Book Review: How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran.

When I first heard of this memoir some months back (probably on Musings of an Inappropriate Woman or some similarly feminist blog), I wasn’t really into it. I hadn’t been familiar with Caitlin Moran until I read a couple of reviews, particularly Rachel Hills’ in Sunday Life, and I knew I had to read it.

How to Be a Woman doesn’t disappoint. While it is a memoir of sorts, it’s also a poignant commentary of just what’s required of women in today’s society. Think Mia Freedman’s Mia Culpa and Mama Mia, but far less politically correct.

When I reviewed those books, I didn’t feel my words could do them justice, so I simply relayed my favourite parts and most funny moments, which is what I’m going to do here. But really, even these snippets don’t do How to be a Woman justice, and you need to get your grubby little mitts on it ASAP!

On Porn.

“Freely available, hardcore 21st-century pornography blasts through men and women’s sexual imaginations like antibiotics, and kills all mystery, uncertainty and doubt—good and bad.

“But in the meantime, I have found this thing. I have discovered this one good thing, so far, about being a woman, and it is coming” [p. 31].

“That single, unimaginative, billion-duplicated fuck is generally what we mean by ‘porn culture’—arguably the biggest cultural infiltration since the counter-cultural revolution of the 1960s; certainly more pervasive that peer rivals, such as gay culture, multi-culturalism or feminism” [p. 33].

“… We needed more pornography, not less… free-range porn… Something in which—to put it simply—everyone comes.

“… Why can’t I see some actual sex? Some actual fucking from people who want to fuck each other? Some chick in an outfit I halfway respect, having the time of her life? I have MONEY. I am willing to PAY for this. I AM NOW A 35-YEAR-OLD WOMAN, AND I JUST WANT A MULTI-BILLION-DOLLAR INTERNATIONAL PORN INDUSTRY WHERE I CAN SEE A WOMAN COME.

“I just want to see a good time” [p. 37, 39].

On Waxing.

“And all of this isn’t done to look scorchingly hot, or deathlessly beautiful, or ready for a nudey-shoot at the beach. It’s not to look like a model. It’s not to be Pamela Anderson. It’s just to be normal” [p. 46].

“Whilst some use the euphemism ‘Brazilian’ to describe this state of affairs, I prefer to call it what it is—‘a ruinously high-maintenance, itchy, cold-looking child’s fanny’” [p. 47].

On Puberty.

“Puberty us like a lion that has raked me with its claws as I try to outrun it” [p. 58].

On the C-Word.

“In a culture where nearly everything female is still seen as squeam-inducing, and/or weak—menstruation, menopause, just the sheer, simply act of calling someone ‘a girl’—I love that ‘cunt’ stands, on its own, as the supreme, unvanquishable word” [p. 62].

On Mansplaining.

“I am shouted down by a male editor, who dismissed everything I say out of hand, and concludes his argument with the statement, ‘You wouldn’t know what it’s like to be a fat teenage girl, being shouted at in the street by arseholes.’

“At the time, I am a fat teenage girl, being shouted at in the street by arseholes. I am rendered silent with astonishment that I a being lectured on a radical feminist youth movement by a middle-aged straight white man…

“‘Oh, I get it all the time,’ Charlie [Moran’s homosexual friend] says, cheerfully. ‘It’s mainly conversations about how difficult it is to be a gay man—explained to me by a straight man’” [p. 140–141].

On Getting Ahead of Yourself in Potential Future Relationships.

“I imagine possible relationships all the time” [p. 149].

On Pole-Dancing Classes.

“Just as pornography isn’t inherently wrong—it’s just some fucking—so pole-dancing, or lap-dancing, or stripping, aren’t inherently wrong—it’s just some dancing. So long as women are doing it for fun—because they want to, and they are in a place where they won’t be misunderstood, and because it seems ridiculous and amusing, and something that might very well end with you leaning against a wall, crying with laughter as your friends try to mend the crotch-split in your leggings with a safety pin—then it’s a simple open-and-shut case of carry, girls. Feminism is behind you.

“It’s the same deal with any ‘sexy dancing’ in a nightclub—any grinding, any teasing, any of those Jamaican dancehall moves, where the women are—not to put too fine a point on it—fucking the floor as if they need to be pregnant by some parquet tiles by midnight. Any action a woman engages in from a spirit of joy, and within a similarly safe and joyous environment, falls within the city-walls of feminism. A girl has a right to dance how she wants, when her favourite record comes on” [p. 174].

“I Am in Heels! I Am a Woman!”

“I have a whole box full of such shoes under my bed. Each pair was bought as a down payment on a new life I had seen in a magazine, and subsequently thought I would attain, now I had the ‘right’ shoes” [p. 199].

“WE CANNOT WALK IN THE DAMN THINGS… So why do we believe that wearing heels is an intrinsic part of being a woman, despite knowing it doesn’t work? Why do we fetishise these things that almost universally make us walk like mad ducks? Was Germaine Greer right? Is the heel just to catch the eyes of men, and get laid?” [p. 202–203].

On Ladymags.

“… Those women’s magazines… are making me feel genuinely bad about my life achievement. Because I don’t yet have an ‘investment handbag’” [p. 205].

Fashion: Turn to the Left.

“… Fashion is… a compulsory game… And you can’t get out of it by faking a period. I know. I’ve tried” [p. 210].

On Childbirth.

“Finally, I have met someone who realises what I have known all along. This bitch [midwife] sees me for what I truly am: incapable [of giving birth]” [p. 221].

“I haven’t told you the half of it. I haven’t told you about Pete [Moran’s husband] crying, or the shit, or vomiting three feet up a wall, or gasping ‘mouth!’ for the gas and air, as I’d forgotten all other words. Or the nerve that Lizzie [her firstborn daughter] damaged with her face and how, ten years later, my right leg is still numb and cold. Or the four failed epidurals, which left each vertebra smashed and bruised, and the fluid between them feeling like hot, rotting vinegar. And the most important thing—the shock, the shock that Lizzie’s birth would hurt me so much…” [p. 221–222].

“She [Lizzie, a couple of days after birth] still looks like an internal organ” [p. 223].

“You basically come out of that operating theatre like Tina Turner in Mad Max: Beyond the Thunderdome, but lactating” [p. 226].

On Feminism in General.

“… Again and again over the last few years, I turned to modern feminism to answer questions that I had but found that what had once been the most exciting, incendiary and effective revolution of all time had somehow shrunk down into a couple of increasingly small arguments, carried out among a couple of dozen feminist academics… Here’s my beef with this:

“1) Feminism is too important to only be discussed by academics. And, more pertinently:

“2) I’m not a feminist academic, but, by God, feminism is so serious, momentous and urgent, that now is really the time for it to be championed by a lighthearted broadsheet columnist and part-time TV critic, who has appalling spelling. If something’s thrilling and fun, I want to join in—not watch from the sidelines. I have stuff to say! Camille Paglia has Lady Gaga ALL WRONG! The feminist organization Object are nuts when it comes to pornography! Germaine Greer, my heroine, is crackers on the subject of transgender issues! And no one is tackling OK! Magazine, £600 handbags, tiny pants, Brazilians, stupid hen nights or Katie Price” [p. 12].

“I don’t know if we can talk about ‘waves’ of feminism anymore—by my reckoning, the next wave would be the fifth, and I suspect it’s around the fifth wave that you stop referring to individual waves, and start to refer, simply, to an incoming tide.

“But if there is to be a fifth wave of feminism, I would hope that the main thing that distinguishes it from all that came before is that women counter the awkwardness, disconnect and bullshit of being a modern woman, not by shouting at it, internalising it or squabbling about it—but by simply pointing at it, and going ‘HA!’, instead” [p. 14].

“‘I AM A FEMINIST’… It’s probably one of the most important things a woman will ever say… Say it. SAY IT! SAY IT NOW! Because if you can’t, you’re basically bending over, saying, ‘Kick my arse and take my voice now, please, the patriarchy.’

“And do not think that you shouldn’t be standing on that chair shouting ‘I AM A FEMINIST!’ if you are a boy. A male feminist is one of the most glorious end-products of evolution” [p. 72].

“What do you think feminism IS, ladies? What part of ‘liberation for women’ is not for you? Is it freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? The campaign for equal pay?… It’s technically impossible for a woman to argue against feminism. Without feminism, you wouldn’t be allowed to have a debate on a woman’s place in society. You’d be too busy giving birth on the kitchen floor—biting down on a wooden spoon, so as not to disturb the men’s card game—before going back to quick-liming the dunny” [p. 80].

“I don’t see it as men vs woman as all. What I see, instead, is winner vs loser… For even the most ardent feminist historian, male or female… can’t conceal that women have basically done fuck all for the last 100,000 years. Come on—let’s admit it. Let’s stop exhaustingly pretending that there is a parallel history of women being victorious and creative, on an equal with men, that’s just been comprehensively covered up by The Man. There isn’t” [p. 134–135].

On “Having It All”.

“Batman doesn’t want a baby in order to feel he’s ‘done everything’. He’s just saved Gotham again! If this means that Batman must be a feminist role model above, say, Nicola Horlick [British investment fund manager], then so be it…

“In the 21st century, it can’t be about who we might make, and what they might do, anymore. It has to be about who we are, and what we’re going to do” [p. 245–246].

On Pop Music.

“Pop [music] is the cultural bellwether of social change” [p. 254].

On Abortion.

“I cannot stand anti-abortion arguments that centre on the sanctity of life. As a species, we’ve fairly comprehensively demonstrated that we don’t believe in the sanctity of life. The shrugging acceptance of war, famine, epidemic, pain and lifelong, grinding poverty show us that, whatever we tell ourselves, we’ve made only the most feeble of efforts to really treat human life as sacred.

“I don’t understand then, why, in the midst of all this, pregnant women… should be subject to more pressure about preserving human life than, say, Vladimir Putin, the World Bank, or the Catholic Church” [p. 275].

“For if a pregnant woman has dominion over life, who should she not also have dominion over not-life?… On a very elemental level, if women are, by biology, commanded to host, shelter, nurture and protect life, why should they not be empowered to end life, too?” [p. 273].

On Being a Muse to Men. 

“Men go out and do things—wage wars, discover new countries, conquer space, tour Use Your Illusion 1 and 11—whilst the women inspire them to greater things, then discuss afterwards, a length, what’s happened…” [p. 300].

Related: Mama Mia: A Memoir of Mistakes, Magazines & Motherhood by Mia Freedman Review.

Mia Culpa: Confessions from the Watercooler of Life by Mia Freedman Review.

Feminism Respects Women More Than Anything, Including the Catholic Church!

Elsewhere: [Tiger Beatdown] Chronicles of Mansplaining: Professor Feminism & the Deleted Comments of Doom.  

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5 thoughts on “Book Review: How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran.

  1. Pingback: In Defence of Porn. « The Early Bird Catches the Worm

  2. Pingback: 12 Posts of Christmas: Why is Feminism Still a Dirty Word? « The Early Bird Catches the Worm

  3. Pingback: 12 Posts of Christmas: In Defence of Porn. « The Early Bird Catches the Worm

  4. Pingback: Books: Book-Shaming. | The Scarlett Woman

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