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Bitching
by Marion Meade

Category: General Nonfiction
Description: In the early 1970s, the national conversation regarding feminism was very different. Public discussions of womanhood--single life, marriage, workplace harassment, rights, gripes--were often channeled through movement spokeswomen and always refracted through the lens of talking to men about men. Little was shared about the chats happening behind closed doors where everyday women talked to women without the threat of men listening in. But, all that changed with the book BITCHING. Originally published in 1973, BITCHING is journalist and author Marion Meade's deep and insightful investigation into the real dialogue happening inside coffee klatches, consciousness-raising groups, and therapist's sessions. Using excerpts from real taped conversations, Meade presents the frustration, anger, resigned acceptance, and scathing humor that make up the female experience from birth to grave. For the first time, male chauvinist behavior goes fully examined and unexcused, and the roles men force upon women get broken down to their sometimes ridiculous component parts. A snapshot into a key time in the feminist movement, this book is a must-read for anyone interested in how far we've come ? or how much we've stayed the same.
eBook Publisher: E-Reads/E-Reads, 1973
eBookwise Release Date: August 2011

eBookeBook

Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [329 KB]
Words: 70288
Reading time: 200-281 min.


1973


Her Heart Belongs to Daddy

* * * *

Let's face it. The war between the sexes is rigged in man's favor from the very beginning. The scenario for Round One is brief:

A little girl studies family power politics, sizes up Mommy and Daddy, and draws two conclusions:

* * * *

1. Mommy is a mess.

2. Daddy is a prince.

Moral: Hop on the winning team fast.

However, there's no reason for men to feel cocky. Little girls may not want to grow up like Mother but it's equally apparent that Daddy, while a prince, is also a sap. Because even though Mommy kneels in tribute to Our Father Who Art at the Office, behind his back she's subtly (or, as the case may be, not so subtly) giving him the honorable old middle finger. A girl feels justified in doing likewise, and so, with the realization that Daddy is ripe for a royal screwing, she embarks on a lifetime career of exploiting the old man in one way or another. Disillusioning, but there it is.

Think of this chapter as an opening chorus of rude and disrespectful sounds.

* * * *

1. PLAYPEN GAMES

The Fine Art of Faking Out Father. The first human being a girl meets when she enters this world is a man: the obstetrician. As if she already understands that Baby, It's a Man's World, she greets this advance man from the male establishment with an appropriately symbolic gesture. She pees on him. So far, so good.

The second man she encounters is Daddy; that is, if he hasn't been detained, bonding with his cronies in a bar or passing out cigars. There are two important facts about Daddy that she will eventually discover: 1. He's disappointed because she should have been a boy. (Mother, too, may have wanted a son.) 2. He usually manages to overcome his gloom when reminded that, even though daughters may be second best, there are some compensations. His newly revised attitude toward the inferior specimen is best summed up in a greeting card which announces: CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR BABY DAUGHTER and reassuringly points out:

* * * *

Little girls are wonderful--

They're sweet and precious, too

And who should know that bette

Than a happy pair like you!

In case this message isn't consolation enough, the card manufacturer helpfully reminds Daddy what he can expect from a female child. The poem:

* * * *

WHAT IS A GIRL?

She's a bundle of sweetness and brightness and fun

The beauty of springtime, the warmth of the su

She's Innocence covered with mud, sand, and soot

She's Motherhood dragging a doll by the foot

She's a composite picture of giggles and tears

Of tantrums, excitement, amusement and fears

A bundle of mischief and often a tease

A creature of moods not too easy to please

Who can capture your heart with her pixie-like grin

Or chatter and beg till your patience wears thin

But obedient, naughty, mischievous or coy

She's Mom's little Darling and Dad's pride and joy.

Of course, just like a woman: sweet, innocent, tearful, fearful, a tease, a creature of moods, coy, and wouldn't you know it, a chatterbox. Lulled into accepting this quaint, if wildly inaccurate image of his daughter, Daddy makes the mistake of treating her like a Little Darling. He will never know the true her, any more than he knows the real feelings of his wife. Score one for our side.

The tone of her relationship with Daddy virtually set for life, Little Darling can confidently proceed to manipulate him at will, unless one day she makes the deadly error of letting on what she really thinks of him. Nancy, a twenty-year-old college student and her father's favorite child, appraises Daddy:

Until about two years ago I felt my father was the most horrible person I'd known in my whole fucking life. I really hated him and I still have a lot of resentment and anger.

About two years ago she left home. Since then, she has tried to limit their reunions to occasions when she needs money.

If painting women as hypocrites and deceivers of men from the moment of birth seems too black a portrait, it's simply a case of necessity being the mother of invention. To some degree at least, all women are forced to dissemble if they expect to coexist with men by meeting the man-made ground rules for female behavior. The more successfully Little Darling fakes out Father, the better she'll get along later on in a man's world. Her only other option is to turn around and climb back into a woman's world, Mama's womb.

* * * *

Family Fascism. Armed with the knowledge that Daddy can be used, a girl learns her first lesson in female behavior when she observes the power struggle between Mother and Daddy. One of the revelations apparent from her ringside seat is that conjugal conflict is a fact of life. Hostilities may not always be waged out in the open, but trench warfare goes on continually.

For reasons still obscure to her, one parent hands down commandments as if he were a local representative for the Almighty. (Wait until she hears about the real thing, that celebrated all-male triumvirate, The Father, The Son, and The Holy Ghost.) Daddy's list of Thou Shalts mainly concerns his status. It is his right to be Dominant, In Charge, Boss, and Head of Household--a precarious authority he nervously struggles to attain and then maintain by means of elementary fascism. Nancy remembers her father's nightly homecomings:

* * * *

We'd be sitting there, talking and having a good time. When we'd hear the garage door open, which meant he was home, everybody would tense up and change what we had been saying. We'd ask each other, "Is he in a good mood or a bad mood?" Always, always there was this kind of dread. If he was angry, my mother would tell us, "Well, something happened at the office today and he's just taking it out on us."

We had such sensors. Determining his moods and whims became a science.

Whether or not Daddy is the only parent to provide Our Daily Bread, he still feels entitled to control. The crude propaganda he passes out is meant to reassure his family, but mainly himself, that domination is his due. He's bigger and stronger than Mother, isn't he? And smarter? Doesn't he drive the car? Pay the bills? All of which conveniently overlooks the unpleasant truth that his only claim to power rests on biological accident: He owns a penis. If he didn't, he'd be in the same position as Mommy, skimming the Monkey Ward catalogue and marveling at the latest toilet bowl cleaner.

The politics of the family, despite its lack of logic, doesn't take long to decipher. Daddy may act like a megalomaniac, but the real issue here is his unavailability. He simply is not part of a girl's daily existence. In her world the key person is Mother, who is available. For all Daddy's soliloquies about how hard he works, the office or store or wherever else he disappears to doesn't exist. She only sees that Mother, hustling between the stove and the A & P, holds the short end of the stick.

As for the agitprop she hears about males being smarter, this peculiar line of reasoning may confuse her for years to come. On the one hand, she can see that boys, despite their ordinary human abilities, seem to be treated as special people. On the other, this is a preposterous idea which she can refute by observing her brother or the boy next door. A mini-view of the sexes from Laurie, four, describing the boys in her nursery school class:

* * * *

YUCK! Boys are stupid.

Well, I like boys sometimes. I like Charlie because he gives me gum. Once he gave me nine pieces of bubble gum. But girls are nicer.

While Daddy appears to possess extraordinary power, especially compared to Mother who usually behaves like a nitwit when he's home, his self-appointed title of Provider, Protector, and All-Round Responsibility-Taker is meaningless because, obviously, it's Mother who runs the house and takes care of her. Before long, she also stumbles across the ancient unwritten female code which says: Don't let him know who's the real boss. In the name of household peace, Mother keeps her trap shut and manages to yassuh her way from one wash day to the next by playing the wife's Number One game, Conspiracy. A girl recognizes that Mother's game-playing is far from irrelevant to the family plot. It is the plot. That she immediately acknowledges the seriousness of the game is apparent: She doesn't blow the whistle on Mama.

Meanwhile, television helps to convince her that Mother's conspiratorial games are hardly original; they are universal. To a child trying to check out the true relations between the sexes, the most educational program isn't "Sesame Street." More accurate information can be found on "The Flintstones" where those consummate castrators, Wilma and Betty, sweetly outsmart their Neanderthal child-husbands. Admittedly, Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble, strutting and blustering in the best machismo style, somewhat exaggerate Daddy's behavior. But the undermining tactics demonstrated by their wives are instantly recognizable as Mother's daily biography. When Laurie was three, she was amazed to learn that Fred Flintstone wasn't Pebbles' brother. Her critical comments a year later:

* * * *

When I grow up, I want to be just like Wilma and Betty. They have so much fun.

One reason "The Flintstones" delights a small girl is that Wilma and Betty have won the family power struggle. For them, Conspiracy is a lark.

A more sophisticated version of Conspiracy is available on "I Love Lucy." Plotting and executing the games is a full-time occupation for Lucy and Ethel who happen to be pros. The reruns of "I Love Lucy" add up to nothing less than a how-to documentary on the basic principles of sexual politics.

Manipulation is the only way to cope with a husband. If a girl needs further corroboration, there is always Grandma. True, the old woman may be reaching the age where she's getting careless about the finer points of sportswomanship. After thirty or forty years, the games pall and she may inadvertently slip into honesty. But when Grandma chooses to play, her form is exemplary, her style brilliant.

From all the women she observes, Little Darling learns and stockpiles both their secret attitudes toward men and their devious practices. She is inspired.

* * * *

Sieg Heil, Daddy. Everyone remembers that wretch, Peter the Pumpkin Eater, who couldn't support his wife and locked her in a pumpkin shell. The nursery rhyme doesn't mention any children, probably because they had the good sense to leave home at the earliest opportunity.

For all those years Daddy spends polishing his impersonation of a superior being, he might save himself the trouble. Four portraits of Daddy from grown-up daughters who remember him as:

JACK THE RIPPER - Jo's father, an accomplished sadist, emigrated from Europe to become a successful American businessman.

* * * *

My mother claims that when I was a little girl, he used to take me to the bakery every Sunday and shower me with food. He must have beaten me then but I don't remember. The earliest beatings I actually recall came later, when I was eight, because then I started asking my mother how she'd met my father and why she married him. All she said was, "He was handsome." I gather he looked like a young Robert Taylor.

I can't remember the worst beating, there were so many. Any time I'd cry, he'd hit me. I learned never to show tears in front of him. Once when he hit me across the breasts, my mother literally flipped out. I went into the bathroom to look at the black welts and I was really terrified. That night he slipped a twenty-dollar bill under my door.

He'd aim at the weirdest places--my breasts, my crotch, across my face. Always on the front. When he beat me, he called me bitch, whore--wait a minute, some of the words are hard to translate from------to English--,cocktease. Later he'd apologize.

The thing was, he'd pick fights and I really never knew what I'd done wrong.

THE STRANGER FROM ANOTHER PLANET - Although Bonnie's father isn't exactly Superman, he does remain an unknown quantity.

* * * *

I don't know him. From what I do know, I don't think he's the kind of man I would want for a father. I've often met men and thought, "Gee, I wish my father was like that." I have no respect for him.

Perhaps the reason I don't know him as a person is that I can't talk to him. No matter what I say, he gets very defensive because he's scared to death. Oh, he's quick to give me an answer, to prove how smart he is. But something has gone wrong in his head.

I have very deep discussions with my mother--I know her.

THE TIN WOODMAN - Mary Beth sees her father as a man without feelings.

* * * *

What drove me crazy was that I could never actually talk to him. Recently we were at Lincoln Center and during the intermission he's talking about how much this product costs to make and how so-and-so will gross a million this year. I looked at him and said, "I don't give a shit. Tell me what's in your heart, what you're feeling."

He stared at me, astounded because I'd never dared speak to him like that before. "I'm not feeling anything," he answered. It was true. At that moment I realized he's never felt anything. At least he's never said anything personal to me.

I went to a shrink once who told me, "If you can't make it with your father, you'll never make it with any man." Oh my gawd....

JUST AN OLD-FASHIONED MISOGYNIST - Nancy's father left no doubts about his feelings.

* * * *

My father gave me my middle name--Isabel--in honor of his mother who, to this day, I know he hates. Sometimes he says, "You're just like my mother. All the same. Bitches."

* * * *

I Remember Mama. According to Freud, girls enter an Oedipal stage around the age of three when they regard mothers as poison and clearly favor their fathers. Within a few years, however, they prefer their mothers again. Presumably Freud devoted a modest amount of thought to this phenomenon. While his observations are correct as far as age goes, his insights are good for a laugh. As with all men theorizing about women, Freud wound up faking it. He had no idea why three-year-old girls behave as they do, a situation he might have remedied by staying home and changing a few diapers.

By the time a girl reaches "the Oedipal period," long before in most cases, she's had a chance to log in several years of mother-watching. Alternately impressed with Mother's breathtaking methods of wielding power and horrified by her self-abasing charades, a child reacts with a predictable backlash. If a three-year-old girl were able, she'd run away from home. As it is, she runs to the only other protector she knows, Daddy, who usually proves a snap to manage on those infrequent occasions when she sees him. That, however, is precisely the trouble: She doesn't know him intimately because he's hardly ever home. Thus her "Oedipal period" lasts just as long as it takes her to discover what Daddy is really like. Curbing her agitation and making the best of a rotten situation, she eventually turns back to Mother who, grotesque as she appears, is at least human. At four, Georgina visualized life without Mother:

* * * *

That was when I first discovered the idea of death. I remember thinking that if either of my parents were to die, I hope it would be my father because I'd hate to be left alone with him. The thought which scared me was, "Who will protect me from him?"

From the moment a woman bears her first child, gears click irreversibly in her head. Although she may continue to give a creditable imitation of her former self, never again will she be the same person. With the placenta goes freedom. Psychological as the burden of children may be at times, she carries it even after they grow up and leave her. In the process, she emerges as damaged goods. However much she loves her children, no matter how completely she accepts motherhood, she's no longer herself. Instead, she sees a stranger who screeches drill squad orders. "Put on your shoes!" "Eat the soup while it's hot!" "Don't kick Jessica!"

If a woman is lucky, eventually she may learn to enjoy the daily litany of orders. At last, and probably for the only time in her life, she's in a position of real authority. Why not make the most of it? The woman who adapts in this manner is the one most distraught when her children leave, not because she's necessarily a devoted mother, but simply because her legitimate power trip is over.

To her daughters, she rarely resembles Mother Goose and she's certainly not the fairy godmother. She's the witch.

No girl wants to be like Mother. Bonnie knew it, and she also realized something else. Motherhood can drive a woman crazy:

* * * *

When you're a young girl, you identify with your mother and I was always scared I'd be like her.

Recently I told her about a man I was dating and I mentioned he was brilliant but he didn't satisfy me sexually. What I really was saying was, "I'm not like you."

My mother stopped having sex with my father many years ago. When I was a teen-ager, she told me all about her sex life, which really fucked me up because I had problems of my own then. Her story was that my father didn't satisfy her because his penis wasn't long enough. If she'd had any brains, she would know that size has nothing to do with it.

She wanted to be a little girl again. One way was to cut out sex with my father. When I was very young, she had a couple of nervous breakdowns because she couldn't assume the responsibility of children. Every once in a while, she'd get away from it all by having a breakdown. I remember her being away, off at------Hospital or some other country club. Of course, she was sick and very depressed. But when I got older, I resented it. I was left home with my brother and sister to do the cooking and cleaning and all that crap.

Mary Beth also thinks of her mother as a child, in this case an alcoholic child:

* * * *

Everybody in the family put her down. My father first, the children followed. She didn't complain because he gave her everything she wanted. This was his way of pacifying her so that he could be left alone. When I was a child, he was remote as a father and I'm sure just as inaccessible as a husband. Often he went away on trips but even when he was home, he would be somewhere else. In the bedroom, in the den, not available.

Last Thanksgiving I went to his room and said, "You know, your wife"--I deliberately said wife--"is a drunk." He refuses to recognize her alcohol problem. He assumes her life is over. She drinks and eats and never leaves the house. She's fat, unhappy, and impossible to live with. And that's a happy marriage.

As the first child in the family, she was extremely jealous of her children. No wonder it's taken me a hundred years of analysis to straighten out my life.

A girl's dual attitude about her mother perches on the tip of her tongue. Penny, three, expressed it in one breath, three sentences:

* * * *

I love my mommy. She's my best friend. She's a dumb bunny.

For a woman's daughter, the dumb bunny image is never totally eradicated (she puts up with Daddy, doesn't she?) but it may fade as she increases her understanding of what it means to be female. Like Jo, she may feel compassion:

* * * *

As far back as I can remember, I wanted her to divorce him. Their marriage must have soured very quickly because I can't recall a peaceful moment in their relationship. There was continual yelling and fighting. While she acted hard and stoic, she constantly talked back to him and told him where to go. They never slept in the same bed and, later on, not even in the same room.

He was always trying to impress her with the fact that she'd married an important man, a captain of industry. He came to this country to become a millionaire and build an empire. Naturally he wanted sons. After their first child, a son, she wanted to quit. He wanted more sons. To this day my mother says she never wanted to have me and my two sisters. I strongly suspect that her last three pregnancies were the results of rape.

In the end, the message is clear enough: Mother is a girl's best friend, if only because she's the source of knowledge which truly counts. Take Sandy's mother and her "ultimate threat":

* * * *

All sorts of games went on in my family and I learned them all from Mother. She taught me that you don't ask your father any questions when he comes home, not until he eats. Especially if you want something, wait until after dinner or he'll be in a terrible mood. That's what she did. She knew exactly how to get around him; her ultimate threat was not to fuck him which, she said, was his biggest fear.

Mother's ultimate threat, although impractical for a child, is nevertheless good to know about. Little Darling will look into it later.


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