1.16.2014

How to Be A Woman


As much as I've read in my adult life (not as much as I should have, being a librarian and intellectual snob, but a lot more than most people), I've yet to read a book that has been truly transformative- a book that really changes the way I view some aspect of my life or the world. 

I downloaded the audiobook version of How to Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran because I had nothing else to listen to while waiting for my copy of Chuck Palahniuk's Doomed.  It popped up on a few of those "Books Every Woman in Her 20's Needs to Read" lists, but its main appeal was the knowledge that the author is British, and that I liked her hair on the cover of the book.

I was immediately drawn in by Moran's Birmingham accent (the author also narrates the audiobook), her humor and, of course, her snark.  She animatedly tells the story of growing up poor, the oldest of 8 children, then moving to London, becoming a journalist, getting married, having children...and interweaves all of this with frank looks at masturbation, sexism in the work place, relationships, childbirth, abortion, bras, pubic hair, strip clubs, weight, and Lady Gaga, among other things.

As you probably surmised from the first paragraph, some of the things in How to Be A Woman had a profound effect on how I think about feminism, being a woman, and living in the world in general.  So many times while listening to it I had those great revelatory moments that are the best part of reading any good piece of writing.  She says things that I've felt and known to be true, but not known how to express myself.

First of all, she cuts through the myriad of confusing feminist theories and gets straight to the point.  "Here is the quick way of working out if you're a feminist," Moran begins.  "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.”  It's THAT simple.  A concept that I've struggled to define for as long I've been aware of it, and there it is.

While I'm tempted to spend an entire post expounding on every brilliant point Moran makes, I'll give just one more example- the one that resonated the most with me. There is an entire chapter that talks about motherhood, and all of the wondrous things it teaches you.  How it makes you a better person; that mothers can do ANYTHING, so on and so forth.  At this point in the book I nearly bailed.  Yes, moms are awesome.  I get it.  But that's all we ever hear- how women who choose to have children are wonderful and selfless and those of us who a) have yet to have children or b) choose not to have them at all, are selfish spinsters:

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 non mothers 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 thirties if they don't "finish things" properly and have children.” 
Thankfully, Moran follows with an entire chapter on why you shouldn't have children.  She asserts that all the great shit you learn by being a mother can be learned through other life experiences (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, etc)...that you'll have time to have because you aren't caring for children.  The fact that she includes both arguments, for and against motherhood, back to back, tells me that she really gets it.

And to conclude this rambling ode to Caitlin Moran, I feel as thought it's necessary, as a woman of color, to address claims that she is racist.  It's actually the fourth thing that pops up on Google when you enter her name.  The gist of this claim is that Moran said she likes Lena Dunham, who has been criticized for lack of diversity on her show Girls.  Critics have said that both women have excluded women of color in their discussions of feminism.  I don't really have any opinions concerning Dunham, other than that I think she tries way to hard to seem like she's not trying at all.  As for Moran, her book is largely anecdotal- she's writing about her life and she happens to be a white woman.  So the fact that her book isn't all about women of color doesn't really bother me. *Kanye shrug*

So, go read (or listen) to this book.  Let me know what you think.

*EDIT*

Caitlin read this!  And liked it!






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