The Spouse That Roared; How Inequality in the Home Has Created a Seething Cauldron of Anger

Article excerpt

Byline: RACHEL CUSK

THE BITCH IN THE HOUSE: 26 Women Tell the Truth About Sex, Solitude, Work, Motherhood and Marriage edited by Cathi Hanauer (Penguin, u10.99)

THIS book was a great success in its native America, where women are allowed to have everything and to complain about it, too. In this country, neither is entirely permitted and to do both is unthinkable. Cathi Hanauer's explanation of her project, in which she commissioned 26 women to write essays on various aspects of their personal lives, includes the bold admission that "this book was born out of anger", and frankly it is not hard to see why. For she and the vast majority of her 26 co-bitches - successful, educated women every one, raised in a world of washing machines and equal rights - are accomplices in the daily mental and emotional torture of their own sexual inequality.

They claim to value "co-partnership" and yet co-partnership is what they glaringly don't have. Their husbands are as shielded from the reality of family life as any Victorian patriarch. "At home," writes one woman who at work is the executive editor of a well-known women's magazine, "I am wife, mother, babysitting and housekeeping manager, cook, social secretary, gardener, tutor, chauffeur, interior decorator, general contractor and laundress." Well, why? Why are you all those things? Why isn't your husband (invariably described as "lovely", which is just what people used to say about their wives before they became bitches) a few of them? The term "bitch" itself expresses some of their confusion and ambivalence, their fear of censure and yet the violence that is at the tips of their tongues. If we were half the bitches you think we are, it says, we would have put our husbands' heads in the Magimix by now.

The essays are arranged roughly to describe the arc of female experience from early woman to grandmotherhood, but they linger around marriage and motherhood as around the scene of the crime. "Even before I'd begun to resent him," writes one woman of her first husband, "we'd sit in front of the TV watching wars on the news and getting quietly drunk so that there would be no possibility of even contemplating doing it. …