Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge: Bitch

I thought I would like this book and I didn’t. It seemed promising. With a title like that how could you possibly go wrong? I knew Elizabeth Wurtzel’s reputation going into this. She had written a memoir about depression that became a massive hit. When that didn’t make her happy she became addicted to various substances and then wrote a book about it. Both books are supposed to be very good and well written.

Wurtzel also has a reputation for being enormously self-absorbed to the point that her publisher included a review describing her as an extremely talented but self-absorbed writer in the first few pages of Bitch. Being self-absorbed often makes for good memoir. When you’re the subject you get to be a little bit into yourself and get away with it.That’s not where Wurtzel went wrong. In fact my favourite part of the book outside of when she makes fun of OJ’s — as in OJ Simpson — bad spelling were the bits told from her perspective about her choices and her life.

The latest stunt she’s allegedly pulled is to think about writing a book with Thought Catalog targeted at millenials even though in the past she’s said that Thought Catalog is stupid and she would never write something targeted at millenials. Wurtzel just doesn’t know where she stands and struggles with logic and reasoning at times. That is the crux of why Bitch is a horrible book. It’s not memoir and it’s not about her. Bitch is meant to present an argument of some kind, probably feminist in nature.

It flat out fails to do so. After reading the entire thing I am still not sure what Wurtzel stands for. I don’t know what she means by difficult women or bitch. There are large sections where she lists celebrities from the ’90s and claims things about them. She rambles on endlessly without saying much of anything. After reading the 50 page introduction I felt that about two paragraphs worth or argument had been made and they weren’t even that compelling.

When she does take a position she often contradicts herself. Sometimes in the same paragraph. Sometimes later in the section. This is part of what makes it so confusing. Every time it seems she’s saying something she contradicts it. The most grievous offence is that she spends far too much time defending things that no one should defend, even back in 1999 when the book was published.

The introduction talks about nothing in various clever ways and includes lots of names of ’90s celebrities. The biggest questionable thing from this section is her argument that it’s good to be badly behaved. She uses the example of Shanon Doherty who was difficult and self-absorbed to the point of getting herself kicked off of Charmed because nobody could take it anymore. Because of Doherty’s behaviour problems we all had to endure the half-sister plot that was as bad as the Buffy coming back to life the second time plot line. If Doherty was a passably nice person she would have just stayed on the show. Not being able to work with other people is not a good thing. Wurtzel’s definition of bitch is a far cry from what Tina Fey means when she uses the word. Being difficult here doesn’t mean leaning in or standing up for yourself. It means alienating everyone you know and getting yourself fired.

You know what? Bitches get stuff done.
— Tina Fey

Amy Poehler extolls the virtue of working with other people. She talks about how collaborations have been the best parts of her career. Poehler hasn’t gotten to where she is by being selfish and horrible but by being agreeable and hardworking.

Be nice. Work hard.
— Amy Poehler

I am glad that 15 years after Bitch was published we have better heroes who don’t think it’s glamorous to be crazy and selfish. We have Fey, Poehler, Mindy Kaling and for the rough and tumble millenials Lena Dunham. To these women bitch means standing up for yourself, breaking new ground and creating things regardless of what obstacles are in your way. These are heroes I can look up to. Wurtzel’s heroes are train wrecks and disasters.

Bitch strikes me as a book written by a beautiful woman — Wurtzel is undeniably gorgeous and knows it — who has had some behaviour problems in the past. She is not writing a book for your average woman. Her ideal woman is someone who is charismatic, tragic, badly behaved and undeniably gorgeous. There is nothing here for average women. They don’t get to be difficult. They are not pretty enough. It’s difficult to relate to and rather pointless.

The second section takes on the merits of using sex as a weapon. Or so I think. There is a long discussion of underage sexual abuse that is questionable. I fail to see what this has to do with defending difficult women other than to carry on the theme of if you’re beautiful use it. Moving right along.

The third section concerns depression and suicidal behaviour. She uses the example of Sylvia Plath and other suicidal poets for the sake of treading new ground. At times she talks about how Plath was well really very well behaved and dull. Except when she was depressed because then she was unbearably selfish. But she was charismatic. Then she killed herself so now she’s tragic. Then Wurtzel embarks on a long and confusing section that glamorizes suicide with brief interludes about how we shouldn’t glamorize suicide. As someone who wrote the book on mental illness Wurtzel should know better than this. Mental health awareness has come a long way in the last fifteen years but Wurtzel has no business writing like this about depression and suicide after being depressed herself. And then writing a popular and ground breaking book about depression. Shame on Wurtzel for doing this. Shame on her publisher for printing it. This is what big red markers are for.

Speaking of which I wonder how this tome of horrible contradictory and questionable garbage got printed. Sure it was the ’90s and publishing was a different beast. Did they just want something with Wurtzel’s name on the cover so it would sell while her stock was still high from the last two releases? Was the editor too busy to realize that this book makes no sense and not cut all of this stuff out? Or to just send a quick email/fax/page saying this is horrible write something else?

The next section involves a long analysis of the OJ Simpson trial, which for the record I am too young to remember. I didn’t really get much out of it. She says some really outrageous things involving battered wife syndrome and rape fantasies so that was fun. Sometimes I thought she was playing devils advocate but there is no way it could be so serious and go on for so long if she was. Where is that red pen when you need it?

The conclusion was the high point of this book not just because it marked the end of my protracted struggle to read it. Here Wurtzel almost abandons the pretense that she in fact wishes to argue for something instead of saying ridiculous and borderline offensive things or describing out of date celebrities. She talks about herself and where she was at the time. She does a good job of it. She says some ridiculous things along the way but that is to be expected.

Some people have said Bitch is just the uninformed ramblings of another silly 20-something — which as a 20-something is rude, my ramblings are much more informed or at least less offensive than this and I am the first to admit that so far I’ve learned that groceries are really expensive, that I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I AM DOING and not much else — but Wurtzel was 30 when she wrote Bitch. It’s not about being in her 20s and messing around. She has another book for that. It’s about what happens when you’re a pretty, self-absorbed and badly behaved girl who is getting to that age when everyone seems to be getting married and your clock starts ticking. You start to wonder if a man will ever want to marry you and what you’ll be worth if they don’t. You start to worry that your looks will go. You start to think about how old is too old to have kids. She is worrying about this stuff, not partying and having fun. It’s where her feminism mixes with her confusion and doubts instead of just whatever weird offensive rambling was spewed onto the page.

And then it ended and there was much rejoicing.

It would be my recommendation to never read this book. It’s not worth its weight in paper or e-reader memory. It was terrible and offensive and a hollow nothingness of pretty sentences. I don’t know what the nature of the reference to Bitch on Gilmore Girls was but I hope it was disparaging.

Update: I forgot about the section where Wurtzel discusses women in the Bibleearlier. I went on Goodreads to look at people’s reviews of Bitch and someone brought it up. I quite enjoyed it for the most part. I forgot about it but I enjoyed it. As someone who was a religious studies minor and wrote a paper comparing the two creation narratives in genesis from a feminist perspective she made some good points and brought up some good information. Ten points for Hufflepuff.