Bitch In The House – Has Anything Changed?

By Violet Phillips

Cathi Hanauer is an author in Northampton, Massachusetts who graduated from Syracuse University. During college, she double majored in magazine journalism and literature, and graduated with magna cum laude and phi beta kappa honors, after winning a journalism award and interning for Seventeen. She’s since written articles for the New York Times, the Washington Post, Elle, O, Real  Simple, and Glamour, was formally the books columnist for Glamour and Mademoiselle, and the relationships advice columnist for Seventeen and nexttribe.com and has taught at The New School and the University of Arizona. [1]

Her essay collection, The Bitch in the house, is about women’s frustration with marriage and motherhood. The women whose writing was included are not unusual. According to CNN::

“46% of moms get irate with their husbands once a week or more. Those with kids younger than 1 are even more likely to be mad that often (54 percent). About half of the moms describe their anger as intense but passing; 1 in 10 say it’s “deep and long-lasting.”

44% of mothers feel like the fathers aren’t aware of chores and childcare tasks that need to be done and are poor at multitasking. [2] other common problems are men paying more attention to their mothers than to their wofes, expecting their wives to take care of all responsibilities, being messy and thinking housework isn’t their job, not communicating their feelings and obsessing over sports. [3]

Often, women accept those types of circumstances and do the work with no complaint. According toTIME:

“In 1994, sociologists Mary Clare Lennon and Sarah Rosenfield looked at the time diaries of working women and their husbands, as well as individual reports on both individuals’ feelings about the distribution of labor in their homes. They found that the men who performed 36% of their household’s labor reported the strongest feelings of fairness. But the women who were most likely to say the arrangements were fair expected men to do even less: their time diaries attested to the fact that they were doing 66% of their household’s labor. Lennon and Rosenfield wrote, “both women and men appear to believe that women should do about two-thirds of the household chores.””[4]

This might be because marketing and media images have, increasingly, began to show mothers as blissful and selfless, and women feel pressured to go along with it, but that increasingly appears to not be the case. As life coach and writer Beth Berry says:

“Motherhood heavily engages some aspects of who we are, while leaving almost no room for the growth of other, equally essential parts. Unless we’re aware of the need to balance this out outside of motherhood (and can manage to find the time and support to pull that off), wholeness and thriving can feel quite elusive.”

She also points out that postpartum care can be disappointing. Women often don’t make enough money to raise kids the way they’d like to and extended family members tend to not be as helpful as you might hope. Moms feel the pressure to fight against aging and the media and marketing are constantly working against mothers. [5]

The statistics are predictably grim. According to TIME:

“A survey of 913 mothers commissioned by TIME and conducted by SurveyMonkey Audience found that half of all new mothers had experienced regret, shame, guilt or anger, mostly due to unexpected complications and lack of support. More than 70% felt pressured to do things a certain way. More than half said a natural birth was extremely or very important, yet 43% wound up needing drugs or an epidural, and 22% had unplanned C-sections. Breastfeeding, too, proved a greater challenge than anticipated. Out of the 20% who planned to breastfeed for at least a year, fewer than half actually did.” [6]

Even though it might seem like the current generation has more freedom than past mothers, many millennial women disagree.  As editor EJ Dickinson says:

“Even in an era when shifts in gender and social norms are the norm, we are still limited by a culture that stubbornly refuses to make space for all of our dreams. No matter how many advanced degrees we earn, no matter how many bad men we replace with supportive and nurturing partners, and no matter how strong and self-sufficient we are, millennial women are still forced to decide between deeply dissatisfying options. Choose motherhood over work, and we lose out on the self-empowerment, personal fulfillment, and financial independence a career affords; choose work over motherhood, and we lose an experience that could give our lives new color and dimension and meaning; try to have both, and we end up embittered and exhausted, operating on half-empty at all times.”[7]

Author Meaghan O’Connell goes so far as to argue that oppression starts with the idea of mothers:

“It was so stark to me, honestly. I was a gender studies major, I was a feminist in high school, I wasn’t one of those people who was thirty-five and hadn’t considered myself a feminist. But I really found myself breastfeeding all the time and thinking, this is why women are oppressed. I figured it out, in this visceral way that was undeniable to me, and an inconvenient reality. You can’t be stuck on a couch feeding your baby around the clock and not thinking about this. I mean, I guess people do. I just remembered this, I was running around the track, my boobs were full of milk, and and I knew I had to be home soon, and I was like, this is it, this is the core of all of it. If women didn’t give birth, we would probably be equal.” [8]

Being a stepmother can bring even more discrimination and discontement. Blogger Jamie Scrimgeour bemoans: “The stigma in our society, the challenge of finding your place in a family that was created before you were even a thought, finding your place with your stepkids, the ex, extended family. The list of challenges is exhausting, especially if you’ve found yourself in a high conflict co-parenting relationship.”[9{

But, there are easy ways motherhood can be improved. According to psychology today:

“Support from friends and family help new mothers deal better with stress, and this has been proven to help mothers see their children in a more positive light. Mother’s who have the help of people they trust feel more self-esteem, confidence as a parent, and struggle less to access information that helps them problem-solve for their bundle of joy.” [10]

It seems as if social support would improve the lives of Cathy Haneur and other writers who’ve spoken out about being angry over motherhood and wifehood not living up to their expectations.

Editor’s note: Each month as part of MOM’s ongoing remote internship initiative, Violet Phillips puts pen to paper to review books from our library. Her most recent submission is detailed here. The editor’s thoughts are as follows: While social support appears to improve women’s feelings about motherhood, COVID has made life especially difficult to navigate. Not just for mothers, but for everyone. Recent articles indicate that the fundamental challenges for women who are mothers remain fundamentally unchanged with or without this setback from the ongoing pandemic. A recent New York Times article, ‘This Is a Primal Scream‘, depicts the frustration of America’s maternal mental health crisis, as does this article by Kimberly Seals Allers in the Washington Post titled ‘Female Rage is All The Rage‘ (2018). Cathi Hanauer and friends have an updated version of this book called The Bitch Is Back: Getting Older, Wiser, and Happier, which is nice to hear– but, this editor, deep in the trenches of motherhood asserts, there is still plenty of work to do! The original Bitch in the House is part of MOM’s library. (Martha Joy Rose, 2021).

Sources

[1] cathihanauer.com online. Accessed April 22, 2021.

[2] cnn. “Why we get mad at our husbands.” Martha brockenbrough and parenting.com 7:47 am est, November 29, 2011. Online. Accessed April 22, 2021.

[3] divorcedmoms.com “9 martial problems only women face.” January 21, 2020. Jolie Warren. Online. Accessed April 22, 2021.

[4] time. “Too often, working mothers do far more of the childcare than their husbands. Here’s how to fix that.” Darcy lockman. May 16, 2019. Online. Accessed April24, 2021.

[5] Beth berry revolution from home. “Why modern-day motherhood feels so fusterati g.” January 16, 2018. Onomatopoeic ne. Acessed April 24, 2021.

[6] time. “Motherhood is hard to get wrong. So why do so many moms feel bad about themselves?” Claire howorth. October 19, 2017. Online. Accessed April 24, 2021.

[7] bustle. “Let’s talk about why so many young women are convinced motherhood is going to suck.” Ej Dickson. March 30, 2018. Online. Accessed April 34, 2021.

[8] electric lit reading into everything. “Meaghan O’Connell thinks motherhood is what keeps women oppressed.” March 29, 2018. Becca s huh. Online. Accessed April 24, 2021.

[9] Jamie scrimgeour. “What makes being a stepmom so damn hard.” November 21, 2091. Jamie scrimgeour. Online. Accessed April 24, 20121.

[10] psychology today. “New moms need social support.” January 13, 2013. Online. Accessed April 24, 2021.

Published by MOM

The Motherhood Foundation Inc. (NY) & the MOM Art Annex (FL) are certified 501c3 designated non profits, connecting Women, Mothers and Families through Music, Art, Activism and Education for Cultural, Economic & Social awareness. By creating, producing and presenting visual, literary, educational, academic, performing arts exhibits that celebrate, nurture and support women with a special emphasis on mothers, and their activities, MFI pays tribute to mothers (Moms). We connect individuals and groups of Moms with opportunities for artistic, academic, and cultural presentations they might not otherwise have; free of age, race and socio-economic barriers. MFI cares about, and acts upon the status of women, mothers and families, while addressing important issues, creating meaningful content, and providing compelling educational and community experiences.

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