How to Be a Woman


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How important is a good title? I know that it’s important not to judge a book by its cover, but I do it a fair amount, and if a title is too stuffy or weird or preachy I’ll usually pass over it unless someone has specifically recommended the book to me. In this case my book group recommended How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran, and so I gave it a chance.

In memoir form, Ms. Moran has managed to lay out all the juiciest paper topics for a women’s study class near you! Now with more emphasis on porn! I laughed through chapter one and was tempted to buy the audiobook, but then I kept reading and, well, my teacher’s brain just latched onto what seemed to be the first chapter of a dissertation on a multitude of topics that any women’s studies major would delve into. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve laid out the themes for you here.

Chapter 1: masturbation discovery; the need for passion in porn

Chapter 2: public hair, why how we deal with pubic hair is related to porn, why other areas of the body aren’t as sexualized as pubic hair and don’t matter as much to shave. “If we asked men to shave this much they would laugh at us”

Chapter 3: naming your vagina (and porn’s effect on the process) and boobs.

Chapter 4: tasting menstrual blood (yes, really), feminism is about having a vagina and wanting to control said vagina, using the word feminism incorrectly

Chapter 5: underwear and how it oppresses us, love-hate relationship with bras

Chapter 6: fat is not just a descriptor, it is a swear word and a weapon, say it until it loses its power and feels normal; confused about whether she thinks fat is okay or not; enjoying eating/consensual relationship with fat vs. eating problem

Chapter 7: The most tangled issue of all: systemic sexism

Chapter 8: Love as woman’s work; bachelor vs. spinster; being in a relationship for the sake of being in a relationship instead of because it makes you happy; alone in a room with other people

Chapter 9: Strip clubs bad, burlesque good, if gays go wild for it it makes it okay for women (yes she actually makes this point)

Chapter 10: weddings; women care, men don’t. women get “one day all about you” before going back to obscurity, men don’t obsess about having the perfect day, they get treated as special all the time.

Chapter 11: clothes, handbags, and shoes and why women worry more than men about them

Chapter 12: having kids, raising kids (I got really angry with her as I read this chapter. She spends 11 chapters explaining feminism, spends chapter 12 spitting the usual bullshit about having kids)

Chapter 13: Then she makes it up to me with a chapter about why not to have kids and why it isn’t any better or worse than having kids as long as you are doing what is right for you.

Chapter 14: choose role models carefully; just bc rich doesn’t mean inspirational; how we are in a codependent relationship with the media that tears down actual role models (she spends a fair amount of time talking about Lady Gaga here)

I’ll leave the last two chapters for your own discovery because I enjoyed them the most and they are the most difficult subjects for feminists to agree on and come together about.

I have the same complaint about this book as I had about Luvvie Ajayi’s “I’m Judging You” – lack of depth. Moran’s stories are cute and funny and sometimes gross, but we only get glimpses of the deeper issues she is trying to address. It’s like every chapter is a version of yelling SQUIRREL! at a very excitable golden retriever. Masturbation in girls is something we should encourage and celebrate SQUIRREL! women dress for work much differently than men because we are expected to make a statement SQUIRREL! we ask women when they are having kids because we want to know when they are going to go away and do what’s expected of them SQUIRREL! My mind was reeling from feminist issue to feminist woe without any time to either grasp the issues tightly enough or connect with Moran personally.

I would recommend this book as one to be included as required reading for a college course on feminism, women’s issues, education, psychology, or any field dealing with children and relationships. It has the greatest hits of why the patriarchy must be smashed with a small helping of encouragement to keep trying. Because some of this shit is INGRAINED and isn’t going to go away overnight. Chapter 7 spoke to me the loudest, because the dangers of trying to enact feminism in the workplace without alienating oneself or worse, being fired, is a briar patch.

I’m just not sure if I enjoyed this book. I feel like I just got more depressed as I read on, thinking of how a lot of this will never change in my lifetime. Other times I felt thankful that I didn’t feel the societal pulls that most women do (clothes, handbags, shoes, kids, makeup, shaving, etc.) but felt equally separated from my sisters who may struggle with these expectations. When I was done I put the book down and said “what now?” I guess I would recommend it so that it can tear down some of the walls you might have up, expose ways that you might be unwittingly supporting your own oppression, and give you permission to bypass that next pair of uncomfortable heels. You might even catch a belly laugh or two in the process.


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