Book Review: How to Be a Woman, by Caitlin Moran

Caitlin Moran is not shy about being a woman--and a feminist one at that--though, as she recounts in How to Be a Woman, it has taken her some years to get to that point. Because, she argues, we live in a society of uncomfortable underwear and skinny models and people unwilling to talk about abortions; a world in which men have done everything important for 100,000 years of human history and women are still figuring out how to break into that world; a culture, at least in most of the Western world, in which women are encouraged to participate and contribute, but not without giving up their roles as mothers, housekeepers, wives, and support staff. And really, who has time to be well-dressed and career-minded while still changing diapers and wiping dried food off the counters?

Moran gets at all of this through the lens of her own life as a woman (or as someone trying to figure out how to be one). She does not shy away from any subject: growing up in a poor family; her insecurity in her own body and her struggles to lose weight; her experience in an emotionally abusive relationship with a wanna-be rock star. She even recounts the emotional--and physical--trials of childbearing, from from her first pregnancy and the seeming impossibility of actually birthing a human, to the smooth-sailing birth of her second child, to her decision to abort her third child early in pregnancy. She is candid, honest, and raw--and she is funny. Her stories are humorous, and awesome, and slightly reminiscent of Tina Fey's Bossypants. 

But what really won me over here was the feminist argument--not the menses-eating, bra-burning*, man-hating kind of feminist, but the kind of feminist comfortable speaking out for herself--and her fellow women.
"What I am going to urge to do...is say 'I am a feminist.' For preference, I would like you to stand on a chair and shout, 'I am a feminist!'--but this is simply because I believe everything is more exciting if you stand on a chair to do it.
It really is important that you say these words out loud...Say it. SAY IT! SAY IT NOW! Because if you can't, you're basically bending over, saying, 'Kick my arse and take my vote, please, patriarchy.' 
And do not think you shouldn't be standing on that chair, shouting...if you are a boy. A male feminist is one of the most glorious end-products of evolution."
Feminism is not evil. It is not deadly. And it is not optional:
"When statistics come in saying that only 29 percent of American women would describe themselves as feminist--and only 42 percent of British women--I used to think, What do you think feminism IS, ladis? What part of "liberation for women" is not for you? 
...These days, however, I am much calmer--since I realized that it's technically impossible for a woman to argue against feminism. Without feminism, you wouldn't be allowed to have a debate on a woman's place in society."
The woman of the 21st century, rising up after the second or third or twentieth wave of Feminism-with-a-capital-F has passed, is capable of far more than her historical counterparts; quite frankly, if women in 1912 were to see what life was like in 2012, they'd likely pee themselves (and then they'd have to do more laundry). Lucky for us, as Moran points out, "Whatever we want the future to be like, no one's going to have to die for it."


So what do we want the future to be like? Well, that's up to us, isn't it? How to Be a Woman doesn't have the answer to that question, but it asks the questions we need to start asking to get thinking--and to start doing. It's not a how-to guide, really, but a clever, witty look at what it is to be a woman today--and whether or not that's really what we want it to be. And in a summer full of rape joke discussions, films about abortions, and celebrities encouraging young girls to be comfortable as themselves, it's an incredibly relevant, important thing to start considering. 


How to Be a Woman goes on sale tomorrow -- look for it!


*While not defining strident feminism as the burning of bras, Moran does admit that sometimes, after 18+ hours of wearing a particularly uncomfortable chest-lifting device, burning starts to sound pretty damn enticing. She's not wrong.

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Thoughts from other bookworms:
The New York Times
Charlotte Higgins with The Guardian

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You might also like:
Bossypants by Tina Fey
Let's Pretend this Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

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Note: I received a copy of this title for review from the publisher.
How to Be a Woman | Caitlin Moran | Harper Perennial | Paperback | 320 pages | July 2012 | Buy from an independent near you

12 comments

  1. This sounds really good. Really good. I'll have to add it the TBR list. & those statistics are just sad, btw.

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    1. It's a really well-done book -- I hardly realized how much it had me thinking until I was finished. And you're completely right, those statistics are just depressing.

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  2. This is one of my favourite books ever ever ever. So much so that it requires me to use the word ever in a totally ungrammatical way, but it is HILARIOUS! It's been out in the UK for about a year or so, and I've been throwing it at every woman I know (and a lot of the men) for most of that time. I'm fairly sure my other half is entirely sick of me going on and on about how awesome Caitlin Moran is, but she is so smart and so funny it's impossible not to be a bit in awe...

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    1. Yes! So glad I'm not alone in this. The book has received stunning reviews in the UK so far, from what I've seen (though some surprisingly lackluster bits on Goodreads, which I saw when I went to post my own review there), and I'm so glad it is making the leap over to the US. Moran approaches a really important subject with such style it's impossible not to love.

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  3. This sounds interesting. I like the fact that the author has taken a series subject and written about it in a humorous manner.

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    1. It makes it really approachable, when often "feminism" is seen as a big, scary thing.

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  4. I ran across this one when I was browsing today, and I'm really interested to read it. It's been a good many years since I read women's studies (kinda burned myself out), but this seems like something I'd like to revisit as I'm dealing with issues of family and career myself.

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    1. I'd love recs for other reading if you have any!

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  5. I am so excited for this book. I've heard yay awesome happy things about the book from the UK folks that have had it for awhile so yay that it's coming here and that you enjoyed it

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  6. Wow, this sounds fantastic. Thanks for sharing! I'm going to see if my library has a copy right now.

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