Reviews|||

How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

27th Jul 2011

How_to_be_a_Woman_Caitlin_Moran

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.

Want to see for yourself? Published last month by Ebury, you can buy it in paperback for £6.83, or for Kindle for £4.78.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended for: Everyone with a passing interest in feminism and/or humour.

Other recommended reading: I Don’t Care About Your Band by Julie Klausner, Bossypants by Tina Fey and Germaine Greer‘s The Female Eunuch.

This was a guest review by Kim Townend. For more from Kim, have a look here, or follow her on Twitter. Want to write a guest review for us? Send us an email if so!

Comments

  • Jane Bradley says:

    Thanks so much for the review, Kim! Seems much more balanced and objective than others I’ve read. I’ve been following the furore around this with obsessive interest and am looking forward to reading it (but with the For Books’ Sake review copies piling up, that’s looking like it’ll be a while – hence me being even more fascinated to find out what other people think of it!).

    You totally nailed it by saying that feminism is such a loaded subject that it’ll always evoke extreme reactions – and it’s such a personal one too. I found it so problematic and infuriating listening to Caitlin Moran and Lauren Laverne talking about how ‘modern feminism is dead’ on BBC 6 – to me it seemed so ignorant of such essential communities like UK Feminista, The Girls Are, the Guerilla Girls and The Fawcett Society (to name but a few!).

    But based on this the book is more personal memoir than commentary or analysis, so maybe my irritation was misplaced!

  • Jenny Campbell says:

    I thought the book was very feminism lite and glossed over things Caitlin really could have given us real insight into. After all during RiotGrrl she was a teen female tv presenter and well involved in the music industry. She must have come across sexism in her career etc etc

  • Boomskilpaadjie says:

    Ummed and aaahed about picking this book up to take with me on holiday. So long, in fact, that the shop assistants in duty free started taking turns to casually walk past to make sure I wasn’t “misappropriating” any of their products.

    In the end, I left it on the shelf but after reading your review, I may very well give it another shot. Thanks!

  • Tara says:

    I had mixed feelings about the book as well though Caitlin Moran is very funny (I LOL-ed at the childbirth chapter)

  • Alex Herod says:

    Thanks so much for the review Kim! I’ve been avoiding this book – had a gut feeling that it would annoy the hell out of me. But like you said, so much of the debate around is based on reviews and pre-emptive opinions, so the only thing for me to do is pick up the damn thing and see what the fuss is about!

  • Alex says:

    I think Caitlin Moran has done a great job. She’s a popular culture journalist with a huge audience and here she is discussing abortion, marriage, puberty and general womanhood with immense honesty. Most importantly she’s discussing feminism in the context of her life, forming common ground that her readers can relate to.

    Jane, I know you said you were annoyed by the ‘modern feminism is dead’ discussion you heard Moran involved in, but for those not involved in feminist communities there is an element of truth to the phrase. I can’t be the only one to be constantly surrounded by ignorance on feminism: friends who roll their eyes at any comment on female objectification in an advertisement, overhearing ‘I’m not a feminist, but…’ or female friends who depend on men for a feeling of self worth and don’t see the problem with this. If anything there’s a lot of apathy amongst women (and men) I know. I don’t think the book is a seminal feminist text, or claims to be one, but it does an excellent job of bringing feminism into discussion and normalising it for those who see it as ‘the F word’.

  • Cariad Martin says:

    I’m so glad we’re discussing this book. I had a perfect week break in between review copies to read this, and I barely put it down in that time. The blunt tone made me laugh out loud dozens of times. I actually lent this to my mum as soon as I was finished with it, because I think its the first (loosely) feminist book that I felt would genuinely relate to her life. When Moran started calling bikini waxes ‘fanny tax’ I wanted to ring every woman I knew and yell “Yeah, why ARE we doing this?”

    I know a lot of women have been annoyed about her ‘feminism is dead’ stance, and I think if you’re involved in the feminist community, particularly online, this does seem bloody ignorant. But I can totally understand where Moran is coming from, I grew up in a small town and I didn’t even know feminism was out there for me until I was 20 and in London, at university.

    I think if there were more books like this getting the message to people who are ‘out’ of the feminist movement, the community itself would be a lot stronger. I think it’s a great example of modern strident feminism, showing the weakness of the angry, man-hating feminist stereotype.

    I’ve heard a lot of feminist arguing that although a lot of her points are valid, she fails to acknowledge any other women past or present that have raised the same points. This, I can definitely agree with, with the exception of Germaine Greer.

    I could talk about this book all day!

    • Jane Bradley says:

      Cariad, I totally agree with you and Alex how that can seem to be the case – although I’ve identified as a feminist for as long as I can remember, it’s only in the past year or so that I’ve come across many of these communities that I now see as being so invaluable to the movement. But my beef in this case is that either she knows more than she’s letting on (as with the riot grrrl example Jenny mentioned above), or hasn’t done her homework – either way, Caitlin is so influential, with enough well-connected friends, family and colleagues, that to me it isn’t accurate for her to be reflecting the same view of the feminist movement as the ‘small town’ perspective you mentioned.

  • Ann Morgan says:

    Thanks for the review. Agree with Jane Bradley that the book feels a bit light on substance. Moran says in the acknowledgments that she wrote it in a ‘five-month blur’ and it shows.

    Included it on my list of books in my project to read only women writers this year (http://ayearofreadingwomen.wordpress.com/ – any recommendations much appreciated.

    Btw, does anyone else find the cursor really sticky in these comment boxes?

  • Thom Cuell says:

    I think this book has been a bit mis-sold by its publisher. If it was presented as a straight-up memoir, I think she’d get a lot more credit for the points she makes, but when they start throwing Germaine Greer references around, it makes the whole thing seem a bit ‘first world problems’. It’s a great read, nonetheless.

    My own review: http://workshyfop.blogspot.com/2011/08/cailtin-moran-how-to-be-woman.html

  • Joanne says:

    I read this on holiday and it made me laugh out loud so many times my husband started getting sick and wanting to know what I was laughing at. I had to just pass him the book and point at passages if I had read it out loud the granny on the next sun lounger might well have had a heart attack. Thoroughly recommended to any woman who just wants to live life sensibly and not have to take a stand on every little thing just to be taken seriously by men.
    love it!
    p.s my husband also thought it was hilarious, took a while sometime to get it back.