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How To Be a Woman - Caitlin Moran
Member Name: venice105
How To Be a Woman - Caitlin Moran
Date: 05/12/12, updated on 07/03/13 (43 review reads)
Advantages: Easy, sometimes amusing read with a few eye openers
Disadvantages: Too much aimless babble, trite declarations and weird fixation on Lady Gaga
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.
Summary: A chaotic,disorganised but sometimes funny rant on the art of being female