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First of all - I have no idea why the dooyoo picture for this book is Hello Kitty! That's not right!
The problem with being a prolific reader is that everybody want to lend you a book. My colleague recently lent me this so I felt obliged to read and return it to her, putting off reading books I have picked myself and languish in the to-read pile.
I hadn't heard of Moran before, but she is apparently a writer, journalist, blogger and presenter. Whilst the title of this book may lead you to believe it's an exploration of femininity and being a woman, it is half an autobiography of Moran and half 'what Moran thinks about stuff'.
Subject matter in this book is generally controversial - masturbation, pubic hair, porn, sex. Not for the easily offended! There is also a chapter on abortion which is fairly graphic and may be a trigger to some people, depending on individual experiences.
Moran is a funny writer, and not afraid to say what she thinks or to talk about controversial subjects and break away from traditional notions of what it is to 'be a woman'. She deconstructs traditional gender roles and ideas and gives her own spin on things, most of which are well thought out and executed on the page. She doesn't appear to take anything too seriously and is very easy to relate to. Whilst I probably would have found the autobiographical part more interesting if I'd known who she was, it did help to set the context of where she came from. Moran wants you to know that she is one of us. She grew up in an overcrowded house with little money to spare and now lives a fairly normal life with her husband and two children.
Overall, I enjoyed this book as it was interesting and thought provoking read. However sometimes I felt that Moran was trying to be controversial for the sake of it, and going too far. There is not much mystery with Moran - she tells you every tiny detail of her life. And yet she criticises Katie Price for doing the same! I did find the book somewhat bitchy at times, and I couldn't understand the mindless adoration of Lady Gaga. I found it an interesting read, I listened to Moran's opinions and liked a lot of them, but I didn't mindlessly agree with them all. I came out of this book liking Moran, and I will certainly keep an eye out in future for her articles.
Caitlin Moran is one of my all-time favourite writers, and I try to never miss a column of hers in 'The Times'. One of the things she does best is her feminist writings; explaining why feminism is still relevant in this age of supposed equality, and what we should be doing about it - and that includes both men and women. I was therefore delighted to see that she had published 'How to be a Woman', a book that is part autobiography, part discussion of what feminism means today.
Caitlin Moran grew up as part of a six-child, poor family in Wolverhampton. She was overweight, unattractive, and had no friends except her German shepherd, Saffron. She tells the story of her life from her thirteenth birthday onwards, going through all the important stages in a woman's life; her first period, growing breasts, learning how to masturbate, getting married, and having children. She describes how she dealt with all this, while telling her own personal story at the same time. How she went from being that lonely child who had stones thrown at her, through her drug-fuelled teenage years, to becoming a writer for NME and mixing with the stars, to finally her current position with 'The Times'. But this is much more than just the story of Caitlin Moran's life. It is also interspersed with her feminist observations, on topics as wide-ranging as Brazilian waxes, the porn and sex industry, and abortions. She rails against the objectification of women, and dreams of a world in which we can all just get along; not as men or women, but just the guys.
I loved this book, partly because my opinions are so similar to those of Caitlin Moran's. I most definitely want to do as she advises and stand on a chair shouting 'I am an ardent feminist'. I also think she has the most fascinating backstory. It's truly a tale of rags to riches, showing how it is possible to emerge from a family with very little going for it, and become one of Britain's most popular writers, simply through talent, hard work, and a bit of luck. I am aware, however, that she has very strong opinions on very controversial topics, such as abortion, and that not everybody will readily take to these. Her style of writing is funny, but it's not laugh-out-loud funny. At most it gets a wry chuckle for the zany, and very unique, way in which Caitlin views the world. One of my favourite things about it is the way she goes through some of her less rational thought processes, and I end up thinking, yes, that applies to me too! An example would be fantasising about imaginary scenarios which end badly, then getting irritated at people in real life for what you imagined them doing. I'm sure this isn't something every woman does, but now I know there are at least two of us out there, I feel a lot better about it!
Overall, I loved this book, but then I love Caitlin. I am aware that her opinions and sense of her humour will not appeal to everybody, but for ardent feminists like her, this book is perfect.
I went into this book with a mixture of high expectations and simultaneous trepidation, A friend of mine had so raved about this book, and her adoration for the author from her teen years reading her zines and music writing, that I was quite excited to read it. Then I saw Ms. Moran, never having heard or read anything by her before,on a Sunday breakfast program. Now, I like a spunky comedienne as much as the next gal, I had envisioned Ms.Moran as a kind of British Janeane Garofalo, an acerbicly dry, funny gal who delivered political zingers with aplomb.
Ms. Moran, at least on this particular program, came off more to me like an overgrown schoolgirl, talking non-stop, making rapid fire, mostly unfunny (to me) jokes, self -referencing and pop culture rattling constantly in a well, bizarre way. She was a manic, ott kooky presence to watch and it put me off her book a bit. Then I was at the airport and the books were buy one get one half price, so I figured what the hey. There must be something to this British journalist if she's so notorious and best selling after all.
It opens promisingly, once I got past staring at Ms.Moran's bold, look at my face cover. It's an interesting face, and I cannot help but compare my similiarly aged one and wonder if I would have the guts to make such a close up, un-airbrushed (but lovely) photo front and center of a book. She earns kudos for this, I think.
Anyway, Ms. -she is a Mrs. but not sure which she's called?- Moran writes amusingly and endearingly of growing up in a large Catholic family and the deprivations and humiliations this entailed. Particularly good are the sections describing adolescent embarassments like the horror of the first period, and in Moran's case a particularly holistic Mother who wouldn't let her take painkillers. The trials and travails of being an overweight, clever teenager are well expressed, as are the first pangs of love,lust, etc.
Moran's writing is peppered with amusing anecdotes, but also slightly too often rather cumbersome, unfunny jokes. A couple that were particularly cringeworthy involved the young girl covered in Napalm in the famous Vietnam photo, and cancer patients. Hmm. Which just stood out as a bit weird in amongst all the pro-feminist rants. A bit teenager trying too hard to shock, which seems to be a default setting when Moran is trying to soften/deflect her more important statements.
I thought this was a shame as there are several passages where she writes impressively about the state of the female nation as it were. She seems oddly compelled to press the schlock button every so often to stop people thinking she is being terribly serious/boring or something, I don't quite understand it. Well, I do, but for me it undermined her writing quite distractingly.
I also got the feeling she purposefully dumbed down her message on several occasions, which again had a diluting effect. She says Germaine Greer had a strong impression on her as a youth, but doesn't really expand much. Yet she rhapsodises about Lady Gaga in a frankly embarassing and over-complimentary fashion, dismissing Madonna as being a "26 year old donut seller" when Lady Gaga had conquered the world by her age. This did bemuse me a bit.
When addressing pop stars as feminist icons, it would seem slightly unfair to favour the privately educated, rich Manhattanite Gaga over the Detroit raised,blue collar, orphaned by her mother Madonna, who pulled herself up from arriving in New York with pennies in her pocket and little else in the 80's era of real crime and disadvantage. She dismisses Madonna for using her sexuality too much, purporting Gaga's heavily gay/young outcast (self proclaimed) fan base to be somehow socially more important. Never minding that Madonna came up in gay clubs back when being gay really did make you an outcast. Or that Gaga stole half of her song ideas. It just irked me a bit, but then again Moran did hang out with Gaga in a nightclub and was assured in a drunken lovefest that her risque image is not remotely about sex, of course. So what do I know.
On other points I did agree with her, although again she feels compelled to nudge and wink Carry On-style throughout, which was most detrimental in the section on sexual harassment at work. As a young female music journalist in the 80's Moran was a rarity. Her own experience of old fashioned, Mad Men- style sexism (her boss once pulled her onto his lap and made a lewd remark in front of a room full of people), does not seem terribly relevant nowadays I have to say. While she found it easy to make a cheeky remark undercutting the fellow in front of their peers, putting an end to the matter there and then, her subsequent advice to other women to do the same seems fairly unsophisticated and naive to anyone who has experienced the more subversive elements of office sexism and/or harassment.
It's not all fluff though. The passages on childbirth were pretty grippingly and gorily told I have to say. Moran's first childbirth was to put it mildly, nightmarish. She does not shy away from cringeworthy, but well described accounts of the experience. Which is refreshing, and she herself addresses the bizarre conspiracy of the sisterhood to play down how absolutely awful it can be. This is slightly undercut by the ease of her second childbirth, which she largely prescribes to experience, not fighting it, and thus it all happens much more easily. Which flies in the face of medicine in many cases, and I did find a bit perplexingly simplistic.
Her take on love is basically, don't waste too much time on the douchey hot musicians in life, but marry the nice guy you don't pay attention to at first. Actually she does very amusingly portray the young love section of her life, the lies told to oneself to justify staying with a slacker creep, etc. might be helpful for younger women who have yet to learn this lesson.
Perhaps the most controversial chapter of the book is to do with Moran's opinion of and experience of abortion. It was, if I'm honest, my favourite, because it is the one subject where she doesn't counterbalance or soften what she is trying to say with banal fluff. She is unapologetic and unsentimental on the subject, and calls b.s. on the societal need for women to mourn/self flagellate the anniversary of their abortions. She speaks of a young Irish woman in the clinic because she cannot get one at home and it does reinforce the still present fight that women are battling on this front. She does not sugar coat the experience in the slightest, so it was a very fascinating thing to read, honest and a little sad but refreshing to see her reject the culture of blame that still pervades the topic. If only she could have shown such restraint and thoughtfulness in the rest of the book I think I would have gotten on with it much better.
I also enjoyed her take on ageing and plastic surgery. It was mature and non-judgemental, but still funny. It was written more from an aesthetic, rather than completely personal point of view though. Moran kind of flits between the two, she can't quite settle, resulting in a somewhat cacophonous narrative voice.
Her concluding chapter was a bit of a wash for me, I can't honestly remember much about it. This book often reads like the frantic, chatty emails of a friend. Moran is a talented and highly readable writer so I don't want to poo poo it entirely. There are several bright and bouncy passages that are funny and relatable to most modern women and hopefully men alike. I think maybe she was trying too hard to appeal to all ages, and while a young reader might indeed enjoy this, I don't know that she would truly learn How To Be a Woman.
I think there is enough good stuff in here to merit a read, and yet I would hesitate to dive back in to wade through all of the rest of it. The editorial process seems to have gone a bit awry. Well, they probably want this book to read like an off the cuff, magazine style rant. It all wants to be terribly modern and zeitgeisty I think. It does achieve this, and I do think this kind of book is important and I am pleased it has done well. I just wish it didn't spend so much time apologising for being "feminist". Unfortunately, to me anyway, this weakens its overall impact.
p.s. Dear doyoo - the product pic is the wrong one, not sure why as the book is correctly listed with the photo elsewhere on site.
This book by Caitlin Moran is a 'part memoir, part rant' about basically all things to do with being a woman, growing up, relationships, clothes etc. I bought the book as I felt like a change from reading novels and it promised to not only entertain but amuse me.
Whilst I have found the book to be amusing I haven't found it laugh out loud funny and I wouldn't necessarily agree with some of the reviews such as the Evening Standard who suggest it is the 'funniest book of the year' etc.
However, I have found it an entertaining read and some parts are just genius! Caitlin describes her own childhood and struggle through puberty, starting her periods, dealing with having boobs and worrying about her weight. She then moves onto issues she has encountered as an adult such as getting married and having children (reasons to have them and reasons not to have them!) and abortion.
I enjoyed the fact that she has very strong views on many things and isn't afraid to share them. Her account of abortion is unapologetic, unashamed and makes some very good points. As an avid feminist her views on feminism and sexism also make some very good points, including the fact that as a woman of course you are a feminist (unless you really believe that men should have more rights than us!)!
I also enjoyed the fact that instead of just ranting about things she uses her own experiences to illustrate a point and explains why she has particular views. Some parts of the book are just amusing accounts of disasterous moments in her life and others are more serious topics, but Caitlin manages to deliver the entire book in an entertaining and thought provoking manner.
Outline - How To Be A Woman is a new title from TV critic, columnist and broadcaster Caitlin (pronounced Catlin) Moran. Released in June 2011 it has fast become a best seller and features on the 'top 20' best selling books in most high street book stores. Caitlin cleverly takes us on a journey of her lifelong discovery of 'How To Be A Woman' starting from age 13 and ending with her outlook on her latter years to come. Whilst exploring the highs and lows of her self discovery and self awareness and graphically looking at common issues nearly all women face such as furry bits, bleeding and the ups and downs of childbirth, Caitlin outlines her perspective on today's woman in light of years of feminist waves.
Positives - The book is superb in many ways. Not only does it confidently approach a great deal of issues previously avoided, such as 'what to call your vagina' it also outspokenly but very aptly demolishes the over-the-top political correctness that can often be applied to feminism and women in general. ('Having a (female) cleaner is nothing to do with feminism'). The book will make you laugh, make you nod in approval and make you want to stand on a soap box and shout at the top of your voice 'I AM A FEMINIST'.
Caitlin is brutally honest and open in her approach, sharing both intimate details about her life to illustrate her point and bold, much-needed yet refreshing opinions about twenty-first century feminism. Whilst I am no expert on feminism and do not scour the bookshelves reading every book I can, to my knowledge there has not been a book like this for quite some time. And the ones that do exist can often be so wishy washy, that they never really have any impact on society's potentially inaccurate and still dreadfully stereotypical knowledge of 'women'. I love this book for the very reason that Moran does not pussy-foot around the issue, discussing various approaches to feminism; she boldly states it how it is, not how it should be once society has added a lot of PC, and minused the sexism and stereotyes. Her bold statements such as 'the purpose of feminism isn't to make a particular type of woman' and 'what is feminism? Simply the belief that women should be as free as men' are dynamic, impacting are a breath of fresh air in an other wise stale and outdated era.
Negatives - A book definitely not for the faint hearted! In as much as Caitlin is bold, brave and outspoken in a good way, she is also a bit to over the top at times. Whilst this is good for the most part as it portrays her points well, I do feel that these same points could be made without the brutality, crudeness and cringeworthy detail which most women would be ashamed to admit. Maybe this is part of the book's success, however it does limit it's audience; definitely not a Christmas present for your mum! In addition, there are definite parts which should be in a book entitled 'How Not To Be A Woman' - the drug taking, the neglect of antinatal classes and the promotion of going out on the pull. A matter of opinion, but this did ruin the book for me a bit.
Conclusion - Overall, whilst the book took a while to get into and a while to get into the swing of Caitlin's style of writing I loved this book, particularly the postscript which was a fantastic summary and evaluation of feminism and what women should be - 'just human'! It laughs in the face of years of dedication to such a movement and reveals its essence in the simple phrase - that women are not arguing for a 'take over from men... just our share'.
How To Be A Woman is a must read for any modern, feisty woman who is bored of traditional feminism and wants someone with the 'ladyballs' to say something. A definite no no for your Gran however!
How To Be a Woman may seem an oddly titled book for a 33 year old woman to be reading - surely with 33 years of practice I must have figured it out by now? Yet despite this ample experience, being a woman is something I feel I'm a bit rubbish at. I only own one dress (the one I got married in, never to be worn again). I only own one pair of heels that I can't walk in (putting me apparently way below average on this count). I never wear, and never have worn, make-up (not even on my wedding day - I drew the line at having to wear a frock). I don't have a handbag, either (why would I need one when I have a perfectly serviceable rucksack and pockets in my clothes?). And the biggest failing of all - I don't want babies.
While it seems quite straightforward to be a man (they even come with a Haynes manual these days), being a woman seems to be more complicated and involve a lot more faffing around. So, who better to explain it all to us than Caitlin Moran, someone with abundant experience of (a) being a woman, and (b) writing about it in a funny, engaging manner that makes you feel that you would instantly be best friends if you ever happened to meet her.
How To Be a Woman is described as being part rant, part memoir, and part The Female Eunuch rewritten "from a barstool". Yes, that's right: a lot of How To Be a Woman is about FEMINISM. Before a lot of you flee before the very mention of this word, let me say that Moran is far from being one of those scary, aggressive men-hating feminists - instead she adopts her husband's rather charming definition of the term: "everyone just being polite to each other" and women not having to put up with a load of nonsense that men don't have to worry about. Backed up with rich examples from her own very colourful life, this is a sharp feminist manifesto written to appeal to a generation who might shy away from calling themselves feminists (only 29% of American woman and 42% of British women would currently apply the term to themselves, she notes). But why are so few of us proud to say we are feminist? "What do you think feminism IS, ladies?" she asks, "What part of 'liberation for women' is not for you? Is it the freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? The campaign for equal pay? 'Vogue' by Madonna? Jeans? Did that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES? Or were you just DRUNK AT THE TIME OF THE SURVEY?" And don't just think that this is a book solely for women, either - men can be feminists too (although my Other Half did admit you get funny looks as a bloke reading a book with this title in public).
Starting from a frankly awful 13th birthday (13 stone, provided with a "birthday baguette" instead of a cake, and so unpopular the local boys threw gravel when she walked past) and bringing us up the present day, How To Be a Woman takes us on a tour of feminist issues using both key points and anecdotes from Moran's own life to structure the work. So, as well as being treated to laugh-out-loud discussions about hair removal, designer handbags, the joy of bras and the worst wedding ever, we also read about more serious subjects - devastatingly honest accounts of starting her periods, miscarriage, a ghastly three day labour and an abortion. If you are a regular reader of her Times column, you will probably be quite familiar with a lot of these topics already, but here they are brought together into one very satisfying whole; it will have huge appeal to those who are already fans of her writing, and will no doubt convert many who previously weren't.
My favourite thing about How To Be a Woman, though, has to be two shorter chapters near the end - one entitled "why you should have children" and the other "why you shouldn't have children". As someone who likes children but has absolutely no desire of have any of my own, I read the first with interest, and the second with a resounding "woohoo!" at the end of it; finally, I had found someone who could express what I have always felt in this regard with such wit and eloquence as I could never muster. I want to give that chapter to my in-laws for Christmas, wrapped up in paper made from further copies of that chapter. I want to give it to everyone who has ever asked when (note: never "if") I intend to have children. I want to give Caitlin a big hug for writing something that spoke to me so deeply.
This book was hugely enjoyable and covers so many important issues for women that so rarely get discussed. But I hesitate in calling this a "must read". Some people may be put off by the explicitness of some of the writing - I don't mean her impassioned argument that women should always have the right to safe abortions after explicitly discussing her own experiences in having one, but more the frequently x-rated language and the lengthy discussions over what to call her breasts. Likewise, while Caitlin is witty, smart and very funny there are also times when the SHOUTY LANGUAGE and tone used make her hark back to the gobby teen she once was (the unnecessarily long "I met Lady GaGa and we got on really well" bit was a bit exasperating for someone with little interest in "slebs").
It is also important to remember that this book is only How To Be a (certain type) of Woman - Caitlin's personal experience are far from what most of us would consider common or garden. Home schooled, she published a novel at 15, started working as a professional journalist at 16 and has written in one capacity or other for The Times since she was 17. There are also incidents where drug use is made to look cool and breezily normal, which made me suck in air in the manner of a mechanic about to announce a very expensive bill. I'm not keen on these bits, and do worry that they may put off people wanting to give this book to teens, which is a great shame - I know the teenage me would have got a lot from it.
But these niggles aside, it is hard not to dislike her final, simple argument. There should be more women doing more things rather than simply "being", living unseen and unheard on the sidelines. We live in a time of unprecedented opportunity for many women, but there is still a long way to go for feminism to realise full equality. When I saw Moran talking about her book in Cheltenham recently, she commented that feminism will only have achieved true parity for women when the winner of the best actress Oscar goes up to collect her gong dressed in comfortable shoes. Until we reach that point, how about we worry and self-criticise a bit less and enjoy ourselves a bit more - and reading this book seems as good a place as any to start doing just that.
== Book Details ==
How To Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
Ebury Press, 2011
Pbk, 309pp, RRP £11.99
A new way of looking at feminism from one of our funniest writers.