Review: How to be a Woman, Caitlin Moran

I very nearly didn’t read this book as I’d been kind of dismissing it as another life-guide, but then firstly I realised it was by Caitlin Moran who is hilarious and secondly I discovered that my mother had a spare copy in the box-room.  I am so glad that I did read it, this and Pies and Prejudice are the only two books I’ve ever read which I felt could have been written about me.  I am a feminist.  There, I’ve said it.  This and my Christianity are the two aspects of my life which I most frequently find myself having to defend and even the Christians think the feminism thing is a bit weird.  Having been brought up by a single mother, I kind of always thought that the feminism was an accepted part of being a girl.  If you like being a girl, then you are a feminist.  If you do not … well then get over it or have a sex change because otherwise you’re just going to let us all down.  But this isn’t really the viewpoint of many other people and particularly not of Good Christian Girls.
Good Christian Girls promise to Obey when they get married and accept that men are in charge because they are better.  Even typing that makes me want to tear my hair.  It is a big part of the reason why me dating Christian boys has never gone particularly well.  My first boyfriend told me very patiently that most girls admitted that boys were in fact better, in fact he made it very clear that my inability to see this was one of the things about me that he found troubling.  I had my own issues in the relationship though, for a few months after we broke up, I worried in case there was something wrong with me because I so hated any kind of closeness with him, but then I met second boyfriend who was a boy who really liked girls and I realised that it hadn’t been my problem at all.  So, what about the good guys? 
I have a friend who was recently married and who is actually one of the loveliest boys you could possibly meet.  Still, when I mentioned to this guy in conversation a few years ago that I am a feminist, even he looked politely shocked and that made me sad. Another guy I was once better friends with used feminist as an insult on me during a particularly vicious argument during which he claimed that I was morally and spiritually toxic (I’m not) – although I hesitate to call the latter a Christian since he’d really missed the point of a lot of the teaching and to be fair to him I think he was going through some kind of breakdown at the time.  The point is though that the accepted view of feminism amongst Christians is that is the cause of all of society’s problems, that women are forgetting their rightful place. 
That’s a mini tangent though, because what I’m really wondering is, why has feminism gotten such a bad rep?  All that women are doing is saying that we want to have control over our own bodies, our own choices and we want to be treated with respect in the workplace.  The problem is that feminism has gotten rather bogged down in some of the more ridiculous disputes and many of the bygone trailblazers are getting on a bit and have been letting the side down.  Yes, Germaine Greer, you, Newnham College can have a transsexual professor if it wants and appearing on Celebrity Big Brother was just a silly thing for you to do.  My flatmate from two years ago spent a long while mulling over whether she wanted to be a feminist or not and it wasn’t because of the principles.  Former flatmate is a truly fantastic human being who I feel very fortunate to call my friend and I would even say that she’s closer to the Strident Feminist goal than I am but she just couldn’t bear the word feminist itself.  It is for that reason that Caitlin Moran’s book is absolutely vital.  How to be a Woman is not a patronising account of what to do, as Moran admits herself at the end, it simply gives guidance on avoiding a lot of the bullshit.  And there is a heck of a lot of it. 


How to be a Woman sets out to be a twenty-first century feminist charter with jokes about knickers.  I instantly related.  I always worry that I am a very bad feminist because although I do strongly believe that women do not have to have babies to be successful women, I know that I really want babies myself.  I’m not sure if I would want to work full-time if I were to have children.  I also would take the guy’s name if I were ever to get married because a)I’m not that keen on mine and b)since my mother remarried I’m the only one who has it and I don’t think that’s the point of a family name.  So these guidelines were slightly more handy for everyday use, there’s talk about weight and clothes and all the mundane everyday choices which make us feminists without having to get bogged down in all the bra-burning ridiculousness.  My old flatmate (see above) dragged me to see the Vagina Monologues two years in a row, afterwards she bought a badge which said ‘Smile if you Love Vaginas’.  A gay guy sat in front of us turned around at the end of the show to say, “So ladies, do you just like love your vaginas – if I had one, I’d love it too”.  The Vagina Monologues is trying to fly the flag high for feminism and of course vaginas but it’s quite a lot to take in for the uninitiated.  Caitlin Moran is speaking more for everywoman, not necessarily someone who has had a life-changing vagina experience; we can all relate to How to be a Woman.  Unless we are a guy.  Which would be a bit rubbish. 
Moran goes from periods to hair removal to love to weddings to babies and bravely even tackles abortion which few women own up to.  I am pro-choice … I accidentally got named as one of the best political tweeters of the week after coming down hard against Nadine Dorries on Twitter (I was ranked higher than Caitlin Moran herself but that’s neither here nor there).  I even got translated into Chinese … it was worrying.   It’s just interesting because you rarely get women admitting to having an abortion simply because they did not want a baby.  Is it really so outrageous to want control over your own body?  I really liked what she said about women trying to cheat the aging process though and how this made them look like cowards which was ridiculous because women are anything but cowards and this is very true. 
It has not escaped my attention that this review has been more about me talking about my feminist experience rather than me actually talking about the book.  I think though that this is a good thing because this book encouraged me to engage with what makes me a woman in a way that I don’t generally do.  And it’s good to remember all of the reasons that I am a feminist.  Too often Christian boys think that if they hold the door open for a girl, they’re treating women right and that’s them all sorted but while I don’t get cross when the door is held open for me, it has always irritated me that they think it stops there.  I know that Christian boys struggle a lot with the girl issue because of the no-sex thing but too often the frustration about that is transferred on to girls, as if the girls themselves are a corrupting force.  And that really isn’t fair. And the other ridiculous thing is the whole ‘women shouldn’t lead thing’.  That one makes me want to swear – and I don’t swear.  Sorry boys, not listening.

So a big cheer goes out to Caitlin Moran for an amazing book – it’s witty, it’s clever, it’s current.  Very current, there are so many pop-culture references that I think reading it in ten years’ time would be a different experience.  But what it means to be a woman is different now to what it meant ten years ago, now there is a definite anti-feminist backlash and it is more important than ever that womenfolk remember, it’s REALLY GOOD BEING A GIRL!
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How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
Published by Random House on 2012
Genres: Humor, General, Social Science, Ethnic Studies, African American Studies
Pages: 312
ISBN: 9780091940744

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