Beliefnet
The Queen of My Self

By Edward Helmore

In the years since Cathi Hanauer’s bestselling anthology of life stories, the women she spoke to have new goals

In 2002, Cathi Hanauer published The Bitch in the House, a bestselling compilation of 26 life stories by women who felt they were carrying a disproportionate load in the home and in their lives.

They were angry and disillusioned, sexually unfulfilled, financially over-burdened, their menfolk were lazy and unappreciative, and their children messy – and that was just the start.

 

Fourteen years on, Hanauer reports, this same generation of women, now in their 40s and 50s, are happier. The children have left, husbands have been sidelined in many cases, and they are now free to redefine themselves in new and decidedly post-feminist ways – and all the better for it.

That, at least, is the broad premise of The Bitch is Back – a book in which Hanuer sets out to codify through personal accounts the gains women have made in an era of rapid, if uneven, personal and professional assertion.

“The theme of the first book was anger, women juggling careers and young children and feeling like feminism had failed them,” Hanauer said. “But now, as we’ve settled into early midlife, I’ve noticed that more women are making dramatic changes.” The changes she noticed women around her making include leaving marriages – sometimes for other women – having babies on their own, or choosing to live alone.

Statistics bear out her observations: 51% of women in the US are single, 43% of mothers are unmarried, women over 50 are now twice as likely to divorce as in 1990, half of divorces for those over 40 are initiated by women.

“It’s about how not to be the bitch in the house any more, about how not to be angry and disappointed, but about how you choose to get yourself happier in midlife.”

In the book, we meet a woman who plans to leave her husband because she is frustrated by his lack of sexual interest; another faces the opposite issue. A woman describes dating again in her 50s, others confront anxieties about appearance, health, loss, dating younger, dating older, not dating at all.

While no convenient marketing term has been coined for this phase – reckoning or reawakening, Hanauer suggests – these are ideas reconditioned from the 1960s that, thanks in part to technology but mostly to economic equalisation, have become part of the social mainstream.

“Back then it was the radicals and the fringe; now everyone talks about this,” Hanauer says. “As women have become stronger economically, they’ve started to be able to say the things they have thought for a long time.”

Traditionally, she says, we have heard a lot about the male midlife crisis but much less about a comparable phase for women. “Midlife used to be the time a lot of women started to feel invisible but now we’re able to ask, am I happy in this marriage? Am I happy in this town? Am I happy in this job?”

The choice, she says, is to calcify or decide to make things better: “Early midlife is a last chance to do that.” But not everyone, she says, needs a radical overhaul: “Frustrations are normal, so for many women it’s a matter of adjusting expectations and making a few subtle adjustments.”

There’s still an element of disquiet about the use of the word “bitch” in the title. In September, the New York Times used the title “The bitch America needs” for a pro-Hillary Clinton political opinion piece. The choice drew widespread criticism, with some readers writing in to say that the paper had stooped to tabloid titillation.

For Hanauer, the title was conceived partly as a response to Virginia Woolf and her riposte to a 19th-century poem by Coventry Patmore, The Angel in the House, about the passive qualities of his perfect wife. Woolf thought the repressive ideal of women represented by the poem was still so potent that she wrote, in 1931, “Killing the Angel in the House was part of the occupation of a woman writer.”

Hanauer says that while some women were dismayed by the title, others recognised themselves. “They thought, yes, that’s me. They said they felt angry and mean and didn’t want to feel that way. But they were also strong and assertive,and that’s the good definition of the bitch in the house – even when we’re not being angelic.”

“There are so many different ways to do things, different ways to be and ways to be happy. The main thing is to figure out what works for you,” says Hanauer.

“There’s no normal. No right or wrong. It’s just yourself, your happiness and your obligations – and how to combine those to have a better, more content life.”

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Donna Henes is the author of The Queen of My Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife. She offers counseling and upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity. Consult the MIDLIFE MIDWIFE™

The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to thequeenofmyself@aol.com.

 

 

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