I would like to begin with a little note about myself as I believe this shows why I have the opinions that I have on this book. In all honesty, when it comes to sex and anything on that level, I am not the most open and can be easily embarrassed. But I know that it is an important subject and I have read books like this one because I believe it is important to be educated, especially on topics such as consent, and many other things about being female, and more generally, a person.
‘Part memoir, part rant, Caitlin Moran answers the questions that every modern woman is asking.’
Caitlin Moran is a well-known, award-winning author and journalist. Despite life not always being easy, she worked her way up from the bottom. She has worked for many companies including: Melody Maker, Channel 4 and The Times (where she worked for 18 years!). Her satirical celebrity column, Celebrity Watch, won her the British Press Awards’ Columnist of The Year award in 2010. She is largely known for being a feminist, and took on this title after reading lots of books about feminism when she was young.
I had principally heard about this book from members as of the YouTube community. It has been mentioned in many videos about recommended reads, favourite books and books that will change your life. Seeing as it was so highly recommended, I decided that it would be good to give it a read. Furthermore, I have recently been very interested in reading more books about feminism, growing up and self-development. As I said at the beginning, some of the topics that arise are not my strong points. I can become embarrassed just reading about them, and this can be difficult when reading a book by someone who is clearly not afraid of any topics and is totally honest and open, but I am keen to read more books like this one.
The book is split into chapters with titles depicting which part of life/ being a woman that chapter is going to be about. Chapters 1 to 11 all have titles following a theme, for example, ‘I start bleeding!’, ‘I need a bra!’ and ‘I am in love!’. Although the whole of the novel combines Moran’s personal experiences with her opinions, the earlier chapters contain more of her memoir, with later chapters like, ‘Why you should have kids’, being comprised more of her opinions. I generally preferred the parts where Moran gave her opinions and discussed modern issues. However, the bits about her past added up to show where she has come from and why she feels the way she does, so I found that very interesting. I think that my reservations about the mixture of opinions and memoir were largely down to the fact that I was not sure what to expect from this book, but once I got into the feel of it, I enjoyed it much more.
Of course, being a non-fiction book primarily about Moran, the narrative used is the first person. This is completely logical and makes the whole book personal to Moran. She is honest, very open, often blunt and does not hold anything back, sometimes delving into very person experiences. I have to say that I admire this about her as I think it would have been difficult to write a book like this without being open about your opinions and why you feel that way as there would be holes in your argument. However, as someone who is not as comfortable being so open, I did struggle with some of her stories. Perhaps it is for this reason that when I read chapter 1 I began to feel unsure about the book, but I found chapter 2 to be funnier and more for me. In fact, throughout the book I found that I struggled with some of the memoir sections. I think this is because I have had a very different life to Moran and have grown up in a different time. For example, she tells stories about drugs that I simply cannot relate to.
One of the main reasons I liked this book was that despite the title, ‘How To Be a Woman’, there is never explicit instructions on what being a woman means or anything that you should do to fit that title. The focus is more around what society believes a woman should be and Moran’s thoughts on this. She discusses everything from what feminism really means, more people need to learn the definition, to what we should name our intimate areas, (I personally feel that is the choice of the individual only).
My favourite chapter has to be chapter 4, ‘I am a feminist!’, despite finding the first page slightly gross. I found the statistic about how many women in the UK and US consider themselves a feminist to be a little shocking and felt much like Moran. ‘What part of ‘liberation for women’ is not for you?’ (Of course, liberation in the sense of being equal to men, and not superior.) However, I personally found what Moran said next to be pretty great.
‘[I]t’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.’
I also found what she said about how feminism is blamed for so many things very important. She points out that problems such as rising divorce rates, eating disorders, male depression, the rise in abortions, and so much more, are not due to feminism but are simply problems that involve women. There is in fact a large, and important, difference when combatting such tough issues.
I have already mentioned some of the parts of the book I struggled with and my thoughts as to why that may be. But there were other, smaller sections, that I also found difficult. When I saw that there is a chapter entitled, ‘I go lap-dancing!’, I was immediately worried. Yet upon reading that chapter, I found that Moran had some very solid opinions on the matter and it was actually quite interesting to read her thoughts. Additionally, Moran was very negative about weddings. Along with many people, stereotypically females, I love the idea of weddings, so I found it rather annoying when Moran made well-reasoned arguments against them, for example, the cost, the fact that it is not really the best day of your life, the stress, and much more. Rationally, we all know that a wedding is a lot of money for one day that causes much stress and disagreements. But still, many of us dream of that day wearing the perfect dress, marrying the person you love. Therefore, reading such a strong case against weddings was a little disheartening. Lastly, I disagree with the fact that women should not change their name. Yes, some people want to keep their own name and that is fair enough, and yes it seems unfair that it is the woman who must change, but I like to think it brings people together. I think it shows a bond, a unity, and especially if the couple has children, I think all having the same name can be nice. Of course alternatives such as a double-barrelled name are also a good idea as that means no one has to give up their name.
I have to admit that there were only a few times I found this book funny. The main section that really amused me was the part about shoes; specifically, high-heels. We all know that learning to walk in heels can be hard, and there is a lot of worrying about falling flat on your face. Also, heels are not the most comfortable. For a certain amount of time they are fine and look great, but then the pain kicks in and the shoes cannot come of fast enough. Moran talks about all of this perfectly, in a manner that is highly relatable and made me smile because most women know the struggle.
Despite the book having ups and downs, the hardest part to read was the part about having children and abortion. Although Moran discusses the good and bad sides to having children very well, her first experience of labour was awful and reading it made me feel so bad for her. So many things went wrong that I was quite surprised she had another child to be honest. But somehow her second experience of labour was miraculously fine. What I learnt, and what I think Moran learnt in between the two, was that being prepared for labour is important because you should know what is going to happen and what you need to do. Moran also discusses the pressure there is on women to have children. It is often suggested that a woman is not whole until she has created life, but for some women, having children is simply not for them and that is perfectly okay. Additionally, there seems to be a strange idea that a woman must choose between having a career and having children, as though choosing one means that you have forever lost the other option. Yet men do not seem to have these issues. There seems to be less pressure on a man to settle down and have children, and it is almost expected that a man will always be able to have a great career. Admittedly a woman has to take time off work to have the baby, and has to do it before she reaches menopause, but why pressure her? Why not allow a woman to decide for herself?
On the other side of this, Moran also delves into the topic of abortion. At school, we had debates about abortion in many subjects from biology to religious studies to French, but however many times the topic is discussed, it is still hard, and my opinion on it is certainly not one way or the other. There are so many points to be considered about abortion and Moran goes through many of them giving her opinion. Some parts I agreed with, and others I have different views about, but I think that this is a topic that most people are unsure on and often it is down to the female and whether or not she feels she is in a position to carry a baby. However, what this chapter did teach me, is how an abortion is carried out. On soaps, the female seems to visit the doctor, take 2 pills, and that is that. But that procedure is not that simple at all. I never knew that that option actually causes you to have a miscarriage and that is what is always missed out of storylines. The other two options involve a medical procedure: one involves being unconscious but spending the night in hospital, whilst the other involves going home the same day but remaining conscious throughout. Despite being a sombre chapter, I am glad I read it to have a better understanding.
One of the final chapters was about role models. Working in the media, Moran has clearly had some time to think about this and about the people she has interviewed or who have appeared in the spotlight. Her opinions are very strong, as they often are, and she does not hold back on her thoughts. After so much of the novel focused around her life, a chapter on role models was a little unexpected but I think it worked well as more of a chance for Moran to express her opinions on a topic that is very important in an age with so much technology that allows people to see so much more of those in the spotlight and how they conduct themselves.
Moran finished the book well with a summary of what she has learnt throughout her life and whether she really feels she knows now how to be a woman. This final chapter felt like it came at the right time, that a variety of topics had been discussed, and that the book was a fine length without seeming like some woman going on and on. I would definitely recommend this book, as I think that even though I did not enjoy the whole thing, I definitely took a lot of important things away and it made me think a lot about some vital topics. I think that not everyone would enjoy the whole book but that there would be something in there that everyone would find interesting or amusing and there were some very important parts that a lot of people should read. Overall, a good book to read even just to challenge your own views and to realise how much women go through.
How to be a Woman – Caitlin Moran, published by Ebury Press, first published in 2011, this edition published in 2012, 26, RRP £8.99, ISBN 978-0-09194-074-4