How To Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

how to be a woman caitlin moran

I read the “translated” American version of this book. I’m not too “down with the kids” so I do not really know how famous Moran is in the UK, but, I think that she writes for mostly UK newspapers and magazines, so I would expect that she is much better known in the UK than the US.

According to the postscript this was intended to be a feminist book. I wasn’t quite sure as I was reading it because the book is about 50% autobiography and 50% feminist rant/grumbles/excellent points. There is nothing ground-breaking or new in here in terms of feminist ideas, but she has got some good stories, and in many ways I agree with her so I enjoyed it.

The book tackles the feminist issues Moran feels are important chronologically, as she got to these points of being a woman in her own life. Moran matured much, much quicker than I did, getting her first proper job at 16 and married and pregnant at 24. She was 35 when she wrote this book, the age I am now. I think she is three years older than me, so I enjoyed many of her references to growing up in England.

I liked the autobiographical bit of the book. Stories from her adolescence made me want to laugh and cry at the same time. The teenage me would have been so very, desperately jealous of Moran’s early career writing for the Melody Maker, which I never bought, but frequently read other people’s copies. And she lived near to the Good Mixer, the pub I visited in my youth to spot Britpop “stars.” She drops a few names, people she has worked with or met, many of them are lost on me (as are the frequent handbag/shoes/designer references), but nobody can deny that meeting Noddy Holder would be quite exciting. It’s not Christmas until he says it is (and I’ve had two Noddy-less Christmasses in the US now).

I agree with an awful lout of Moran’s points on feminism. I agree that £21,000 is a bit much to spend on a wedding, and all this “best day of your life” stuff is a load of old rubbish. I love that our lady parts have produced the best swears, and men’s dangly bits are just the weak swears. I don’t have a great deal of time for those who wax their privates and/or wear high heals, and I pity women who feel they must have plastic surgery. My finger is a very long way away from the pop culture pulse these days but I was pleased to hear that I instinctively got it right with not liking Katie Price and quite liking Lady Gaga. Given my current stage in life I very much enjoyed her two chapters on “why to have kids” and “why not have kids,” 18 pages and 12 pages long respectively, so that’s that decided then, having kids wins. Her chapter on abortion is very frank and fair.

I disagree with a few things. She gives us a slightly flawed way to check if you are a feminist; a) do you have a vagina? and b) do you want to be in charge of it? The observant will notice that with this rule she is excluding 49% of the world from being in this club, which is a shame, because I think my dad and my husband would like to join, and she also says her husband is one, too. She is right about the many women who are afraid to be a little more strident in their feminism, though, and later on she gets it right by saying that feminism is the belief that women should be as free as men. Also, personally, I have boobs. She says they are large, white and working class. And too “Benny Hill.” Mine are medium, and I don’t think mine existed until after Benny Hill had stopped existing, so I think that’s OK. She is against changing your name on marrying (although apparently it’s fine to change your first name if you feel like it). With a nice, easy name like Moran, that she probably has not had to spell for people a gazillion times, she would think that. I was glad to see the back of my maiden name, feminism is about being able to make choices, Moran, stop trying to oppress me! And, Echobelly were good.

I’m confused that she advises flirting with your boss in order to get on at work but “women who pander to sexism to make their fortune are Vichy France with tits.” I have never flirted with a boss at work, it had never occurred to me to do so, and I spent ten years in the testosterone-fuelled world of energy trading. I found that turning up for work and doing my work was enough to get the job done, and of course being polite to people, but flirting would be pandering to sexism in my eyes, and I honestly think the majority of my ex-boss’ heads would have exploded had I attempted a little flirt. And I certainly did not earn 30% less than the boys.

As a Brit living in the US this was an odd book to read. It has been edited for the US market, but, because she is a working class girl from Wolverhampton who wrote about Britpop and British music for a lot of her career and uses a lot of slang and cultural references, I think a lot of Americans will still be rushing to Google to work out a lot of meanings. So, the odd translated words here and there just made me sad. This is a book about a British woman, and it would have been more enjoyable and authentic if it was fully told in a British voice. The Americans that would be reading this are bright enough to work out the references, and if not, they can look them up. I have to do it all the time, why shouldn’t they?

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