I know, I know, reviews are so passé, especially ones that spend more than a hundred and forty characters to determine the quality of a four hundred page book. Nevertheless this blog is read by no one and since that is true, no one will care, except of course myself. While reviews don’t seem very fulfilling in terms of the creation of something new, they are still writing and that is a medium that I definitely need more practice in.
So enough with the preamble. When I first saw Bitch in a reading list describing all the books one Miss Rory Gilmore had read onscreen in the fabulous Gilmore Girls, it stood out. The old adage of judging a book, yada yada is horseshit, but then again I didn’t judge it, I desired it, its punchy title and provocative cover called out to me. A rather strong word for a book, desire, but for this particular book a pertinent one, emotive and intelligent this text most certainly is. I’m getting a little ahead of myself, all I knew when I decided to buy it was this feeling of inadequacy, that expansive list, so many of which I had not read, this is a very useful feeling if you want to read a wide spectrum of novels, those who are satisfied I would imagine, feel no need to buy different, varied books, those who are satisfied would say they want to read a book, I say I need to read a book. It arrived a few Saturdays past and I’ve read it, but not written completed this review until now, this has more to do with my varied feelings about the book, it is undoubtedly well written and intelligent but I cannot help but feel every chapter was about six pages too long. The author Elizabeth Wurtzel has, it seems, a fascination with the reality behind the myth of iconic women figures, those cultish groups that seek to reinterpret their lives, making them like larger than life mythic, even biblical figures. Conversely and importantly those too who have been doing so for well over a millennia, that which forces biblical figures, like Delilah, into occupying one role, a signifying role that overshadows and ultimately overrides all others, that of the betrayer.
There are certain positions that are argued from in Bitch that I simply cannot agree with. The most extreme of which is Elizabeth Wurtzel arguing that the statutory rape of a child by an adult, in her example of a thirteen-year-old having a relationship with their teacher, is in her mind a fundamentally different situation depending on the gender of the two parties, with a young boy and an older woman being ‘not the same, not even comparable, to any instance of a grown man messing with a teenage girl.’ There are other issues of a less radical and emotive nature where my opinions do not align with hers, but the most emotive one seems appropriate for this book. As in any compelling work there are also points, like the previously mentioned one, that in stating her viewpoint I have had to consider in more depth my previously held position on the issue, I would be far more concerned if I did agree with everything in Bitch, after all a text that no one disagrees with ultimately states nothing of any great import.
It would be easier to highlight all those little and big things that one disagrees with, yet that’s would be a shallow analysis, more of a function-less rant really. Conversely there is a lot in this book that that not only do I find full of merit but fascinating to boot. Elizabeth’s research on each of the figures she highlights, from the aforementioned Delilah to Nicole Simpson, paint a compelling picture of the individuals and the world that surrounded, engulfed and mythologized them. Despite the pop culture references that ten years down the line refer a plethora of figures who have slipped into obscurity and make at times a rather uncompelling list, any figure that she treats with as more than a shorthand (like Marie Antoinette being used fallaciously for ‘hates the poor’ in the introduction) gets enough context to inform the reader. There was a moment, where Elizabeth Wurzel after mentioning Mrs. Clinton, and then opining that the US will never have a female President, that prompted reflection. Where if the wheels of history had turned differently and the former Senator for Illinois had been absent at that crucial Democratic year, how very dated that comment would be, even more-so than the reference to the previous attacks on the World Trade Center.
The chapter ‘The Blond in the Bleachers’ goes into more details on Mrs Clinton’s prospects and it is another point where time, in its surprisingly forward motion has out paced the book. ‘As far as Hillary is concerned, it ought to be clear to everyone that these dreams are gone – not deferred; they are gone completely.’ Three years after the book’s publication Hillary Rodham Clinton became the United States Senator from New York and in the year of Our Lord two thousand and nine, the role she entered, the one that for the moment she is still in, was that of Secretary of State for the good ol’ U.S.A.
There are moments of sublime beauty in the book, conclusions that are infused with poetic truth, on depression Miss Wurzel claims that; ‘everybody gets trivialized as a result of these icons of insanity – the pretty babies because they are too beautiful to be seriously suffering, and the ugly deranged because no one wants to pay attention to them because they aren’t attractive enough’.
I suppose an important issue, if we are to consider this text as anything beyond an treatises founded on and argued with examples that time makes mockery of, or worse, forgets all together, is whether this book could be updated to have contemporary references and situations. The answer simply is no, more complexly, it’s that so many of these points rest on each other, which is in part, what makes this book such a compelling read, to change even one element is like playing a game of Jenga, yet instead of the so called simple task of removing the blocks, you have to remove and replace them, until it becomes evident that knocking over the whole damn thing and starting again would be far more productive. So then could I see a book like this existing now? Yes, absolutely, the music industry in particular is so substantially different from the nineties that in artists like Ke$ha or Nicki Minaj taking what was a very male style of objectification and vulgar (in the best possible sense of the word) lyrics and owning it in a unique way. There are of course modern equivalents to songs like He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss) those horrifically popular and initially catchy songs that ‘was actually a sweet song until someone noticed it wasn’t’, the despicable Mr. Thicke springs to mind. After all it is, however alluring, deceptive to argue a narrative of straight forward progress from 1998 to 2014 but on the issue of music, culture, pop and otherwise, I would love to read an updated perspective by Elizabeth Wurtzel, the resultant creation may not be one that I agree with completely, but I would still devour it. This book is a thorough exploration of not only the perception of women in media, old and new, but also as the summation of Miss Elizabeth Wurzel’s philosophy and in that regard, it is a definitive masterpiece.