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Jezebels, Loreleis, Bitches, Vixens, and Home-Wreckers

By chowardbc | Books | April 6, 2010 |

By chowardbc | Books | April 6, 2010 |

In the same trip to the library as my last post, I picked up The Other Woman, a breezy-read anthology of 21 essays that explore various sides of non-monogamous relationships from a female perspective. Some of America’s top writers candidly discuss Jezebels, Loreleis, bitches, vixens, and home-wreckers. The essays explore deeply personal experiences, from heart-wrenching anguish to light-hearted humor to full-throttled rage, in order to show that, in the end, neither the mistress nor the wife is entirely responsible or free from blame in the destruction of a relationship.

Every “other woman” is enticingly multi-faceted: mistress, wife, girlfriend, lover, daughter, mother, co-worker, neighbor, escape, confidante. Each essay sheds a glimmer of perceptive, and often sensible, recognition of the complexity of love and devotion.

Pam Houston’s essay “Not Istanbul” illuminates how destructive obsession with an affair

ooze[s] into every nook and cranny of your cerebrum, until you won’t be able to think of anything else. And if you let her take up residence there, no matter when you cut her off, no matter how hard you try to starve her, you may never, ever, get her out. (p.1)

While I understand the old adage that concentrating on the other woman only gives her undue power, Houston’s take on the idea of obsessing over a man’s affair was particularly poignant. You see, she points out, a woman never sees herself as the other woman. Even if the man we are interested in has been in a long-distance relationship for years with another woman. That woman is the other woman.

There is still no point in the conversation when it comes anywhere near your consciousness that, technically speaking, the Other Woman is you. (p. 10)

That line smacked me in the face. It’s true. We are so self-involved, wanting what we want, that other women are villainously in our way, rather than realizing that our actions are hurting someone else.

While Houston has experience as the Other Woman, Connie May Fowler’s unleashes a no-holds-barred diatribe against women who have affairs with married men in “The Uterine Blues: Why Some Women Can’t Stop Fucking Over Their Sisters.” She berates the married man:

If he has kids — and maybe even if he doesn’t — he most likely wines, dines, and pampers her more often than he spoils his legit woman. After all, he has a full-blown life, complete with ups and down, joys and sorrows, with the woman who washes his shorts. (pp. 123-124)

And while she hates TOW (her term for “the other woman”),

the bitch, the liar, the cheat, the no-good-keep-me-awake-and-crying-all-night-cuntress, (pp. 125-126)

Fowler has some sympathy.

And she is tragic. Yes, despite her abundance, her sheer numbers, her self-evident place in society, she is invisible, anonymous: the freakin’ unknown dishonorable soldier of the heart. (p. 124)
And do we, as women, really have such low self-esteem that we’re willing to screw over our fellow sisters and put out on the basis of a lie delivered on the wings of a smile? Why are we so willing to believe him when he says he is going to leave his wife? The stats are in: Even if he does leave her, he’s not likely to end up with TOW because, once the marriage is over, TOW is no longer a fantasy (sex without ties); she’s a home wrecker. (p. 134)

Fowler calls on women to quit fucking around and victimizing themselves, to have some self-respect and quit letting men enjoy the spoils of our insecurities. She’s badass. And a pretty great writer to boot.

Some of the other essays include:

  • “Palm Springs” by Mary Jo Eustace — recognizing herself as an aging mother and losing her actor husband to a young starlet

  • “Iowa Was Never Like This” by Jane Smiley — complex polyamorous (and poly-not-so-amorous) relationships and attempts to splice needs into little sections to be met by various people

  • “The Mistress” by Dani Shapiro — a heart-breaking story of a young woman living for years as an isolated mistress for a wealthy older man only to discover that everything he told her about his family and his marriage is a lie

  • “Cassandra” by Caroline Leavitt — how the betrayal of a friend keeping a husband’s affair a secret can be more heart-breaking and damaging than the affair itself; while romantic relationships may wax and wane, women expect their friendships to weather all turmoil

  • “Sheba” by Sherry Glaser — walking away from a one-sided lesbian relationship into the arms of a soul-mate

  • “The Man With the Big Hands” by Maxinne Rhea Leighton — surviving sexual abuse as a child only to be involved in emotionally destructive relationships as an adult

    This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. For more of chowardbc’s reviews, check out the blog, Pool of Books.