Reason dictates that a book claiming to want to "help women" probably shouldn't attack them in the title. And yet a self-help book titled Bitch, Are You Retarded? exists. When we first came across it, we were merely annoyed; women of the world were in extreme danger of rolling their eyes more than Alex McCord at a tankini-wearing Courtney Stodden. Code red.
Then the author, Carlos Lee, emailed Jezebel. He wanted an opportunity to explain himself. Well then.
Carlos was eager to get in touch; he emailed twice and made himself very available for interviews. Points to him, because not many people would've reacted that way after reading the comments on Jezebel's coverage of his work. We set up a time to talk over the phone; he was gracious, punctual, and friendly. He was an exceedingly good sport about me rescheduling the interview twice, and was eager to dive in and get down to business. I can't help myself, but I like him. I wrote some pretty unflattering things about him, and he's still game to talk openly. Hell, he even laughed his way through a speed word association round (more on that later). That's pretty brave, or possibly hubristic, but regardless, remarkably, he seemed like the kind of person who'd be fun to have a beer with. But.
He started off by telling me a little about his past. Lee grew up in southern California, a little chubster who spent his time playing with G.I. Joes and looking up to his suave older brother. The self-proclaimed former player said he first learned his dog/playa ways when he blossomed into an attractive young man. He said the women came to him, and he enjoyed the attention. However, at some point, he got tired of the "cheap orgasms and empty feelings." He wanted something more. (I believe that's called maturity?) After falling for a woman at work, Carlos Lee grew up and delighted in the wonders of mutually caring relationships. Seeing himself as a man of many talents, he decided to put what he learned into a book.
Unfortunately, he didn't see the big problem with naming his self-published book Bitch, Are You Retarded? Why the need to use the words "bitch" and "retarded" in the title? Carlos had a story about that.
"Imagine you're lost in the woods, and you're with your best friend," he said. "And you start to panic and freak out a little bit and you get real hysterical, what does she do to get your attention?" he asks. "She slaps you in the face really hard. Not because she's trying to hurt you, but because she's trying to get your attention. It's a psychological, mental slap in the face," he explained.
Lee said his fiancée's endorsement of his word choice was approval enough. He was spitballing ideas with her one day — Walk Away: the Real Reasons Men are Dogs, Liars, Cheaters, and Assholes was one she passed on. But then he said the magical words: "Bitch, are you retarded?" Her eyes lit up and she exclaimed, "That's the one!"
Lee told me he surveyed over 125 women about the book's title, and 90 percent of them agreed with his fiancée. Shrugging his shoulders, he had a winner. Of course, that was an informal survey — nothing we can verify — so we're gonna have to take Lee's word for it.
Sep 19, 2012 Tracy marked it as do-not-read
Sep 18, 2012 Lyn (The Heartless) marked it as no
Sep 18, 2012 Skyla (Happy Go Lucky and Lost in Books) marked it as burn-it-burn-it-now
Sep 18, 2012 Nenia Campbell marked it as do-not-read-the-trolls
Sep 02, 2012 books are ok, I guess marked it as to-read
It has one review on Goodreads; it's a single star and the reader is succinct: "Just awful. Can we stop vanity publishing every quasi-literate please?" And the "Most Helpful" review on Amazon (with 36 out of 41 likes) is titled "WORST RELATIONSHIP ADVICE BOOK."
Lee explained that the title is just an expression, and he doesn't think any man should call a woman a bitch. "Can the title of my book be seen as offensive?" he asked rhetorically before answering his own question. "Absolutely. But the reality is, how many women in America are called derogatory names and allow men to physically abuse them, but keep coming back for more?" He adds, "I tell women all the time, you're not a bitch, you're not a ho, but [you] can be an emotional victim."
Waiting for a man to validate you is like getting into an elevator by yourself and hoping someone else will walk in and push a button of the number of the floor you want to go to — you're letting someone else decide how high you want to go. Do you want to go down to the basement where it's dark and cold, or do you want to go up to the penthouse where you'll have a nice rose petals that's leading to a nice bubble bath waiting for you.
Okay…but what about "retarded"?
"As far as the word 'retarded' goes, if you're talking about people who are obviously mentally challenged, then yes, it's offensive and insensitive," he said, a "but" clearly coming. "But that's not what I'm saying. I've met a lot of sharp women who let men wipe their feet all over them. I tell women all the time, you're better than that, and you deserve better than that."
So the women without intellectual disabilities are the "retarded" ones? Carlos was clearly unaware that he had it backwards, kind of: It's insensitive and offensive no matter what the context, but if you absolutely must try to half-assedly justify using the word (and you really can't), it would be regarding individuals who are intellectually disabled (or "mentally challenged," as Carlos put it), as the technical diagnosis — independent, alas, of the word's connotation — is "mentally retarded." (But even that is changing, at least when it comes to the law.)
Lee saw the problems with the language (even if he didn't exactly understand why it's problematic), but that doesn't override his desire for the book to sell well. Which, according to Lee, it is. At the time of this writing it is ranked #804,530 on Amazon in books, so do with that what you will.
I asked him why it's the woman's responsibility to make sure she's not dating a jerk. Wouldn't his time be better spent teaching men not to be jerks in the first place? "These books do exist, and I'm actually taking notes for that kind of book," he explained. "But the reality is, more women talk about books. Men don't talk about this with their man friends."
When questioned about the book he's "taking notes" on, he hinted that it'll be more along the lines of "how to treat your women better, how to make love to her better, how to be more courteous to her, etc." That's all fine, but why not a book calling men out on their shit and telling them not to treat women like garbage?
"Because we're guys, we're immature, we're dumbasses, we're egotistical, we're all of the above."
Okay, he said it — but why not work towards improving that situation? Why not publish material that, rather than accepts the status quo, works to help men change? Lee insists change has to come from within a man. That's true, yes, but it's also exactly the same for women.
So why do "bitches" get the "retarded" dressing-down book, but not men? The main reason Lee focuses on women is because, according to Lee, women buy books and provocative titles sell. The man has a point here; I probably wouldn't be here interviewing him if he'd written a book called, On Not Yelling at Women on the Street: How to be Worthy of the Air You Breathe. (Actually, maybe I would. Can someone write that, please? And then make it into a TV show and movie?)
I had to ask Lee about his other book, Baby Car Car: A Disturbing Story of Demonic Torment and Possession, a supposedly true story about Lee and his mother dealing with demon rapists, which sounds beyond horrifying. Unfortunately, Lee wasn't game. "I can't go into that right now," because he "might be doing something with it." Perhaps we'll see Baby Carlos in a movie theater one day? Check your local listings.
We concluded our interview with a speed round of word association.
Me: Hillary Clinton
Lee: No, that's fine.
Me: Joey Buttafuco
Lee: Amy Fisher
Me: Protein powder
Lee: Vitamin shake
Me: Eleanor Roosevelt
Lee: The Beatles. No, wait that is the other one. Presidential. [Ed.: This is fair, Eleanor Rigby is a catchy song.]
Me: Tucker Max
Lee: I don't know what that is.
Me: Baby pandas
Lee: Koala bears
Me: Demonic possession
Me: Steve Harvey
Fucked-up book title aside, Lee comes off as a polite person and a good sport, ready to peacefully debate the issues surrounding his book — but he's a classic mansplainer. He does seem genuinely interested in helping women and feels the price of alienating some women by calling them retarded bitches is, well, the price you pay. However, the issue remains: this idea that women "need help," particularly from someone relying on sexist, offensive language.
Maybe, by some stroke of weird ass-backwards luck, Bitch, Are You Retarded? really will guide some women out of shitty relationships. That'd be great. Fundamentally, however, Lee sees men and women as two very different creatures in romantic relationships: women are the victims and men are douchebag players and/or abusers. That power structure is far from a truthful, nuanced take on partner dynamics, and it makes me doubt the book will be all that helpful to most adults.
And sadly, despite his best protestations, I can't divorce the desire to help from the idea that in order to get a woman's attention you have to call her horrible names. As if we wouldn't listen otherwise?