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How To Be a (certain type of) Woman
How To Be a Woman - Caitlin Moran
Member Name: collingwood21
How To Be a Woman - Caitlin Moran
Advantages: Laugh out loud funny in places; Tackles many issues that don't often get written about;
Disadvantages: A bit too much celebrity and drugs for my liking
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
Summary: Caitlin Moran's version of The Female Eunuch, rewritten from a barstool