27th Jul 2011
How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
TV presenter, journalist and thinking girls’ woman of choice Caitlin Moran recently released her “memoir” (which always sounds so final), How To Be A Woman.
The book chronicles her life from her very early teens , through the Melody Maker years up to the well adjusted present day. It’s laid out in easy-to-read chapters, each along a particular theme and life period, which makes it super easy to pick up and put down as the mood takes you.
On its release, it divided the feminist camp firmly down the middle. A lot of talk about the book seemed to be based purely on reviews, not on actually reading it. It rocketed to the top place on the Amazon UK store, and is currently being advertised alongside pastel coloured swirly typefaced covers as a “great holiday read.”
All of this back-story creates more context than I’d like, before we even address the sticky issue that is 21st Century Feminism – but as the hyperbole picked up speed I felt the way I was reading the book change.
Things that would just have irked me slightly previously, like her liberally conservative attitude towards porn (I don’t think she’s looked hard enough) became huge bugbears and almost felt like ammunition to snipe at her without guilt. But then, she herself says that it’s okay to bitch and moan about other girls and not be judged for it.
One of the things that I really loved about this text was the honesty, regardless of how painful it must’ve been to write. Reliving hellish childhood experiences, awful relationships, torturous childbirths and the sadness of abortion can’t be easy in a private forum, but putting it out there without the guise of fiction as cover? Hats off to her, not only for her bravery, but also for her ability cast some humour when much needed.
Moran very rarely argues just one side of the story, indeed there are separate chapters dedicated to both the pros and cons of marriage and childbirth. To this effect, I sometimes felt that the book should be entitled, How To Be An Awesome Person Regardless of Gender, but it probably wouldn’t have sold as well.
All of this being said, there were some glaringly obvious omissions in her writing. She barely mentions Riot Grrrl , which is odd considering the era she was working for Melody Maker, and more importantly the genre’s influence on late 20th century feminism.
She’s a little black and white about ladies fashion, citing mens boots or stilettos as the options, although I’d have to agree with her when it comes to her views on plastic surgery and the inexplicable fascination many women seem to have with designer handbags.
This was a tricky review to write. Any topic as loaded as feminism tends to get people riled, and my feelings about this book are still all over the place. Parts of it I loved, parts of it I hated. But on the whole I found it to be an easy read, and funny throughout, even if I didn’t always agree with all of what was being said.
All in all, a great, laugh out loud, memoir.
Recommended for: Everyone with a passing interest in feminism and/or humour.