Title: How to be a Woman
Author: Caitlin Moran
Rating: 3.5/10 (What this means)
Publication: 2011 (I’m a little behind the times on this one)
Recommendation: Eh. No, not really, but maybe if you’re quite young or like to read books with shocking vulgarity.
My Reading Method: Paperback (Ordered from Amazon for $9.27)
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 the riot of adolescence to her development as a writer, wife, and mother. With rapier wit, Moran slices right to the truth—whether it’s about the workplace, strip clubs, love, fat, abortion, popular entertainment, or children—to jump-start a new conversation about feminism. With humor, insight, and verve, How To Be a Woman lays bare the reasons female rights and empowerment are essential issues not only for women today but also for society itself.
***WARNING-MY REVIEWS OFTEN CONTAIN SPOILERS! READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!!***
You know, I always put that warning in there for two reasons:
- in case I ruin something for you that you don’t want ruined (obviously). I simply do not want the guilt.
- to differentiate very clearly where this review begins. However, in this case I’m not entirely sure how I can possibly mess up a memoir/idea based book… so the notation is more out of habit than anything else.
Honestly, this review is tricky. How to be a Woman was first recommended to me by a friend after discussing the fact that I had recently read Jessica Valenti’s Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters. I immediately ordered the book from Amazon, mostly because I trusted the friend and I am a sucker for a book with an eye-catching cover. Caitlin Moran sold me with her shock of white running through her hair and the fact that she is not being dubbed as the ‘new face of feminism’.
I was an easy sell.
Somewhere, lost in the recesses of my brain, was the remembrance of not actually getting much from Valenti’s book and the fact that maybe using it as a guide for further book purchases was not my smartest idea.
So, yes, if I am completely truthful, I did not enjoy this book. I think I don’t particularly like Caitlin Morgan as a person. I don’t relate to her in the least. We would not have been friends in real life. I put the book down several times and almost didn’t pick it up again, yet sheer determination pushed me through. However, this wasn’t the worst book I’ve ever read. I simply don’t think it was meant for me. (And that doesn’t mean it isn’t meant for you, dear reader!… but then, maybe it does.)
What I liked about the book:
Moran makes some very good points. For example, the word ‘feminism’ has been skewed overtime to represent something ugly and bad. Feminists are frequently seen as very low creatures, aiming to destroy men and piss on family virtues. This simply isn’t true. On the word ‘feminism’ she states:
“We need the word “Feminism” back real bad. When statistics come in saying that only 29 percent of American women would describe themselves as feminist- and only 42 of British women- I used to think, What do you think feminism IS, ladies? What part of “liberation for women” is not for you? Is it freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? The campaign for equal pay? “Vogue,” by Madonna? Jeans? Did all that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES? Or were you just DRUNK AT THE TIME OF SURVEY?
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. You’d be too busy giving birth on the kitchen floor- biting on a wooden spoon, so as not to disturb the men’s card game before going back to hoeing the rutabaga field.” (p.75)
These sections of the book are gold… for someone who maybe doesn’t already realize they are a feminist. However, I am fully aware of the gender inequalities in my life and already associate myself with the label “feminist” without any hesitation. (Feminism is a GOOD thing. For everyone!)
In this sense, the book is probably more prolific for younger girls, as the ‘ah ha!’ moments for me were non-existent.
I appreciated that Moran comes from a low income family and is open to talking about the struggles with some element of humor (maybe I didn’t GET the humor, but at least it was there).
I also appreciated some of the variety of chapters represented. For example, she discusses fat shaming and the view of women who choose to remain childless. These are topics we should be discussing (and perhaps aren’t discussed enough), but I was left thinking that I perhaps would have enjoyed them more as short essays I read over the span of a year or so, and not in a book to be read in one sitting.
I certainly got waaay too much Caitlin Moran.
I seem to be doing a terrible job at discussing the positives…
What I didn’t like about the book:
She uses an excessive number of exclamation points and it appears that her keyboard is frequently set on caps lock.
I did not need an entire chapter on what to name your breasts and vagina. I have never called mine anything other than breasts and vagina (even if, in Moran’s opinion, that is simply so clinical no woman does that except in a medical setting) nor have I ever made this a common discussion with other women. Additionally, I don’t readily know any other women who have, and I don’t consider her application of twitter to be remotely scientific enough to make broad sweeping statements about the topic. I was this close to putting the book down for good here, but I’m glad I didn’t because the very next chapter was the one on discovering feminism, which I will admit to having some good points.
Caitlin Moran does something I used to do in high school and early college. My sister called it using ‘Bekah-isims’. Basically, (what you have probably already surmised) a Bekahism was something I would say with complete confidence and give the appearance of being correct enough to be true… even if maybe I wasn’t 100% sure. Bekahisms usually occurred when I was relatively sure of what I was saying, though, infrequently was a it ever applied with any sort of research or data to support the statement.
Moran totally uses Bekahisms… er, Caitlinisms… throughout the entire book. She would make entire arguments (read: chapters) without any evidence of real research other that what she ‘thinks’ to be accurate. I fully believe that she probably thinks what she says sounds good (right even!) and everything she knows in her world supports these claims… but that doesn’t necessarily make it true. I craved a citation or two, but was largely disappointed.
She is offensive and at times uses excessively vulgar language to make a point. This is another one of those problems I had with the book that might be related to my age and maturity level. A younger version of myself probably would have relished these sections, yet now, it just felt like she was trying too hard and the language turned me off to this ‘new feminism’ she’s raving about. For her to at one point discuss political correctness in society and give a definition of PC, she used a lot of offensive terminology. Additionally, she has an entire chapter on fat shaming and how the word ‘fat’ is wielded as a weapon, then turns to use words that can be extremely offensive to another group of people.
I think the best way I can describe this is as an example… in her prolog she states:
“I am, by and large, boundlessly positive. I have all the joyful ebullience of a retard.” (p. 5)
I probably re-read that line fifteen times deciding if I was going to continue or not (or to determine if I hallucinated). Did she really just say that? I mean, doesn’t she have an editor to tell her, yes you can be offensive sometimes and be funny, but sometimes crossing a line is a bad, bad, very bad idea? The fact that little tidbits are just thrown around so casually astounded me.
And don’t get me started on the C word. She looooves that one. I was cringing reading an entire damn chapter because of it. (And maybe that was her point. I get it, I do, but I don’t like it and I’m not going to support her when she uses it about 100 times.) Shocking word choices are really not my jam. #sorrynotsorry
Moran and I have very different ideas of humor. I didn’t laugh out loud once. At times I was vaguely amused, but I didn’t find her to be hilarious like so many people find her to be. (But, hell, I’m more of a sarcasm-goes-a-long-way sort of person myself… so there’s that.)
She misused a Harry Potter reference. This is a personal pet peeve of mine, as a massive HP nerd. In the ‘I am fat!’ chapter she says:
“The idea of suggesting we don’t have to be fat- that things could change= is the most distant and alien prospect of all. We’re fat now and we’ll be fat forever and we must never, ever mention it, and that is the end of it. It’s like Harry Potter’s Sorting Hat. We were pulled from the hat maked “Fat: and that is where we must remain, until we die.” (p. 103)
Um, no. Clearly you have never read Harry Potter because the Sorting Hat lets you choose! Ugh. If you’re going to use massively popular pop culture references, please get them right! Huge fail. Huge.
Now, reading all this, you may wonder why I have given this book 3.5 stars instead of zero. Truthfully, I could have rambled on about How to be a Woman for another couple thousand words, but let’s be honest, no one wants to read that. Probably the best way to find out if this book is for you is to go to a local bookstore and read the ‘I am a feminist!’ chapter (Yes, she uses an exclamation point at the end of every chapter). It contains both aspects I loved, and moments I hated. I think it is a well-rounded approach to determining whether or not to spend the dollars on this book.
Additionally, I DO think How to be a Woman is more relevant to younger women who are first discovering feminism and more open to her colorful word choices. I’m no prude, I just found it a tad exhausting. A younger me may not have considered it so. If I ever reproduce and have a daughter, I would probably encourage her to read this in her later-teenage years.
Just a personal note: I ordered this book with Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) and enjoyed it immensely more than How to be a Woman. If you’re on the fence between the two, go with Kaling.
This review is also available on Goodreads and on Amazon.
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