Daniel Jones The Bastard on the Couch Reviewed by Serena Trowbridge

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Bastard on the Couch

Daniel Jones

Harper Collins

US Hardback

ISBN: 0-06-056534-9

Publication Date: April 24, 2004

Pages: 292 ; Price: $24.95

Date Reviewed: 8th August 2004

Reviewed by: Serena Trowbridge © 2004




Of course there's an element of comeback in this book. Cathi Hanauer's 'The Bitch in the House' looked at the struggle between many elements, which is so many women's lives, in a manner not unlike confessional magazine articles. Daniel Jones's book is broadly similar in content and style, but much more unusual, since to hear women bemoaning their lot has become quite everyday, while for men to open up about what's wrong with their lives is, to say the least, somewhat rare. And more power to these men for it: perhaps more men should take the plunge and discuss openly their take on modern masculinity.

Or maybe not. No doubt 'The Bitch in the House', with some harsh pronouncements on men, was hard for men to read and digest, and I found parts of this book equally tough. To my mind - and this is a personal and quite biased view - this was sometimes about men who struggle with marriage and parenthood because they seem reluctant to shoulder the responsibilities, both financial and especially domestic, which accompany it. However, there were many men here who also wanted to preserve a modern equality in marriage in a workable format, and their solutions (and failures) make fascinating reading. After all, I am a dyed-in-the-wool feminist, and have read so much about the state of women's lives that this book was a much-needed challenge to me. I am the woman who gets angry about unwashed pans and unmade beds; I am also the woman who is so concerned with not becoming a sheltered wife or a domestic goddess that I don't do the little things which contribute a lot to loving relationships. In the words of one of the contributors, maybe we should just fold one another's laundry.

There is commentary here on open relationships, affairs, children, domestic matters and so on. However it is particularly interesting to see the genuine fear which so many men seem to have of fatherhood - no matter how much they love their children and partner - because they feel inadequate next to the apparent natural proficiency of their wives. And I'm sure it won't come as a surprise to women that most men want more sex. However there are things there that I didn't really want to know - and that I don't want to know if my partner agrees with - but that's the point; the truth is often painful and sometimes the only way forward is just to deal with it.

The contrast between the two books is remarkable, and I am inclined to say that you shouldn't read one without the other, since a balanced picture is important. What women want is to have more time to pursue dual roles as careerists and family women. What men want, it seems, is to do fewer domestic chores (and many men in this book do a lot of them) and to be left alone - unless they want sex. In fact I was left with a feeling of role reversal: while many of the men cling to concepts of traditional masculinity, their concerns are less about the stereotypical issues of power and ambition and more about relationships (and for that I and most other women think well of them). The women in The Bitch are forging ahead in their careers, perhaps distancing themselves from their family and partners at the same time, and are concerned with power dynamics in relationships rather than love. Surely relationships weren't meant to be this tough? But they are, and these books offer some useful insights not available anywhere else. They also spark interesting conversations that might just help some ailing relationships. And it is important to remember that gender roles are still in a state of flux. Men and women are still coming to terms with this, having had an eclectic assortment of role models from their parents, and this book is just a step along the way to the balanced and happy domestic life that these men are genuinely seeking.