A few weeks ago, after attending the Women’s March in LA, I put together a book list of books about Feminism that I wanted to read to provide a stronger educational framework for my understanding of feminism from a historical and intellectual perspective. Caitlin Moran’s hilarious book How To Be A Woman was featured on that list, and when the audiobook became available from my library holds list, I decided to start listening to it during my commutes. I was laughing out loud in my car from the start.
Moran has the gift of bringing a sensitive topic like that of feminism to the masses in a very accessible and down-to-earth way, but for those who are very sophisticated in their feminist views, it may seem simplistic. I think that in How To Be A Woman, Moran wasn’t trying to provide some kind of definitive ideological treatise about feminism, but wanted to share her experience growing up as a woman and a feminist, in a way that I, and I think many other women, will find relatable. Don’t expect statistics and valid historical commentary, but rather humorous anecdotes from Moran’s life that tie into feminist themes.
How To Be A Woman
Published: June 16th 2011
Plot Teaser (from Goodreads)
Though they have the vote and the Pill and haven’t been burned as witches since 1727, life isn’t exactly a stroll down the catwalk for modern women. They are beset by uncertainties and questions: Why are they supposed to get Brazilians? Why do bras hurt? Why the incessant talk about babies? And do men secretly hate them? Caitlin Moran interweaves provocative observations on women’s lives with laugh-out-loud funny scenes from her own, from adolescence to her development as a writer, wife, and mother.
What I Liked
The memoir portions. My favorite parts of the book were definitely those that covered Moran’s teenage years, growing up with 7 siblings, subsisting on snacks of ‘cheese on a stick’ (exactly what it sounds like), dealing with her changing body and with the inevitable heartaches of youth. Be warned that Moran doesn’t pull any punches both when it comes to peppering swearwords into her prose, and when it comes to writing very graphically about bodily functions or sex. You’ll get all the down and dirty details about periods, pubic hair and more, and I think you’ll find all of it hilarious, and at least some of it very relatable. I definitely was a late bloomer like Moran and I was far from popular or ‘cool’ in my teenage years, so I felt a sense of kinship with young Caitlin – and perhaps even more with her nihilistic sister Caz, who deserves her own separate mention for how hilarious she is.
The mostly lighthearted intro to feminism. As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, this is no hardcore, seriously structured, ideological take on feminism. The feminism that Moran centers the book on is relatively basic, tied to everyday aspects of women’s lives in a developed country like bras, weddings and plastic surgery. Chapter titles like “I Don’t Know What To Call My Breasts!” and “I Encounter Some Sexism!” make it pretty clear that Moran is going to address things from a highly tongue-in-cheek place and there is very little legislative or philosophical commentary. I didn’t agree with all of Moran’s viewpoints – for example, she thinks pole-dancing for fun isn’t problematic from a feminist standpoint but then argues that plastic surgery, even if chosen freely by women who undertake it, is always a sign of societal oppression. However, I appreciated that the author did get more serious in certain sections, like when she discusses her own experiences with having children (and abortions), and the effect they’ve had on her life.
The audiobook. Whenever I can find a book that is narrated directly by a British author in its audiobook format, I’m game. Moran has an amazing accent, especially when she’s narrating dialogue between herself and others – I think she calls it a Wolverhampton accent, and it’s perfection. Reading out loud involves a different set of skills from writing, so authors are not always good orators of their own work. Moran is a powerful reader, however, putting the right amount of emotion into her words. Since there are so many personal and even emotional aspects to the book, I felt that it was extra special to hear it narrated directly by the woman involved. If you can get your hands on the audiobook versus the physical book version, I highly recommend it.
What I Didn’t Like
The many British-centric references and limited perspective of the author. As many times as I found myself guffawing at one of Moran’s funnier stories or analogies, I also found myself baffled by the many others times that she mentioned a British TV show, celebrity, food brand or fill-in-the-blank that I had absolutely no idea about. I think the book would have been even more enjoyable had I been able to get all of these to-me obscure British references, but it was clearly written specifically with a British audience in mind. This also ties into the fact that Moran is a white British woman who did come from a poor background but still lived her entire life in a democratic, economically prosperous country. Her perspective is therefore forcibly limited, which is okay because the book is highly personal and I don’t think Moran intended for her story to be a kind of blueprint for what it means to be a woman in a global sense. Just go into it knowing full-well that this is her personal take on feminism, and though I largely related to it, you may or may not.
A funny and engaging book by a self-proclaimed strident feminist about coming of age as a woman in the modern world. A little less feminist manifesto than personal memoir.
About The Author (from her Wikipedia page)
Catherine Elizabeth “Caitlin” Moran (born 5 April 1975) is an English journalist, author, and broadcaster at The Times, where she writes three columns a week: one for the Saturday Magazine, a TV review column, and the satirical Friday column “Celebrity Watch”.
Moran is British Press Awards (BPA) Columnist of the Year for 2010, and both BPA Critic of the Year 2011 and Interviewer of the Year 2011. In 2012, she was named Columnist of the Year by the London Press Club, and Culture Commentator at the Comment Awards in 2013.
Have you read How To Be A Woman? What did you think? Let me know in the comments.
You can also read other recent reviews on the blog including for historical fiction novels The Underground Railroad by Colson Whithead, News Of The World by Paulette Jiles and The Magdalen Girls by V.S. Alexander, memoir Under The Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes, astronomy related titles Hidden Figures by Margot Shetterly and The Glass Universe by Dava Sobel, and medical memoir Working Stiff by Judy Melinek MD and T.J. Mitchell.
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