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Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women [Paperback]

Elizabeth Wurtzel
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 18 1999
No one better understands the desire to be bad than Elizabeth Wurtzel.

Bitch is a brilliant tract on the history of manipulative female behavior. By looking at women who derive their power from their sexuality, Wurtzel offers a trenchant cultural critique of contemporary gender relations. Beginning with Delilah, the first woman to supposedly bring a great man down (latter-day Delilahs include Yoko Ono, Pam Smart, Bess Myerson), Wurtzel finds many biblical counterparts to the men and women in today's headlines.

In five brilliant extended essays, she links the lives of women as demanding and disparate as Amy Fisher, Hillary Clinton, Margaux Hemingway, and Nicole Brown Simpson. Wurtzel gives voice to those women whose lives have been misunderstood, who have been dismissed for their beauty, their madness, their youth.

She finds in the story of Amy Fisher the tragic plight of all Lolitas, our thirst for their brief and intense flame. She connects Hemingway's tragic suicide to those of Sylvia Plath, Edie Sedgwick, and Marilyn Monroe, women whose beauty was an end, ultimately, in itself. Wurtzel, writing about the wife/mistress dichotomy, explains how some women are anointed as wife material, while others are relegated to the role of mistress. She takes to task the double standard imposed on women, the cultural insistence on goodness and society's complete obsession with badness: what's a girl to do? Let's face it, if women were any real threat to male power, "Gennifer Flowers would be sitting behind the desk of the Oval Office," writes Wurtzel, "and Bill Clinton would be a lounge singer in the Excelsior Hotel in Little Rock."

Bitch tells a tale both celebratory and cautionary as Wurtzel catalogs some of the most infamous women in history, defending their outsize desires, describing their exquisite loneliness, championing their take-no-prisoners approach to life and to love. Whether writing about Courtney Love, Sally Hemings, Bathsheba, Kimba Wood, Sharon Stone, Princess Di--or waxing eloquent on the hideous success of The Rules, the evil that is The Bridges of Madison County, the twisted logic of You'll Never Make Love in This Town Again--Wurtzel is back with a bitchography that cuts to the core. In prose both blistering and brilliant, Bitch is a treatise on the nature of desperate sexual manipulation and a triumph of pussy power.

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From Amazon

Elizabeth Wurtzel, an ex-rock critic for The New Yorker, won controversial fame with her bestselling 1994 memoir Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America, which described how Prozac saved the precocious Harvard grad from suicide. Her second book, Bitch is a celebration of the defiant, rock-and-roll spirit of self-destructive women through the ages: Delilah, Amy Fisher, Princess Di, and hundreds more (including the awesomely reckless Wurtzel). There is no comprehensible central line of argument, perhaps because the author did her exhaustive research and writing on a speedy Kerouacesque drug binge that, by her own admission, sent her to rehab upon the book's conclusion. But Wurtzel has the remains of a fine mind: her insights are often sharp, sometimes bitchy, and always shameless as she zooms in a very few pages from The Oresteia to O.J. to her first crush on a fictional character Heathcliff) to Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me, Richard Pryor, Chrissie Hynde, Leaving Las Vegas, Gone with the Wind, Sylvia Plath's "Daddy," Schindler's List, Oliver! Carousel, and Andrea Dworkin. Most pop culture pundits incline to grandiose blather, but Wurtzel is punchy, and her quotes are more often apt than pretentious. Bitch is like a Mr. Toad's Wild Ride in a library, with frequent rampages through the film and music archives. Like rock music, Wurtzel's prose style lives for the moment. She glories in breaking rules to bits, is never giddier than when she's saying something shocking, and apparently has no moral code except self-expression--with the attitude volume knob cranked up to 11. --Tim Appelo --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

There is little praise for women in Wurtzel's hyperbolic rant about "bad girls" and their relationship to Western society. Indeed, hip turns of phrase frequently replace logic in this often smug and overwritten screed. In her defense, Wurtzel (Prozac Nation, LJ 8/94) has taken on a huge project, and every now and again she introduces a startling insight about how women manipulate situations to control their lives. Her look at the biblical tale of Samson and Delilah is particularly instructive in elucidating the history of our reaction to the alluringly repulsive femme fatale. Likewise, her presentation of both mythic and real women who flaunt their "pussy power" makes for provocative reading. Nonetheless, nearly a quarter of the book focuses on Nicole Brown Simpson (who few would call a "difficult woman") and is shockingly mean-spirited. While she lambastes the Simpson jury as "just plain stupid," we never learn how she knows what the jury did not: that O.J. killed Nicole. Since she was not in the courtroom, her cavalier dismissal of the verdict rankles and casts doubt on her other arguments. Worse, she seems to believe that violence is endemic to being "crazy in love," and her writing romanticizes the black eye and slapped cheek as proof of passionate involvement. In addition, Wurtzel completely ignores lesbians?an odd omission since the expression of Sapphic love represents a blatant rejection of "good girl" norms?and dismisses the happily single, writing that "it would be easier to eliminate racism or end poverty or cure illiteracy or dethrone Fidel Castro than it would to make girls stop wanting to be brides." Recommended only as catalyst for debate.
-?Eleanor J. Bader, New School for Social Research, New York
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
On a recent Sunday, one of the hints in the New York Times crossword puzzle was "Acts like Delilah." Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, pseudo-feminism July 17 2004
By A Customer
I started reading this book soon after I had finished Susan Faludi's "Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women". I was looking forward to reading Wurtzel's book as a representative woman of'90s post-backlash era where women are allowed to be independent and make their own choices AND say what they want about it.
Unfortunately, Wurtzel has once again set us back, again to the '80s, where women are allowed to be independent as long as they suffer the consequences of failed love relationships, success based only on their looks, and empty rebellion for the sake of rebellion.
Wurtzel, using a handful of notororious examples including herself, argues that there is something inherent about women that makes them self-destructive, usually in the name of a man.
Furthermore, Wurtzel seems to lack adequate knowledge about the psychology of women, using Carol Gilligan, a little respected '70s "feminist" psychologist, as her only scholarly-based evidence on the problems faced by adolescent girls. Instead of discussing empirically-based findings on the social problems that still plague women today, she resorts to personality and psychodynamic based explanations about why there are so many women who are screwed up.
It seems that she's been to too many unhelpful therapy sessions and has now used herself as a basis of generalizing to an entire generation of women...unfair and just as bad as prevailing traditional stereotypes about good, little women.
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1.0 out of 5 stars A mind is a terrible thing to waste May 21 2004
And what a waste it is. I had the feeling I was on crystal meth during this painfully meandering and meaningless read. I was on the mark as it turned out from her next disaster. I don't hold much truck with an author who keeps writing "I mean" and other phatic communication devices designed for verbal communication. The pen is truly mightier than the sword - a sword can't bore you to death.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Self-justification masking as feminism April 19 2004
By A Customer
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.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Can't finish it. Feb. 24 2004
I tried to read this book twice and couldn't finish it. It is very bad, and the sentences are long and confusing, and Elizabeth Wurtzel has no direction in the book. Try 'Prozac Nation', but even that is not much better.
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5.0 out of 5 stars I cook for a livin'... Jan. 6 2004
But I read a lot too...and I love difficult/high maintenance/troubled/bad, et al, women...I loved this book.
De ol' devilchef gives dis tome a 5 mojo*z review!!!
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5.0 out of 5 stars I love this book Oct. 24 2003
By FemBot
More more more- there could be more versions of this theme. I loved the book. It is a fun fast read and I learned about alot of women I wouldn't normally see in the light they are portrayed. Good book for a cross country flight. Enjoy!
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1.0 out of 5 stars Boring Rant Sept. 7 2003
By A Customer
I love feminist literature. This book, however, was boring, pretentious, poorly researched and poorly thought out. There is a significant lack of critical thinking happenning in this book-most of the book is based on assumptions which the author provides virtually no evidence for and which, upon an objective review of the evidence, are shaky at best. Frankly, the writers who submit their articles to the National Enquirer show more critical thinking skill than the author does in this book! If you are looking for feminist literature that makes you think, rather than irritating you with its poorly supported ideological rant, then this is not the book for you. Many of the arguments advanced by the author have been done much better by others.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Miss Wurtzel explains why we men love bad girls April 20 2003
In her second book, Elizabeth Wurtzel examines the role and plight of the bad girl through Western history. Feminism hasn't suceded, Miss Wurtzel argues, as long as women have to behave in order to get men.
Miss Wurtzel celebrates the women, for whatever reason, who chose not to behave, to admit to having desires and feel no guilt about fulfilling them.
I have the paperback edition, though I read hardback edition first. I don't understand what all the fuss about her appearing topless on the cover. I liked it. She's very beautiful and talented.
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