6 December 2011

Review 52: How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

“1913 – Suffragette throws herself under the King’s horse. 1969 – Feminists storm Miss World. Now – Caitlin Moran rewrites “The Female Eunuch” from a bar stool and demands to knoww why pants are getting smaller. There’s never been a better time to be a woman: we have the vote and the Pill, and we haven’t been burnt as witches since 1727. However, a few nagging questions do remain... Why are we supposed to get Brazilians? Should you get Botox? Do men secretly hate us? What should you call your vagina? Why does your bra hurt? And why does everyone ask you when you’re going to have a baby? Part memoir, part rant, Caitlin Moran answers these questions and more – following her from her terrible 13th birthday through adolescence, the workplace, strip-clubs, love, fat, abortion, Topshop, motherhood and beyond.”

I found this an empowering, very funny and very true look at what it is like to be a woman today.  Whilst I didn’t agree with all of her opinions, that didn’t lesson my enjoyment of the book and I would highly recommend it to be read by all women, and indeed all men, for a look at the face of what to me is real feminism advocating less self-loathing and more self-control in terms of women having control over our own bodies, jobs and lives.

The book is loosely an autobiography as the structure for it follows Moran from 13 up until the present but events in her life as used as hanging points for her to splinter off and discuss various issues. I can’t say I really related to her teenage years, or in fact, much of her life, but depsite this there are various things that are just universal about being a woman which I think all women would recognise in themselves. I would nearly feel safe saying I would guarantee there is something in here that will resonate with any female reader even if you detest the rest of the book. I didn’t always agree with where she was coming from but I certainly agreed with her basic standpoint and a book of this nature is unlikely to find a reader that is 100% every viewpoint as she throws out so many on so many varied subjects.

I am always suprised by how many women do not identify as feminists, and indeed this is one of the main points that Moran makes. Feminism is about agreeing with equal rights at its core – beyond this there are multitudes of  ways in which women idenify with this and ways that they choose to react to this but in this country, in this era, why are women still saying that they don’t support this? As Moran points out – which part of not being treated as property owned by men, being able to have jobs and vote as well as children sits badly with women? The other key point of the books is the way that Moran weighs up whether something is sexist or not: does the same apply to the boys? I did find it sobering to be reminded how far the patriarchy is entrenched despite the progress that has been made. She also emphasises the importance of personal choice – I have read some reviews that criticise her for contradicting herself at various points. I wouldn’t say that she does this but her distinctions are personal choices. For example she believes that strip clubs are demeaning and sexist but taking a pole dancing class is not – many people will not agree with this distinction but that is her take on it and the whole book is never pretending to be anything other than one woman’s take on feminism and so it didn’t really bother me.

There are the odd lines that just really rang true to me and I'm sure these would be different to each reader. I particularly enjoyed when she was talking about clothes. So often women are derided for saying 'I have nothing to wear' but Moran points out that what we mean is, 'There's nothing here for who I am supposed to be today' which is so true.

Moran covers everything from the more trivial such as the size of knickers to abortion. I must say I found her descriptions of both giving birth and having an abortion horrifying and thoroughly put me off both experiences – not her intention on either count but those with weak stomachs or emotional experiences with these might want to watch out as they are covered in Moran’s typically light hearted and earthy style. In fact one of my only criticisms of the book was that something I found her flippancy a little too much – some of the jokes or comparison went a little too far for me. I personally found comparing the reaction of a boy to a bra to the Vietnamese girl in the photograph running screaming from the napalm attack too much.

I think the vast majority of women would find something to enjoy in here even if the whole book was a a bit too much as the her style of writing is very full on with constant bantery jokes and asides and can be exhausting at times. I will be recommending it to all of my best friends and it has reminded me that I shouldn’t be quietly admitting to being a feminist but that it should really be a matter of course these days.

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