally and intensely so that we were accepted as full-fledged sexual creatures and romantic operatives who were free to chase or be chased, and if this expanded dimension of women’s sexual personae were not frightening or overwhelming to them, then we would not need The Rules. We would be truly free.

So of course the bitch persona appeals to us. It is the illusion of liberation, of libertine abandon. What if you want to be large in a world that would have you be small, diminished? You don’t want to diet, you don’t want to say no, thank you, and pretend somehow that what is there is enough when always, always, you want more. That has been your defining characteristic: You have appetites, and only if you are truly shameless will you even begin to be sated because nothing is ever really enough. Not because you are greedy or insatiable but because you can’t help it, you can’t go along with the fiction that the world would have you believe and adhere to: that you ought to settle and be careful and accept the crumbs that are supposed to pass for a life, this minimized self you are supposed to put up with, that feminism and other political theories of woman cannot really begin to address because this is about something else entirely.

This is about what has become the almost monstrous notion of female desire. This is not about making demands of other people or wearing down those who have their own screams for MORE! to address: You’d be amazed at how often we are reluctant to indulge ourselves by our own means. It is amazing that the smallness of the space we’ve been told to squeeze into has meant that we don’t even know how to ask or what to want. Everything tells us to stop, to not talk to that guy first, to not have a thousand lovers if that’s what feels right because one husband is supposed to be enough. Everything says we don’t need another piece of chocolate cake, we don’t need another Gucci bag, another dime-store lipstick, another Big Mac, another night on the town, another spin on the Rainbow Room dance floor. Well, this is meant to be a story about people who are so beyond need, who want and have figured out that it’s never too soon to make demands of this life, this world, this everything. It’s about how nice it must be to just decide I will not be nice, I am never sorry, I have no regrets: what is before me belongs to me.

I think for men this attitude is second nature, it’s as much in their atmosphere as snow is in an Eskimo’s. They don’t even know how much they assume.

But for a woman, to assume she has to be not nice, it puts her outside of the system, outside of what is acceptable. She can be a deeply depressive Sylvia Plath, a luxuriating decadent Delilah, a homicidal adolescent Amy Fisher, she can be anyone who decides that what she wants and needs and believes and must do is more important than being nice. She, may, in fact, be as nice as can be, but as soon as she says catch me if you can I’m so free this is my life and the rest can fuck off and die — as soon as she lays down the option of my way or the highway, it’s amazing how quickly everyone finds her difficult, crazy, a nightmare: a bitch.”

“In the meantime, I intend to scream, shout, race the engine, call when I feel like it, throw tantrums in Bloomingdale’s if I feel like it and confess intimate details about my life to complete strangers. I intend to do what I want to do and be whom I want to be and answer only to myself: that is, quite simply, the bitch philosophy, and it seems particularly refreshing in the face of all the contortions women are taught to put themselves through. All over the world there are men shouting orders and being impossible, and there are women hewing to these creatures’ wills. The few women who manage to completely spit in the face of such an arrangement are naturally heroic.”

We have willingly accepted courtship terms not invented by us when really we should be insisting that the oppressiveness of this is terrible for all. “Of what materials can the heart be composed which can melt when insulted, and instead of revolting at injustice, kiss the rod?” Mary Wollstonecraft asked in 1791 in A Víndication of the Rights of Woman, a question still applicable, with our full realization of double entendre in use. We decide to learn to be the way men want us to be, rather than insisting they change to suit us.”

“It was an interesting cultural moment when Alanis Morissette’s song “You Oughta Know” became a huge, smash, runaway hit. And besides the enormously appealing energy that is apparent in all aspects of the song, I have no doubt that it was such a marked success as much for the message — the grim, hurt, angry, avenging message — in the lyrics as anything else. It is, above all, a thoroughly desperate and undignified song addressed to a man who has left her — the narrator, the singer, the Alanis persona — for someone else. Of course, the history of the Top 40 is written in songs about this kind of heartbreak, so this isn’t really a breakthrough. But Alanis’ complete lack of shame about how crazy and bereft she feels — combined with a frightening fury, the kind that Fatal Attraction did so much to make the woman scorned feel embarrassed about — is what is so new. Morissette’s voice vindicates Alex’s actions. When she sings, “Do you remember how you told me that you’d love until you died / But you’re still alive,” you half expect that the next move will be homicide. And every time I hear that couplet, there is a part of me that thinks: She ought to know that people say that kind of thing all the time-”I’ll love you forever,” “You’re the only one,” etc. — and when the love dies so does the feeling, so grow up and deal with it. My sentiment, in fact, is a lesson of feminism — no woman should ever lose her mind over a man, a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle — and it is also, strangely, one of the major messages of The Rules. “You’re a Rules girl! Your life is never on the edge because of a man,” the authors write. “Either a man is available and in love with you or he’s taken and you have nothing to do with him romantically. You are not desperately waiting …You have a life of your own.”

Of course, what is so refreshing about Alans’ song is its firm refusal to go along with this dictum: I mean, of course she has a life of her own, that’s clear enough, she writes and sings songs. But she doesn’t feel like any of that much matters, in the context of the situation of “You Oughta Know,” because she is, indeed, on the edge because of a man. And she is not going to keep quiet about it. She is raving, she is sad, she is mad, she feels betrayed and even if every day, all over the world, hearts are breaking like shards of china, she is not going to keep it in perspective, because her pain is too important. She is going to scream, she is going to disturb him at inappropriate moments — “I hate to bug you in the middle of dinner” — and she is going to ask him unacceptable questions — “And are you thinking of me when you fuck her?” — and she is even going to throw a voodoo curse his way. “Every time I scratch my nails on someone else’s back I hope you feel it.” And the funny thing is, by the end of the song, I do get the feeling that Alanis Morissette has achieved a great deal more dignity by being true to herself, her impulses, however idiotic, than any of us are by staying in control. Yes, it’s better that you don’t call five million times and stalk someone who has broken your heart because these actions genuinely have an incoherent and self-abasing quality, because few of us can be as firm in our convictions about having been wronged as the narrator of the song is. That’s why, once again, we’re all perhaps better off sticking to The Rules.

But let us not deny that this is a form of enslavement meant to please men, not women. “Men love independent women because they leave them alone,” insists the book. “They love chasing women who are busy.” In other words, that MBA, that PhD, those French lessons, that book contract — it’s all so that men think we have better things to do. Which, I suppose, is one approach. But the other one, the Alanis Morissette approach, which has something to do with being true to yourself, with making clear what you need and want rather than concerning yourself with what men like well, maybe I’m crazy, but I’d prefer her method any day. Because, frankly, I have a tough time feeling that feminism has done a damn bit of good if I can’t be the way I am and have the world accommodate it on some level.

The Bible

“Aside from the random morality presented by an Old Testament God whose creed is BECAUSE I SAID SO, THAT’S WHY, which prepares us for childlike obedience to forces we can’t comprehend (i.e., totalitarian regimes, parents), I am hard pressed to see what anyone can learn from these paragons of life in the time of God.”

“On certain occasions, it does seem that there is no power like pussy power: men are so comfortably accustomed to being in charge, they forget how drooling and besotted they can become with some woman. It is only because men assume their centrality with the nonchalance and insouciance of those who’ve never even thought it might be otherwise — and I’m not sure that feminism has been able to make any real headway into this presumed privilege — that they are still able to get all astonished and flustered by the incursion of love into the safety of their sphere.”

“He has no notion of the pain that can be caused by a person who loves you very much. Samson is the first man in the Bible — and, by extension, in the canon of the Western world to discover heartbreak and hurt, to be so infatuated by a woman that it is said “she made him sleep on her knees” (which may well imply the first recorded episode of cunnilingus). His life is so unexamined that he cannot see that his strength guarantees his safety on the battlefield, but nothing can help him if he is careless with his heart: Samson is scared of the wrong thing. The one thing a man can’t control — whether the source of his power is his money, his muscle or just being a man in a man’s world — has got to be the most frightening thing he can conceive of.”

Sexuality

“For what it’s worth, the idea that the President of the United States can be trusted to manage Saddam Hussein but cannot keep a handle on his own libido would seem to indicate that a highly sexed nature does not preclude one’s capacity to engage in sensitive matters involving security and international nutcases. I know there are plenty of women in serious policy positions on Capitol Hill, and — a silly argument — no doubt many sexy, lovely, alluring young women work in the White House and in other centers of power, and in many cases they command power. But I’d like to see any one of them go all the way, be completely in charge, without having to become serious and less flirtatious. Men do not have to lose their charm to exude power, but women’s sexuality is a dangerous distracter. If you don’t see what I mean, consider this: As long as the President’s cabinet contains only women like Donna Shalala and Janet Reno, then as far as I’m concerned it is still half empty.

This would be the most permanent legacy of the Delilah story: the dis-integration of woman from her sexuality. Always, a woman is seen as using her sex appeal to destroy a man, to get power, to gain the upper hand. Or else it is out of need, she must display her erotic nature in order to sell her body to make a living: she is a whore, she is desperate, she is cheesecake, she is a stupid girl reduced to this. The notion of a woman simply reveling in her own gorgeousness and sensuality because she can, because she enjoys it, because she wants others to appreciate it, seems not to exist in our cultural lexicon. She is always using it. A woman is never allowed to be integrated with her sexual nature in a way that isn’t either demeaning or frightening. Here sex has been set up as this great source of power for women, and yet, when any one of us decides she’d like to put it out there in ways that have not been pre-approved by the powers that be, they take it away or deny it or somehow try to make it suspect. For such a source of all the world’s ills that women’s sexuality is said to be, few women have access to it in any way that is not manipulative. The feeling that men are more susceptible to seduction can be countered by the fact that women get swept up in romance, and, in the end, in love, we are all vulnerable, and women should not be seen as dangerous because we are desirable.”

“We accept that nobody ought to start stripping in a corporate boardroom. But the fact that women have carried on in previous incarnations, or continue to go on after hours, with all the sexy bravado that we allow to men should not be a problem any longer. And to say that, for instance, posing nude is inconsistent with being a serious scholar or a credible manager or a dynamic leader means we’re also going to have to start saying that fucking the slave girls makes Thomas Jefferson unworthy of having been President or makes the Declaration of Independence a null and void document, sleeping with a thousand women makes Wilt Chamberlain a lousy basketball player.

Life is strange; to expect people to be all one way or all another way is stupid.”

“Sometime in the early nineties, the girls all by themselves, with no assistance from any international conglomerates, invented the Riot Girl movement, starting punk-rock bands and fan-zines in suburban garages and rec rooms just like boys used to do, linking up with other girls in disparate cities like Washington, D.C., and Vancouver and Olympia and Toronto through Internet chat rooms and newsletters. And they forged a manifesto, a two-page document that declares, “We seek to create revolution in our own lives every day by envisioning and creating alternatives to the bullshit christian capitalist way of doing things.” Indeed the drafters of this manifesto had read Carol Gilligan and Lyn Mikel Brown’s book and urged their constituents to “resist psychic death,” to “cry in public” and to plan for the day when “girls rule all towns,” when “all girls [are] in bands.” And in zines like Chainsaw and Girl Germs they wrote about why they loved Kristy McNichol and why they hated Twin Peaks and how even though they were just teenagers, they knew enough to tell that Gloria Steinem’s Revolution from Within was completely dopey and had nothing to say to them. And they made their own tapes and put together their own tours, started their own labels like K Records with bands like Bratmobile and Huggy Bear and Bikini Kill, which were great even if they couldn’t play for shit. And they called what they were doing “revolution grr) style.” And they sang about how just because you want to get laid doesn’t mean you want to get raped, and they were fun and feminist at the same time.”

Suicide

Unlike those who use suicide attempts as cries for help, those who are serious will do all that they can to conceal their intentions from anyone who might get in the way. They will buy plane tickets they never plan to use, make leg-waxing appointments set for dates long after rigor mortis will have set in, and enroll in courses on flower arranging that have nothing to do with pushing up the daisies. They will not, as Mariel Hemingway believes, ‘“make a big flipping deal about it.”

For the first time in their lives, they will be discreet, subdued — they will be fine.”

Politics

“”Hillary was a woman of great ability and intellect active in a party that was, in theory, sympathetic to the idea of the equality of women,” Burchill continues. “Margaret Thatcher was a woman of middling ability and intellect active in a party completely hostile to the idea of the equality of women. Yet it was Mrs. Thatcher who ended up radiantly in power, while Mrs. Clinton ended up pushing her chocolate-chip-cookie recipe, being humiliated on a scale that would have shocked Jackie Kennedy and generally standing by her man to a degree that would suggest that women come not from Venus but rather from Planet Dog. A country at ease with women and sex would not have effectively castrated its First Lady.””

The First Lady, be it Hillary Clinton or Mamie Eisenhower, replicates the plight of every woman writ large: not being paid to do tons of work that you could not pay most men to do.”

“The reason totalitarianism tends to be part of communist regimes is that in the absence of hierarchy established by degrees of wealth, only complete state control of the populace can impose order.”

Conclusion

“I know it is the common postfeminist cant to say that the idea is choice, that women can decide to work or can opt to just many and live a life of leisure — CHOICE, CHOICE, CHOICE. But all of us who work for a living know that this is utter bullshit. All of us can completely respect a woman who takes several years off to raise children, since motherhood is a real and honorable job, and the arrangements that couples make over time to accommodate each other’s particular employment and enjoyment needs are part of fairly and gamely making their way down love’s long road. But it is a corruption and bastardization and accommodation of everything feminism stands for to say that women whose identities are defined by who they marry, women who don’t have careers and don’t know how to take care of themselves are A-OK. With feminism, women demanded certain rights, and every woman who continues to live in a man’s shadow is an affront to what few gains were made. It’s not that a woman should be a self-sufficient person; it’s that she must.”

“While I really want to be tolerant enough to say that whatever a woman wants to do is just fine, this abnegates feminist accomplishment women really do need to be able to take care of themselves in order to be themselves.”

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Austin Rose

Austin Rose

I read non-fiction and take copious notes. Currently traveling around the world for a few years, follow my journey at https://peacejoyaustin.wordpress.com/blog/