How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

How to Be a Woman - Caitlin MoranHow to Be a Woman – Caitlin Moran
Harper Perennial, 2012

Review copy from the publisher
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How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran is in part a memoir about Moran’s life as a woman, while interweaving these anecdotes with Moran’s vision of why feminism still matters. Tackling topics such as pubic hair, breasts, menstruation, marriage, having children, sexism, and abortion Moran tries to portray the relevance of feminism for modern women.

This book has been on my have-read-should-review pile for a while now, but the fact of the matter is: it confused me. On the one hand this book is straight forward, entertaining, and funny. On the other, it left me with a lot of questions and disagreements with Moran’s vision of feminism. I admire her for standing up and proclaiming that feminism is still relevant. And I think that by illustrating that with funny (although a bit overtly so at times) and touching personal anecdotes she makes feminism a lot more easily digestible for a lot of people. Because the book features frank retellings of situations that are often less-than-comfortable to talk about, parts of this book were like finding that friend that woman magazines always expect you to have but so little of us actually do. You know, the one that you can talk about all the bodily issues with, etcetera? Or perhaps that’s just my experience. On this account, I enjoyed reading How to Be a Woman. And yet..

The more I think about my reading experience of Moran’s book, the less the side of that bosom-friend with which you can share everything stands out. Instead, I mostly feel the annoyance at everything Moran seems to ignore. By focusing on the personal day-to-day side of feminism, Moran is a little quick to dismiss those feminist viewpoints that she feels problematic things. There is a chapter in the book where she mentions how some feminists have made women feel bad about taking on domestic help. And how there’s no reason for that, because it’s just a matter of paying for someone’s services, just like everything else in the economy. You see, at this point I didn’t quite know what to do with myself. From one perspective, yes, it’s an economic transaction, but surely you’ve heard of this idea that gender, and class, and the frankly quite overlooked category of race, intersect? But sadly, intersectionality, or any of the other criticisms leveled at traditional feminism in the past, oh, I don’t know, decades, are mostly overlooked in this book. And this made me sad. And at times, a little angry.

On the one hand, I enjoyed How to Be a Woman, and I felt that perhaps the personal perspective might make feminism a little bit of a less-frightening term for the general public. On the other hand, I had rather hoped that the book would offer a more inclusive view of feminism, with a few more side-notes, and a few more incorporations of new feminist critiques. For, by missing out on such things, the book sometimes makes feminism less something “for everyone”, and as such misses a chunk of its intended message.

The Feminist Texan Reads offers a more thorough and intelligent write-up of what is lacking in How to Be a Woman. It was only when I read her review that I finally found the courage to formulate my own struggles with the text. And so I particularly wanted to point it out to you.

Other Opinions: The Feminist Texan Reads, Shelf Love, Leeswammes, Reading Matters, The Blue Bookcase, Entomology of a Bookworm, the Book Brothel, Novel Insights, My Books My Life, The Literary Kitty, The Book and Biscuit, The parenthesis and the footnote, Lucybird’s Book Blog.
Did I miss your post on this book? Let me know and I will add it to the list.

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30 responses to “How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

  1. I’m supposed to read this for my book club meeting next month. I’ve been hesitant because I was kind of expecting it to have issues … and now, sadly, that’s confirmed. *sigh* Oh well, I’ve read far worse. Might as well give it a shot.

    • It’s not bad, Carina. I was annoyed with some parts, but it *is* a fast read and some parts were really funny. I will be curious to hear how you’ll like it.

  2. I’m taking this on holiday with me so will come back once I’ve had a read!

  3. I was very curious to see your thoughts on it, Iris. And I agree with a lot of what you say. I wasn’t sure all of her ideas actually were in line with feminist thinking, but I do like how she says all women should be feminists and approaches it that way.

    • I like the overall idea that feminism is not “a dirty word”, too. I just wish she would’ve been a little more inclusionistic (that’s not a word, I’m afraid).

  4. I really don’t think you’re alone in lacking (at least at times) that bosom friend you talk about anything and everything with. Partly because, as I posted this weekend, we’re too busy biting each other in the back instead of walking along side each other.

    • Yes, so true Hannah. I really wish it were easier to share everything openly in real life, but it can be quite hard or just embarrassing at times.

  5. I need to read this. I’ve read such great reviews, including this one. I want to read it not only because it sounds interesting but because it’s starting a lot of conversations. That’s important :)

  6. I really enjoyed this book, but that’s mostly because I decided a couple of chapters into it that it was, at heart, a memoir in which the author looks at her life through a feminist lens. I think the marketing of this book as a feminist treatise doesn’t do it any favors. She leaves too much out, as you say, and her views are pretty idiosyncratic and not always coherent. A title like “My Life As a Woman” would be more appropriate, IMO.

    • I agree. I think part of the reason why I found this problematic because the marketing tells us its in part a book about feminism. That title would have been more appropriate, but I do see how this title can be read in many ways and that that’s appealing as well.

  7. I liked your very balanced take on this one. It sounds good, but not without it’s flaws, and those seem to be rather big flaws to just cover over and not discuss. I am still aiming to read this one, but you’ve brought huge perspective into the mix, and I thank you for that.

    • I will be looking forward to your thoughts when you read this one. And yes, it certainly is a book that is not altogether great, but not utterly bad either.

  8. I’m reading it right now and I completely understand your conflicted feelings. There are these passages that make me go YES! and then there are those that make me angry/sad. And then there’s the fact that some passages are clearly just there to make her sound cool. More to come once I’m finished, I need to put my thoughts in order on this one first.

  9. Amy @ My Friend Amy

    I’ve heard that this book had problems, so it’s interesting to hear what some of them are. Thanks for such and interesting and thoughtful review!

  10. From what I’ve read, it sounds like Moran throws intersectionality under the bus a bit in her book. I think what bothers me is not that she doesn’t address it (it’s her book and she can address whatever she wants), but that she seems very dismissive of people who are concerned about intersectionality.

    • EXACTLY. You are the smartest, Jenny. I wish I could have articulated it like that. I think that is exactly what bothered me about that part that dealt with domestic help etc. It was as if she was accusing people who claimed it might be problematic for feminists that they were making feminism too complicated and therefore unappealing.

  11. I’ve really enjoyed this review, you’ve made me think of HtbaW in a completely different way.

    I agree, that there is a more educated view of feminism that is missed in HtbaW, but I think Moran succeeds wonderfully in making feminism seem friendly and opening rather than a stigma.

    Moran isn’t writing a text on feminism, she is telling an every day experience of her understanding of what feminism is, and as with any thing like this there is the core understanding and then the believes that fly about in every direction.

    I don’t think Moran intended to discuss the finer politics of feminism, she wants all women who aren’t lucky enough to be educated out of a more patriarchal situation, or don’t notice the sexism that surrounds them, to think outside of the box and claim what is there’s. Not against the male sex, but with them.

    However, I could be wrong, I’ve not read anything where she talks about the intention of HtbaW.

    • In part I agree with you Alice. On the other hand I think that by dismissing the importance of issues of class (and I don’t think she mentions ethnicity?) the book is closed off to some groups of women who just as much might consider themselves feminist. The “everyday experiences” aren’t the same for everyone. I think that Teresa was right, this book might have been more effectively marketed as a memoir about her personal experience with feminism.

  12. Caitlin Moran only recently got on my radar, but now I’m intrigued. I have Moranthology in my TBR stack — will plan to tackle it soon.

    • I heard about Moranthology and I’m curious what your experience will be. I don’t think I’ll read that one as I had such mixed feelings about How to be a Woman, but perhaps her newest title is better?

  13. I want to read the book, but I’m glad to have read reviews like yours, because, as Teresa says, the title and marketing doesn’t appear to do it any favours. Not too keen on the examples you describe, they do sound a bit… contradictory? Still, from her columns she sounds funny enough to make it worth the read.

    • She is funny. And sometimes I felt such instant recognition with issues she raises. But then, at times.. I don’t know, the humor felt a little forced to me at times and then there are those issues I couldn’t quite get behind. I hope you’ll share your thoughts if you read it, I’m curious what you’ll think.

  14. Thanks for the link! :)

    And I agree about the domestic help thing. She just blew it off like, “I did it and it’s no big deal!” But doing domestic work as a white teen with legal status in your country is kind of like being a teen working in a fast food restaurant: sure, no big deal. But that’s a HUGE leap from doing domestic work as an immigrant mom who may or may not have legal status, and may or may not be taken advantage of by your employer. And she just blows all of that off and uses her own experience as the norm. Ugh.

  15. I only heard of Moran today… I am behind the times! I will have to look into her more and see if I have been missing out… :)

  16. Pingback: How to Be a Woman, by Caitlin Moran | The Camomile

  17. Pingback: Caitlin Moran: How to be a Woman (2011) | Liburuak

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