“Would Jane Austen’s Characters have spent pages and pages discussing all the relationships in their social circle if they’d been a bit more in control of their own destinies? Would women fret themselves half to death over how they look, and who fancies them, if this wasn’t the main thing they were still judged on? Would we give so much of a shit about our thighs if we, as a sex, owned the majority of the world’s wealth, instead of men?”
“It’s a good time to be a woman: we have the vote and the pill, and we haven’t been burnt as witches since 1727. However, a few nagging questions do remain… Why are we supposed to get Brazilians? Should we use Botox? Do men secretly hate us? And why does everyone ask you when you’re going to have a baby? Part memoir, part rant, Caitlin Moran answers the questions that every modern woman is asking.”
How To Be A Woman is a book that I have been eyeing up on various bookshelves for many years. I’ve physically picked it up a few times, declaring I would buy it, only to put it down again. The title alone exudes female empowerment and when Emma Watson announced the book as the April read for her feminist book club Our Shared Shelf it simply felt like the universe was telling me, at twenty-two years old, it is time to learn how to be a woman.
I didn’t know anything about Caitlin Moran except that her books tackle political issues and feminism. After research, I now know that Caitlin was a music journalist for Melody Music at the age of sixteen, hosted a Channel 4 music show and works for The Times. Also, she’s a novelist.
In this book, Caitlin puts across the fact that while the “traditional feminist issues” are important to talk about, the typical little things women go through day to day is just as important. At first I was taken aback by the comment as there are horrible things happening to woman around the world but as I continued reading, I started to understand the point she was making. The firsts, the things that see a girl turning into a woman are terrifying when they happen: first bra, first period, first time experiencing sexism and so on. This book is marketed as “part memoir, part rant” and it definitely lives up to that.
Throughout the book I tried relating my experiences to the things she was saying and I reached the sudden realisation that there are an alarming number of expectations and levels of judgement placed on girls becoming women and some of those continue in womanhood. For example, I was the first out of my friendship group to get her period, so I was plied with questions and the go-to person when my friends got theirs too. But when they found out I used sanitary towels and had no intention of using tampons, it was like I’d just told them I’d killed a man. Even now, there’s still judgement when people learn this about me. Another example is that I grew up being frequently asked if I had a boyfriend yet / when was I going to get a boyfriend. Secretly I was discovering my sexuality and seriously crushing on girls; later I would learn that I’m bisexual. Even when I skipped off to university, every time I came home or spoke to my dad on the phone he would ask if I had a boyfriend yet. When I would tell him I didn’t and pointed out that the reason I had gone to university was because I wanted to continue learning and become a better writer. He would then tell me most people find their “life-long partners” at University and suddenly I had a ticking relationship timer in front of me.
One big issue I had with this book is in the “I Am A Feminist” chapter, Caitlin helps the reader understand if they are a feminist by saying “do you have a vagina? Do you want to be in charge of it? If you answered yes to both then you’re a feminist.” While this book is very female orientated, I know a lot of male feminists and it just felt like an “us and them” divide was being created. Also it’s not inter-sectional feminism which is a big problem. This is white,middle-class feminism which caused me to leave the reading experience feeling quite disheartened.
This book gave me a lot of food for thought and Caitlin is harsh and honest in the way she attacks these topics and there’s some humour added in for an extra flair. She uses interesting but oddly fitting imagery such as referring to a woman’s reproductive system as a “hamster cage with tunnels going everywhere.”
What more could you possibly need in a book?
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