Book Review March 27th 2013 – How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

This book was great for a bit of a debate. It wasn’t long before a good ol’ debate opened up about whether we really can/should differentiate people so much into woman and men and separate them so much/ One reader claims to be more of a ‘personist’ than a feminist and does not like the idea of people being so pigeon-holed into groups. Although she didn’t say it explicitly in this book, Moran does agree with this is some of her other writing:

 “I’m neither ‘pro-women’ nor ‘anti-men’. I’m just ‘Thumbs up for the six billion”

Another reader believes that there is a lot of truth behind the  ‘men are from mars and women are from venus’ concepts, and that a deeper understanding of these ideas can greatly improve relationships.

One of the men in the group did not really get on with Caitlin Moran’s style of writing and found it quite annoying. The elements that were most interesting to the men in the group seemed to be the writing about family life growing up as this was something that they could relate to more. I agree to a small degree. There were some bits that seemed a little over the top for me, but on the whole it was interesting and difficult to put down. I’m glad that we read it as a group, and that there were men at the meetup who were happy to give it a go and give us their opinion.

I personally found it most interesting in its discussion of what it means to be a feminist. It is easy to think that in order to label yourself a feminist you must have done something actively feminist like marching somewhere wearing only your bra, or not wearing your bra, or reading Germaine Greer. Moran makes us all realise how important it is to question what we believe the word ‘feminsim’ to mean, and if we believe in equal rights then we should not be afraid to call ourselves a feminist.

“But, of course, you might be asking yourself, ‘Am I a feminist? I might not be. I don’t know! I still don’t know what it is! …  So here is the quick way of working out if you’re a feminist. Put your hand in your pants.

a) Do you have a vagina? and b) Do you want to be in charge of it?

If you said ‘yes’ to both, then congratulations! You’re a feminist.”

“What is feminism? Simply the belief that women should be as free as men, however nuts, dim, deluded, badly dressed, fat, receding, lazy and smug they might be. Are you a feminist? Hahaha. Of course you are.”

“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, 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?”

She does make amusing points agains those who think that they are against feminism and why they contradict themselves, as they are getting paid as an independent woman as they write it:

“These days, however, I am much calmer – since I realised that it’s technically impossible for a woman to argue against feminism. Without feminism, you wouldn’t be allowed to have a debate on women’s place in society. You’d be too busy giving birth on the kitchen floor – biting down on a wooden spoon, so as not to disturb the men’s card game – before going back to quick-liming the dunny. This is why those female columnists in the Daily Mail – giving daily wail against feminism – amuse me. They paid you £1,600 for that, dear, I think. And I bet it’s going in your bank account, and not your husband’s. The more women argue loudly, against feminism, the more they both prove it exists and that they enjoy its hard-won privileges.”

Yes her writing can sometimes get a little over the top in parts but let us not ignore some of the important messages that she is getting across under her humour and sensational use of the c*** word, and, most importantly, the people she is getting this across too. She is clearly doing her best to target as many readers as possible who may not read academic literature on feminism and the female plight throughout history. She is targetting readers who may not even want to learn about feminism but just wanted to read something funny about how to be a woman and who will not be able to not learn about feminism by reading it. From talking about this book with friends I have found out that there are many young people reading this who really do need to read this. She talks about porn like she is talking about baking a cake, and getting very important messages about self respect, choice, freedom and power across to the most important audience – those who don’t think they are feminists.

As a mother (Moran, not me), I found it refreshing that she was able to write so convincingly about the validity of a life without children. As someone who currently has one eye on the biological clock and one eye on the globe that I could travel if I didn’t have to find a hostel that had a crèche, I am constantly frustrated by comments implying that I cannot have a truly fulfilling life if I do not have biological children. To read someone able to wax lyrical about the joys that her own children have brought her, but who also stands up strongly for those who do not have children, can describe the positives of that choice, and who can justify her decision to have an abortion, to me was so comforting. She really is able to lay out the bigger picture. She rightly challenges the negative connotations inherent in not having children which is extremely ingrained in society and is severely da

“But deciding not to have children is a very, very hard decision for a woman to make: the atmosphere is worryingly inconducive to saying, “I choose not to,” or “it all sounds a bit vile, tbh.” We call these women “selfish” The inference of the word “childless” is negative: one of lack, and loss. We think of nonmothers as rangy lone wolves–rattling around, as dangerous as teenage boys or men. We make women feel that their narrative has ground to a halt in their thirities if they don’t “finish things” properly and have children.”

“If you want to know what’s in motherhood for you, as a woman, then – in truth – it’s nothing you couldn’t get from, say, reading the 100 greatest books in human history; learning a foreign language well enough to argue in it; climbing hills; loving recklessly; sitting quietly, alone, in the dawn; drinking whisky with revolutionaries; learning to do close-hand magic; swimming in a river in winter; growing foxgloves, peas and roses; calling your mum; singing while you walk; being polite; and always, always helping strangers. No one has ever claimed for a moment that childless men have missed out on a vital aspect of their existence, and were the poorer, and crippled by it.”

This is comforting reading from someone who is also brimming with joy at motherhood in many other passages:

“…there is the sheer emotional, intellectual, physical, chemical pleasure of your children. The honest truth is that the world holds no greater gratification than lying in bed with your children, putting your leg on top of them in a semi-crushing manner, while saying sternly, “You are a poo.”

“It’s the silliness–the profligacy, and the silliness–that’s so dizzying: a seven-year-old will run downstairs, kiss you hard, and then run back upstairs again, all in less than 30 seconds. It’s as urgent an item on their daily agenda as eating or singing. It’s like being mugged by Cupid.”

At the end of the day, whatever you think of her, don’t be too harsh. She has said nice things about libraries:

 “A library in the middle of a community is a cross between an emergency exit, a life-raft and a festival. They are cathedrals of the mind; hospitals of the soul; theme parks of the imagination. On a cold rainy island, they are the only sheltered public spaces where you are not a consumer, but a citizen instead”

Thanks to everyone for coming and making it such an interesting evening.

Future Meetups:

April 24th The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

May 29th Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold

June 18th Gangsta Granny by David Walliams

July 31st And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

August 31st The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson 

 September 25th The Warden by Anthony Trollope and The Spooks Apprentice by Joseph Delaney

October 30th The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz

November 27th Dovetail by Jeremy Hughes

December 18th A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas

January 29th 2014 Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier 


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