Sunday, April 14, 2013

Feminism Without, You Know, The Feminism

How to Be a Woman

by Caitlin Moran

Published by Ebury Press

2 Out of 5 Stars

Quite an uneven reading experience, a fault I largely blame on the marketing of this book. How to Be a Woman is touted as basically "Feminism--now with jokes!" And that's a concept that I could get onboard with. I would consider myself a feminist, I would consider myself moderately amusing at times, and I would consider myself a fan of Caitlin Moran's white streak in her wild mane--a bit reminiscent of the 90's version of Rogue. So, yes, let's do this! I want to feel empowered as a woman, I want to laugh, and I want to re-watch the X-Men cartoons on Netflix!

This was reaffirmed when I heard an NPR interview with Caitlin Moran. She spoke intelligently about a variety of topics facing women and was very humorous in doing so. She sounded like someone I would like: funny, self-deprecating, and smart.

So did the book live up to my expectations? Not so much. The main reason is that instead of a funny feminist manifesto, the book is basically a memoir that should have been titled How to Be Caitlin Moran. Not that that is a bad thing as I still find Moran likable, but I generally do not like memoirs. I was expecting a book of ideas. And there are wide swaths of Moran's life that I simply can't relate to. Other than the chapter I Am a Feminist!, there's surprisingly little feminism in the book other than sprinkling the term "strident feminist" in some seemingly incongruous places (such as "But what am I wearing, now? As a strident feminist, how am I dressed?" [202] in the chapter I Get Into Fashion!). As though there's some sort of feminist dress code? It may be simpler to split this up into what I did and did not like about the book, so without further ado:

What I Did Like About the Book
1. From the chapter on feminism, Moran presents a simple test for women trying to decide whether or not they are a feminist: "So here is the quick way of working out if you're a feminist. Put your hand in your underpants. 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" (75). She makes the point that almost every woman in the Western world is a feminist, whether they like being associated with that "dirty word" or not. Even women who say they're not feminists are enjoying the fruits of feminism as there was a time when a woman wasn't allowed to have an opinion, let alone express it. Being in charge of one's reproductive rights is a much larger issue than that of abortion. Deciding for yourself if you want to have one child, fifteen children, or none at all, thank you very much, is a right women haven't traditionally had before. Being able to say "enough already" is certainly a right women should be thankful for as so many women who came before us dropped a kid yearly, preferably sometime between clearing away the breakfast dishes and making supper.

2. Moran's funny, unapologetically irreverent take on everything. I didn't always agree with her views, but admired that she had the daring to say them. If there's one thing you can't claim, it's that she's inauthentic.

3. Her chapter on marriages. Weddings have become ridiculously high-priced events that generally makes everyone involved miserable.  Everyone (with the possible exception of the bride) would rather spend their Saturday in their sweatpants and on the couch.

4. The extremely honest chapter about her own experience with abortion. Agree or disagree with abortion, so many make up their mind without having lived through it or, you know, asking the women of a society what they think. Reading about it from a personal level brings up some interesting points for thought and reflection.

5. Moments like this: "This is the first time I've really been out in the world and met adults. Previously, all my socializing took place on the dance floor and in the bathroom of the Raglan, a tiny dark pit populated by fringed, boot-wearing teenagers: essentially a playpen with a bar. Our innocence was obvious--it shone in our faces the same way our teeth glowed white under the UV light. Yes, people were having sex, and fighting, and spreading rumors, and taking drugs--but it was essentially like tiger cubs knocking each other around, claws velveted. We were all equal. There was no calculation or recrimination. Everything was forgotten after a nap" (117). I just like that.

What I Did Not Like About the Book

1. Dear GOD!!!!! I did not like all of the FREAKING UNNECESSARY CAPITALIZATION that made me feel like I was reading an unhinged TEENAGER'S DIARY!!! And for the love of all that is punctuation, would someone please remove the exclamation mark from Moran's keyboard? Early in the book, I thought this was just an affectation meant to show how the teenage Moran thought and felt; however, it continued, unrelentingly throughout the entire book. Every single chapter title ended with an exclamation.

2. There were some squirm worthy moments: I did not enjoy reading about Moran's early experiences with menstruation. I did not enjoy the suggestion that one should taste one's menstrual blood (there's a reason McMenses is not on the McDonalds menu). I did not enjoy the suggestion that one should name one's vagina and one's breasts. Granted, I'm the type of person who perpetually lives in fear of TMI--Caitlin Moran clearly does not.

3. The suggestion that Lady GaGa is a feminist and should be placed upon a pedestal. To me, a feminist icon should be one who presents ideas. GaGa strikes me more as someone who is reaping the benefits of feminism, but not adding much new to the conversation. She is definitely a polarizing lightning rod, but more in the realm of image and sexuality. She definitely confronts and shatters stereotypes, but beyond that adds little to the conversation.

4. The fact that there's so little feminism in a book supposedly about feminism.


  1. I like that you can write a review about a book you didn't enjoy that makes me want to read the book just so I can not enjoy it, too. However the thought of an author telling me to have a glass o', as you so kindly put it, McMenses is enough to make me stay away far, far away from this title.

    Feminism is an area that, admittedly, I often avoid because I picture angry women telling men that they're dirt. I think I've been exposed only to the extreme left of the feminist breed. The angry women who label themselves feminists so to avoid the title, "imbalanced." The definition presented here leaves me with more positive insight into it all.

    Also--I recently bought Bossypants by Tina Fey because it was way, way discounted to $3.99. I don't know much about Tina Fey. Love her as Palin, uninterested in her as Liz Lemon. Left confused by every interview I've read written about her. I'm hoping that reading her autobiography will give me a definitive answer on how I feel about the lady.

    1. I really like that she put a positive spin on feminism because it's gotten a bad rap. Like you said, so many people picture angry, militant women who are man-haters and eschew (that's right, I'm feeling my vocabulary oats this morning) anything feminine. And she shows that most feminists (and I would definitely consider myself one) like men who like women (our only problem is with patriarchal asshats and misogynists); we can still love fashion, shoes, and pretty, pretty things; that rejecting society's role for women doesn't mean rejecting being a woman. However, all of that came out of one chapter. The rest was fluff I could have lived without.