on July 3, 2001
Wurtzel treats other people like poo, and calls it empowerment. It's okay, though, because as she reminds the reader ad nauseum, she's extremely well-connected and attended Harvard. Anyway she's good-looking, and the most consistent message in this otherwise self-contradictory mess is that "Beauty = Virtue."
Read between the lines and Wurtzel's idea of feminism is a hot chick who dresses like a prostitute, mistreats others, throws tantrums like a child and otherwise embodies the darkest misogynist fantasies of men. Even Wurtzel acknowledges that this attracts men at their worst, leading to loveless, mutually destructive relationships - but it makes you cool, tragic and popular!! Be warned that her advice isn't for everyone, however: Nicole Simpson rates higher on Wurtzel's "Flattering Projection of Myself" scale than Gertrude Stein or Eleanor Roosevelt, for instance, because she was inherently superior. I mean, duh! Nicole was *way* hotter than Stein!! I think we all agree that the ability to inspire a man to camouflage his lap topology with a strategically-placed briefcase is the sole measure of a woman's worth, right? File me under Feminism!
Wurtzel borrowed her book's title from an essay by Ron Rosenbaum. The cover photo was her publisher's idea, and she just went along with it. She uses the word "youthquaker" an average of four times per chapter. But perhaps the best summary of this book comes from an excerpt from her interview on National Public Radio shortly after publication:
Random Caller: Hello. I just want to say that I find it deeply offensive that your publisher and this radio network are presenting you as the voice of feminism, apparently on the merits of your appearance and connections. Your book is if anything anti-feminism, and the writing's so bad it reads as though it was written on speed.
Wurtzel: It was written on speed.
ADDENDUM (10 years later): Wurtzel was still model-pretty when she meth-propelled her way through this messy screed on how good-looking people are more admirable than the rest of us. Ten years later she's only 43 but has begun to look like a cocaine/meth casualty. In her Elle magazine article 'Failure to Launch: When Beauty Fades,' Wurtzel bemoans her lost beauty and reconsiders the wisdom of rejecting her one genuinely loving boyfriend in favor of the horrible, destructive, drama-addict relationships she celebrates in the still-in-print 'Bitch.' After getting a much-publicized $500,000 advance (you read that right) for writing this book, after the intensly unsympathetic self-portrait she paints in Prozac Nation, Wurtzel unbelievably expects reader sympathy for her 20-year run of overwhelming unearned privilege finally winding down. I don't doubt she had a troubled past, depression, an absent father and cloying mother, but wow.
- In 1988 Wurtzel was fired from The Dallas Morning News for plagiarism (a fact "someone" removed from her Wikipedia page)
- Wurtzel attracted some attention again in 2007-2008 for her frequent public claims of being a lawyer despite having failed the bar exam, which is illegal (she did eventually pass in February 2010). She responded by writing an article arguing that bar exams should be eliminated.
- While writing 'Bitch,' Wurtzel used her publisher's FedEx number to have her friends overnight her cocaine
- Despite her too-low-to-get-in LSAT score of 160, Wurtzel was still admitted to Yale Law School. "Suffice it to say I was admitted for other reasons," she explains.
[ Amazon blocks hyperlinks, so please see comment section for citations. ]
I did not like:
*that the book did not follow any sort of train of thought. Even though it was broken up into five or six essays, she would go from one person to the next so quickly, you don't even know she was talking about a different person. I skipped most of the stuff on Delilah, the character showed up on occasion throughout 2-3 of the essays, and sometimes stayed for pages. I wasn't interested in it, and the author probably should have just written a whole essay on her. Apparently, this book was written on some kind of speed, which makes sense, but couldn't it have been cut down a little? Or, at least, molded into something readable? Maybe its supposed to fit with the running theme: "Bad girls: young, beautiful, and on drugs." Which leads me to the next thought...
*What is her obsession with beauty? It seems like every woman she mentions is somehow tragically beautiful.. and these are the women who are bi#$%#s, the "difficult" women... how she says: "I am still pretty. I still have time to work out my marital status." <---What is that about? As if the only people who are married are good looking? Since when is marriage about "looks" anyway? or she also says.."even worse, it seems inevitable that there will come a time when I won't look good, when men will stop flirting with me, when this freedom sh#$ will start to feel more like free-falling. Will I know? Will I become pathetic?" No, you will just have to win people over by personality for a change! I just don't understand the superficial attitude for someone who is supposed to be a feminist. I have known women who are not great beauties, but everywhere they go, men fall in love with them. Once again, love is not about outside beauty. Unless, she is worried that at 50, she won't be able to have lots of one night stands, and men falling at her feet. This is probably true.
*Her opinions didn't even follow anything concrete. It seemed that at one moment she believed wholeheartedly in something, and then turned around and said.. oh wait, i forgot about that. nevermind, i believe this instead. Unfortunately, i can't come up with an example, because I would have to plow through this monstrous book for it. At least, she broke it into paragraphs.
What I did like about the book:
* the way she uses examples of movies, books, stories, and songs in her essays. Most of the movies are familiar to me, Fatal Attraction, Foxfire... then she mentions others that maybe some people wouldn't know, but should watch.. like Welcome to the Dollhouse or if Lucy fell. Many books that I own, have references or what the author has as a bibliography... My favorite author SARK recommends books on every chapter, sometimes music or web pages. It's just like a chain where you are exposed to things you would never have been before you read this book. Unfortunately, in Wurtzel's bibliography, i think she fails to mention the movies.
* I liked the essay, "Used to love her but I had to kill her." This touches on a lot of things having do to with O.J., and his late ex-wife Nicole. I never really followed the trial, but I do agree with the author, that he did it. It's funny too, because she doesn't use the word "allegedly" anywhere in the chapter. It's written like: when he killed her.... or he probably killed her because. It's as if she believes beyond a shadow of a doubt that he committed the crime, and she is not going to believe otherwise no matter what you say...
*which leads into this: the honesty of the book gets me. I would be afraid to let go of myself too much into a book. She has very strong opinions. Not only that, but she talks about her life, how she feels about herself, what she has done. One of my favorite paragraphs is where she talks about how she is not married and why she is not.. the reason is because there are things she "needed to do." the start of this paragraph is... "I needed to spend a week in Florence by myself, to check into the Excelsior Hotel and eat breakfast and dinner in bed with a view of the Arno, watching soccer on Italian television and be amazingly bored, I needed to walk the streets of this most romantic and recherche of cities all alone..." I loved that. It goes on for about two pages but I didn't mind. You get a peek into her life and all of the adventures she has had. For me, I yearned for those experiences to be mine. I want to go back to Europe, this time all by myself, and see things I didn't get to see the first time because I was going to pubs and hanging out with friends.
To sum up, it is a whale of a book, but if you have the patience to go through it, you should. She is very intelligent and has a lot of insight on things that I had never thought to analyze. If it is confusing or boring, skip it. That's what I did. There are just little gems scattered throughout. You just have to look for them sometimes.
on June 4, 1999
Alix Kates Shulman wrote it better years ago in "Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen." The beautiful women drink booze, swallow pills, and die young, usually by their own hand. Ms. Wurtzel claims to be interested in "bad" or "bitchy" women, but she's really interested in beauty. Nearly all of her bitches are beautiful, and in most of her examples, got famous, got reputations, got attention, got everything based on their looks. She dwells lovingly and endlessly on the beauty of Edie Sedgwick, a Warhol babe, who died of an overdose at age 27. Nowhere is there any information about what Ms. Sedgwick did to merit "bitch" or "bad" or to serve as any kind of example of women attempting to realize themselves and their potential through the vehicle of "badness" or rebellion against the stifling good girl image. Ms. Sedgwick was just Sixties fashion, another photogenic, thin girl in front of a lens, looking strung-out beautiful instead of Jean Shrimpton beautiful. One can trace the heroin high fashion look in today's magazines straight back to Edie.The problem with this book is that Ms. Wurtzel's Harvard credentials, facility with words, and manic energy, can lull the reader into thinking there's actually something being said here. That this might actually be a serious work of some sort of scholarship. In the end, the message is that only beautiful girls can be bad and bitchy, just like only beautiful girls can be models and actresses or marry a prince. Most of them wind up dead way before their time. There's a book out there, somewhere, about the value of standing up for yourself and rebelling against the rules that choke women from birth, but this isn't it.
on August 11, 1999
Wurtzel basically presents herself as a latter-day Helen Gurley Brown, with a Nineties-postmodern-in-your-bleeping-face twist, in this execrable work. While her self-indulgent rambling and overarching 'tude may be entertaining in a certain light, the fact that "Bitch" is taken at all seriously as a work of "feminist literature" speaks volumes about how a once-proud sociopolitical movement as been co-opted, like most everything else, by the social, moral, and intellectual wasteland of corporate-controlled pop culture. Quit trying to change the world, Wurtzel is telling women (and men, too), and look out for Numero Uno! But those women (and there are many) who aren't rich, gorgeous Manhattanites will have little to glean from her example. As a male, I happen to like women who are tough, self-confident, and willing to fight for themselves, for other women, and for other worthy causes. But "bitchiness," as defined by Wurtzel, seems like little more than the pursuit of decidedly antisocial and irresponsible ends. Being able to throw a temper tantrum at Bloomie's? This is what Anthony and Stanton and Steinem put themselves into battle for? And doesn't Wurtzel have anything to say about black women,poor women, or working moms, or abused and battered women here in America and around the world? Oh, that's right; Wurtzel's a card-carrying member of the cultural, social, and economic elite. Why SHOULD she be unduly concerned about anything beyond herself? The saddest thing of all is how many of my own gender will be attracted to a woman like Wurtzel, because she lives up to all their darkest mysogynistic fantasies. Embrace this kind of absolute garbage as "feminism"? I don't know 'bout the girls, but as Sam Goldwyn said, "Include me out."
on June 14, 1999
I really really wanted to like this book. With a subtitle like "In praise of difficult women," it's gotta be good, right? Wrong. It is, in fact, page after page of self-indulgent maundering by someone who confuses being able to put together a complex sentence with actually having something to say. After about two hundred pages I got the strong feeling I was listening to a spoiled litle girl dressed in her mommy's clothes, laying down the law about things she knows nothing about. Too bad--now nobody will be able to write a real book about difficult women, since Ms. Wurtzel just thoroughly killed the subject without actually saying anything. This book is one of the best arguments against drugs I have ever seen: Ms. Wurtzel seems to have arrested at the age of thirteen in terms of ability to see the world as it really is, as well as in her extreme self-absorption. I am confused, also, by the total lack of editing. Whatever happened to cutting out the excess verbiage? If that had been done before publication, this would have been a magazine article, not a thumping big doorstop of a thing.
I wish I had watched reruns instead.
I have rarely been as disappointed with a book as I have been this one. In many ways Elizabeth Wurtzel is a brilliant writer, gifted with the ability to construct a memorable sentence or a brilliant image. Moreover, as a bit of a rebel and a very intelligent woman I would have imagined that this would have been a book bristling with insight. Besides, I liked the subtitle: In Praise of Difficult Women. My own thought has long been that the way our society is constructed, brilliant, independent women would often be taken by society at large as "difficult." I had imagined that this was going to have multiple overlaps with third wave feminism and perhaps the riot girrrls and all kinds of wonderful new ways of women asserting their rights to be whoever it is they want to be. Besides, she and I share very similar tastes in music and pop culture. I imagined a brilliant effort in gonzo feminism.
But I was disappointed. Yes, there were the brilliant turns of phrase and startling paragraphs. But like other reviewers, when I finished I really couldn't say what the book was about. The details were often marvelously expressed, but to what overall end? The book ended up being brilliant on the micro level, but dense and opaque on the macro. The result was a book that was fun to read from beginning to end, but frustrating because I was never able to grasp what it was all about.
The book is structured around five themes, each one with several women evoked to stand as icons, but in each case one woman above all others. The first part deals with sexual sirens who can also be conceived as man eaters, with Delilah, Samson's seductress/betrayal as the great example. The second part deals with under aged temptresses, with Amy Fisher as the great exemplar. The third section deals with women who died either by their own hand or by the kinds of lives they had come to live. Here several women are presented as icons, including Margaux Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, Zelda Fitzgerald, and Anne Sexton. The fourth section, written at the height of Monica-gate, skewers Hillary Clinton for being a wife instead of achieving great things herself (a secton that seems hopelessly out of touch with reality as she in 2006 looks poised to run for president--for the record, a move that I am passionately opposed to, since despite the hype she is extremely conservative on most issues, especially economics, and I think she would keep America on the right wing course upon which it began under Jimmy Carter--another person perceived to be liberal who was actually quite conservative on economic issues--and has continued under all successive presidents). The final section deals with women who are the victims of extreme violence and centers on Nicole Brown Simpson. The problem is that the book simply never coalesces around any substantive ideas.
In the end, the women she chooses to write about are women that are as difficult for feminism as for men or society or the public at large. Feminism simply can't absorb Amy Fisher and claim her for one of their own. The story is too tawdry and messy for that. But after three hundred pages of writing about these women, it still isn't clear what she is writing about. The big pay off never comes. It is a book that promises great--or even just pretty good--things but never delivers. This truly is a book that is far less than the sum of its parts. I think the fact that one can love many individual pages while hating it as a whole is reflected in the weirdly schizoid reviews that my Anchor Books edition contains (I have as of today the latest printing, so this may not be true of previous editions). The blurbs are divided into "The Good," "the Bad," "the Bitchy," and "The Bottom Line." The attempt on the part of the publishers almost seems an admission that it is a deeply flawed book, but they want to portray it as one of those ultra-controversial books that you have to read so that you can discuss.
I stil think there are some great books to be written about truly difficult women, about women that society has trouble absorbing or that it resists. I just in the end did not feel that this was one of them. This despite the fact that she writes well, that she is obviously a smart woman, and--let's admit it--very hot. Yes, that is her on the cover. Not many writers could pull that off.
on June 24, 1998
I wanted to like this book. I really did. I actually liked the cover photo, which some people found distracting from the book's supposedly empowering theme. If you can get past the bare <gasp> breasts, you will notice Ms. Wurtzel has her left, middle finger gracefully raised. I thought that was funny. "Im being provactive and you are shocked' she seems to say. "Here's what I think about that".
From the buzz I heard on the book, I thought, or hoped, anyway, that the book would explore the mysteries of feminity, that certain sexual essence that makes us fearsome creatures. It's not. (If you dont think girls are scary, just ask a teen age boy getting ready to ask a girl out on his first date.)
Instead, the book is a 413 page rationalization for not being a decent human being. Worse yet, it's a 413 page rationalization for using sex to not be a decent human being. Sex doesn't always have to be about love. Fun, for example, comes to mind. The one thing I don't think sex should ever be about is destruction.
Wurtzel writes on pg.89... "...every so often some guy will come along whom I find terribly attractive and he feels the same way about me and anything can happen, anything goes, and the strange thing is, that the strongest urge I will get is to make a mess of him."
She lost me there.
Those intimately familiar with the book will note that there are 414 pages, not 413 (This does not include the bibliography, the acknowledgments and permissions). On the 414th page, Wurtzel redeems herself (kinda) by saying she wishes she could be a better woman.
Don't we all.
A word on the actual writing. This book could have used a tighter outline or some judicious editorial input. Stylistically, it has the pinpoint accuracy of a sawed off shot gun. This is not an excrutiating read, however. Wurtzel is funny, in places.
(pg285) "Honestly, I could not tell you what possessed Michael Douglas to cheat on lovely, throaty, elegant Anne Archer in 'Fatal Attr! action', but it has occurred to me that maybe the woman ought to get a job."
on July 2, 1998
The hype surrounding this book prompted me to finally read it, and I can say in truth that I wasted hours of my day reading this garbage. Wurtzel's writing is completely unrefined; it's as though nobody edited it. She shifts in tone quickly, from overly casual to scholarly. It just doesn't work.
In addition, her ideas are just ridiculously anti-woman. She makes excuses for "bad girls," but I think what she's trying to do is make excuses for herself. And that's basically what things are about in "B***h" - it's a me, me, me book. Yawn.
Elizabeth Wurtzel is a beautiful, thirty-something journalist from a privileged background (including a B.A. from Harvard in 1986). She has been a music critic for The New Yorker and New York Magazine, and has a regular column in the London Guardian. She is also author of Prozac Nation, an autobiographical narrative of how Prozac helped her out of a downward spiral into depression.
In her long, rambling introduction, Wurtzel lays out her basic premise, to wit, that the beautiful "bitch" is a vital feminine role model, an essential expression of feminist rage. Though she admits that extreme examples of the Beautiful Bitch (BB) invariably end up as tragic "sex kittens in the slammer," or dead, she believes that ideal BB's are "fabulous women of great mischief," who are excitingly, wickedly dangerous, due to using their beauty shamelessly to enslave men. As such, Delilah from the Bible is Wurtzel's primary BB archetype and rates one of the five sections of the book. The other four sections discuss Amy Fisher, Courtney Love, Hillary Clinton and Nicole Brown Simpson.
If you enjoy the sharp, intellectual, stylized writing of New York journalists amped up to a speed-induced extreme, you may greatly enjoy this book for that feature alone. If, on the other hand (as in my case), you find smug, self-satisfied, flashily egocentric voices like Wurtzel's both irritating in their own right and counterproductively overwhelming of the subject matter at hand, Wurtzel's writerly style will not be a plus for you.
If, in addition, you don't demand much in terms of substance of opinion pieces, and "witty" cleverness alone is satisfactory for you, you may also enjoy this book on that count. However, if you do appreciate a bit of weight in these sorts of essays, you are out of luck here. (...), all I could ultimately locate as her "point" was the Madison Avenue cliché, "If you've got it, flaunt it." (...), since many autobiographical remarks scattered throughout the book indicate she clearly sees herself as the ultimate BB, a sort of tragic female Byron. Tragic because, though every BB has power, for a while, inevitably, if she isn't killed outright, age steals her beauty, her one source of power. And it is fear of this loss, perhaps, that drives Wurtzel to wonder, in passing, if someday, when she's through doing all the "things" she "has to do," she won't have to fall back on the good girl's dream, building a home and a family. (And, God help her future husband and kids if she does!)
Having said all that, I have to admit that there is one redeeming aspect of Bitch--the author's extensive bibliography. Though she may not have much to say worth listening to herself, I have to admit, Wurtzel's read a lot of interesting books.
on April 19, 2004
I gave this book two stars for its readability; however, its engaging style only made me more annoyed that the book suffered from such an extreme lack of focus. Elizabeth Wurtzel (as she constantly reminds us in every book she's ever written) is attractive, connected, and well-educated. It is clear from even the most unfocused ramblings in "Bitch" that she is also intelligent, insightful, and erudite. It is also clear that the thing she values most about herself is her good looks, which appears to be what she spends most of her life thinking about and obsessing over, like she's in a perpetual state of smugness at having won the genetic lottery. I always get the impression when I read Wurtzel that she is a) totally shallow and self-obsessed, and b) keenly aware that shallowness, obsession with one's own beauty, and openly judging others by their looks isn't "cool", so she has to spend hundreds of pages justifying all the energy she spends thinking about nothing more than herself and how much prettier she is than average girls. The result: "Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women". In the end, this book is nothing more than Wurtzel's attempt to intellectually justify her painfully obvious feelings of superiority over women who are not as attractive as her. As a graduate student that men also flirt with alot, I can honestly say that I find Wurtzel's self-worship both sad and immature. I also can't figure out why she still tries to pull off the whole "I do drugs to ease my self-hatred at being so beautiful and brilliant and alienated" routine - yawn, Ms. Wurtzel, your pose is showing. The bottom line: no matter how many great books she's read herself, she has yet to write one. If she can get over herself and off the speed, maybe someday she will, and I look forward to reading it. Until then, she should stick to concert reviews for Rolling Stone.