How To Be a Woman

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How to be a Woman, Caitlin Moran, book reviewHow To Be a Woman may seem an oddly titled book for a 33 year old woman to be reading – surely with 33 years of practice I must have figured it out by now? Yet despite this ample experience, being a woman is something I feel I’m a bit rubbish at. I only own one dress (the one I got married in, never to be worn again). I only own one pair of heels that I can’t walk in (putting me apparently way below average on this count). I never wear, and never have worn, make-up (not even on my wedding day – I drew the line at having to wear a frock). I don’t have a handbag, either (why would I need one when I have a perfectly serviceable rucksack and pockets in my clothes?). And the biggest failing of all – I don’t want babies.

How To Be a Woman is described as being part rant, part memoir, and part The Female Eunuch rewritten “from a barstool”. Yes, that’s right: a lot of How To Be a Woman is about FEMINISM. Before a lot of you flee before the very mention of this word, let me say that Moran is far from being one of those scary, aggressive men-hating feminists – instead she adopts her husband’s rather charming definition of the term: “everyone just being polite to each other” and women not having to put up with a load of nonsense that men don’t have to worry about. Backed up with rich examples from her own very colourful life, this is a sharp feminist manifesto written to appeal to a generation who might shy away from calling themselves feminists (only 29% of American woman and 42% of British women would currently apply the term to themselves, she notes).

Starting from a frankly awful 13th birthday (13 stone, provided with a “birthday baguette” instead of cake, and so unpopular the local boys threw gravel when she walked past) and bringing us up the present day, How To Be a Woman takes us on a tour of feminist issues using both key points and anecdotes from Moran’s own life to structure the work. So, as well as being treated to laugh-out-loud discussions about hair removal, designer handbags, the joy of bras and the worst wedding ever, we also read about more serious subjects – devastatingly honest accounts of starting her periods, miscarriage, a ghastly three day labour and an abortion. If you are a regular reader of her Times column, you will probably be quite familiar with a lot of these topics already, but here they are brought together into one very satisfying whole; it will have huge appeal to those who are already fans of her writing, and will no doubt convert many who previously weren’t.

“There should be more women, doing more things rather than simply “being”, living unseen and unheard on the sidelines…”

My favourite thing about How To Be a Woman, though, has to be two shorter chapters near the end – one entitled “why you should have children” and other “why you shouldn’t have children”. As someone who likes children but has absolutely no desire of have any of my own, I read the first with interest, and the second with a resounding “woohoo!” at the end of it; finally, I had found someone who could express what I have always felt in this regard with such wit and eloquence as I could never muster. I want to give that chapter to my in-laws for Christmas, wrapped up in paper made from further copies of that chapter. I want to give it to everyone who has ever asked when (note: never “if”) I intend to have children. I want to give Caitlin a big hug for writing something that spoke to me so deeply.

This book was hugely enjoyable and covers so many important issues for women that so rarely get discussed. But I hesitate in calling this a “must read”. This book is only How To Be a (certain type) of Woman – Caitlin’s personal experience are far from what most of us would consider common or garden. Home schooled, she published a novel at 15, started working as a professional journalist at 16 and has written in one capacity or other for The Times since she was 17. There are also incidents where drug use is made to look cool and breezily normal, which made me suck in air in the manner of a mechanic about to announce a very expensive bill. I’m not keen on these bits, and do worry that they may put off people wanting to give this book to teens, which is a great shame – I know the teenage me would have got a lot from it.

But these niggles aside, it is hard not to dislike her final, simple argument. There should be more women, doing more things rather than simply “being”, living unseen and unheard on the sidelines. We live in a time of unprecedented opportunity for many women, but there is still a long way to go for feminism to realise full equality. When I saw Moran talking about her book in Cheltenham recently, she commented that feminism will only have achieved true parity for women when the winner of the best actress Oscar goes up to collect her gong dressed in comfortable shoes. Until we reach that point, how about we worry and self-criticise a bit less and enjoy ourselves a bit more – and reading this book seems as good a place as any to start doing just that.


How To Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
Published by Ebury Press, June 2011

Buy book online
Buy book online Buy book online Buy book online
How To Be a Woman
by Caitlin Moran

One Comment on "How To Be a Woman"

  1. Claire
    09/11/2011 at 23:01 Permalink

    I’m not a girly girl either, a friend bought this for me and I really enjoyed it!

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