A Sixty-second Interview with Cathi Hanauer
by Patricia Gomes
This past September, my daughter Jillian came to me with a wonderful! (her word, not mine) plan. A book discussion-slash-signing
would be held at the Rotch-Jones-Duff House and we simply had to be there! Once more — her enthusiasm, not mine. But her enthusiasm was contagious and I
The guest speaker was Cathi Hanauer, editor and compiler of The Bitch in the House: 26 women tell the truth about sex, solitude, work, motherhood,
and marriage. Catchy title, no? I gasped when I saw it, How dare she steal my moniker!
My curiosity was officially piqued; I did indeed have to go. If nothing else I'd get a rough idea of how many Bitches
live in my city.
Borrowing my daughter's copy, I read through twenty-six stories of anger, pride, selfishness, selflessness, grief and great
joy. I read of self-doubt, self-loathing — and self-worth.
The women who share their lives, emotions, and options with us are all professional writers; they range in age from twenty-four
to sixty-six and they have much to tell.
Chitra Divakaruni's Houseguest Hell: My Home is not your Home (my personal favorite) reveals her frustrations
of coping with the annual, and seemingly endless, visit from her family. They come to San Francisco from India. And she, a
work-from-home journalist, is at their beck and call twenty-four hours a day for weeks at a time. Oh, the horror — as
anyone with far-flung relatives can attest.
The very last tale in the book vividly illustrates a defining choice — Pam Houston's The Perfect Equality of Our
Separate Chosen Paths — Becoming a Mother. Or Not. In it, Ms. Houston eloquently explains how and why, she, at thirty-nine
years of age and single, decided to adopt a child.
I won't give it away.
Borrow, buy, or the steal the book and find out for yourself. I've made it easy for you; click the link and get thee to
The works here are empowering, but (and this is a huge but) while I could empathize with the writers on an emotional
level, the choices they made were based on their opportunities.
And those opportunities are not the norm.
Not in this neck of the woods. I don't know one woman who could have chosen Stay-at-home Mom over Career Gal. Hell,
I know very few Career Gals — most of us have jobs — plain ol' jobs. I can't think of a solitary woman who got
to traipse over Europe for a year while putting off her Ivy League education.
By the time I closed the covers on The Bitch in The House, my curiosity was stirred: what kind of women would
be at the book discussion? Where would they hail from — certainly not my neighborhood! Would I see anyone I knew,
anyone I grew up with?
Could I blend in . . . or would I stick out, imposter that I am, and be asked to leave? Gasp! You're not one of us —
you do not possess an MFA!
The anti-Prep in me couldn't wait to attend!
Come that warm, star-filled, September night, all my questions were quickly answered. I knew no one there except my daughter.
Thankfully, I am on a nodding acquaintance with the host of the event, Laura LaTour, the ever-accommodating and eternally
affable Events Coordinator for Baker Books, one of the sponsors of the discussion. It was a relief to see a familiar face to which I had not given birth.
Did I blend in? Probably not — my outfit was less costly and my jewelry less period, but neither was I shunned.
Then, Ms. Hanauer took the podium. I was instantly mesmerized.
She is no bigger than a dust mite, but oh my, can she roar! She opened with a reading from the book's intro, stopped to
entertain us with an engaging tale of aggravation from her own home about getting her husband to help with a mountainous pile
of undone laundry so she could continue to edit and meet her rapidly approaching deadline.
"You're not finished! You have to fold them and put them away, too!"
"You're kidding, right?" The poor darling saw no reason why each person, children included, couldn't just pull each item
as needed from the laundry baskets.
Ms. Hanauer had us laughing and nodding our heads in sisterhood.
She read selected excerpts from several stories, works relatable to a general audience. Next came the question and answer
period. There was no lag time; a variety of topics relating to the book were covered. Ms. Hanauer was concise, her responses
intelligent and informed.
Then, from the back of the drawing room, came a comment I would have voiced myself had I brought along the verifiable statistics.
"Ms. Hanauer, you do realize that 70% of the female population in this country don't have the choices this select group
of women did due to less fortunate economic circumstances beyond their control?" (Forgive me, readers — that quote is
not verbatim; I take notes in longhand and my fingers aren't as swifty as they used to be.)
This was my bone of contention.
I did not know that I had choices. I thought the cape and super powers came with the gold band. Nobody told me I could
have stayed home with the kids instead of working eight-hour shifts. Hell, no one bothered to tell me that I could keep my
own last name; I thought the "law" dictated I take his. My examples came from what I saw and what I saw was my mother and
my aunts who went off to work every morning. Five days a week, fifty weeks a year. We worked. We came home and worked some
more. That second income wasn't a choice — it was (and still is) a necessity.
Cathi Hanauer is a powerhouse. She did not falter; she didn't so much as flinch. Yes, she is aware that this group
of women is a privileged group. It was discussed with the publishers and this was the agreed-upon choice. With an assertive
half-smile, she hinted that there just might be another book — one that would include (and satisfy) that unheard seventy
per cent of which I am a card-carrying member. I applauded as loudly as decorum allowed.
I stood behind my daughter as she blushingly waited in line to have her copy of The Bitch in The House autographed.
When Ms. Hanauer graciously handed the signed book back to her, I pounced. Holding out my hand, I introduced myself as a roving
correspondent for Lil's Experimental Ezine. She shook it amiably enough, so I seized the moment and asked this truly
amazing woman for a quote — something brief, something useful: advice for novice writers.
"Oh, simple," she responded with a wave of her hand. "Show it to people. Whatever you're working on — let people
read it. Don't let it sit in a drawer or on a shelf collecting dust — get your work out into the world so everyone can
read it! Submit, submit, submit!"
And there you have it; I could not possibly have said it any better. It's in your hands now — the rest is
up to you.
The Bitch in The House © 2002 by Cathi Hanauer
HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022
Patricia Gomes is the Roving Correspondent of All Things Weird and Eclectic for Lil's Experimental Ezine. She is a free-lance
writer busily tapping her keyboard on the south coast of Massachusetts.