13 Sep 2011

Becky's Book Review #7 - How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran

Title: How To Be A Woman
Author: Caitlin Moran
Rating: 4/5 for humour, 2/5 for content
Genre: Cultural/social studies

Note - today's book review is going to be a little bit different. Firstly I'll give you an overview of the book and then my opinion of it. I'm also going to follow up this review with a post about my opinion on some of the topics Moran covers. I really look forward to your comments at the end....

Book Overview
Caitlin Moran - a regular Times/Guardian columnist and paid up member of the British Twitterati- has written a modern feminist's handbook which aims to do exactly as per the title - how to be a woman. Following Moran's experiences of everything from porn to pubic hair, menstruation to abortion, we learn how it seems Moran thinks we should be women in the 21st century. This is a humourous call to arms aimed squarely at Generations X + Y......or is it?

My Opinion
First up, I'm a feminist - as per Moran's feminism test early on in the book - I may have paraphrased slightly:

"You're a feminist if a) you have a vagina and b) you want to be in charge of it"

Well aside from the fact that I believe men can be feminists too, I agree with this statement - and I think pretty much every woman out there does. Moran sets out to point out that really, all women are feminists, even the ones who write for the Daily Fail. Without feminism, they wouldn't have the liberty to write for the Fail in the first place.

I should also add that I have read Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch + The Whole Woman plus I've read The Handmaid's Tale a zillion times, so yeah. I've read a bit of feminist literature. However, I'm no expert and also, I don't consider myself a `militant` feminist. I don't feel the need to divide beliefs into levels of commitment or belief. You either are or aren't a feminist. What you do with that is up to you.

So, back to the book. As much as it was incredibly entertaining and zestily funny, and I very much envied Moran's lifestyle - going to a sex club with Lady Gaga anyone - I don't understand why feminism needs, effectively, to be sold to the masses in a dumbed down format. Which is what this book IMO does.

I felt rather patronised by the way that Moran needed to make every issue cheeky and soundbite-y. Yes it's bloody funny to think of our overgrown bikini lines as wookie-like but FFS, I'm 30, I've lived with my wookie-ness for awhile now....I also felt that she trivalised the more serious issues - sex trafficking, porn, sexism, abortion etc by writing about them in a simillar tone. Perhaps I'm coming across as po faced here and I know that the point of the book was to inject some fun into feminism but I think she does herself, her intelligence, and women generally a disservice by doing this. As a result, I wasn't sure really who the book was aimed at. I actually felt quite alienated by what she wrote - and I'm a relatively intelligent, middle class white female - surely I should be looking at Moran as some sort of messiah for expressing her opinions like this?

Ultimately, there are no semi-humorous books out there on "How To Be Black" or "How To Be Jewish" - so why do we need a book to make it seem cool and trendy to be a feminist. I don't think wanting equality should be reduced to being a fashion statement, it's a way of life. This just seemed a little like a ladette culture manifesto.

To conclude, I absolutely believe Moran's heart was in the right place when she wrote the book - feminism has suffered some PR issues over the last 30 years - stereotypes abound and young women today question whether they are feminists - clearly some work needed to be done. However, I don't think this book is the answer.

If you're debating whether to read/buy this book I would definitely recommend it - it's an interesting, funny read that makes you laugh and think - however please then also read Germaine Greer and compare it to give yourself a full, well rounded view of the history of feminism - and sexism. After all, women have only had voting equality with men for 83 years. Scary when you put it like that isn't it....

Please be sure to put your comments + thoughts below - on feminism, sexism, Caitlin Moran, Germaine Greer etc - I'm really keen to hear what you guys think,

Thank you and goodnight

Stupidgirl has left the building


  1. Having been reared by a woman who aspired to feminism, I read Greer many years ago. I grew up with 1960's and 70's feminism, although my Mum never burnt her bra. It might surprise some readers to hear that in 1978, employers could ask women if they were planning a family in job interviews AND insist women wore skirts to work unless the temperature was below freezing. This was a Local Authority. I would hate to think that the serious efforts for equality for women were trivialised in the name of humour. If a book is well written, people will read it, funny or not!

  2. Excellent post - really don't think the book is aimed at old feminists like me ;-)

    Best thing to happen to ALL women, feminist or otherwise, was the Pill. Changed most women's lives for the better, for ever. End of.

    btw 83 years applies to British women only....and we weren't the first nor the last to get the vote.

  3. Great post! I have a copy beside the bed and am looking forward to reading it.
    There is more to feminist literature than The Female Eunuch- it's over 40 years old. Female chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy gives an interesting take on raunch culture and women's place in it. The Great Feminist Denial by Monica Dux and Zora Simic is a more contemporary look at feminism from two Australian writers.

  4. Thanks ladies, glad you liked the post.

    Thanks also for highlighting other feminist authors for people to read :) will be checking out the recommends! x

  5. Thanks for the review. Disappointing that you found it alienating, but I like Moran's short light-hearted columns (which I read occasionally) and I can imagine that at full book length might feel a bit dismissive / lacking in substance.

    Personally, I haven't self-identified as feminist until fairly recently, despite being a solid believer in equality, etc. I'm starting to change how I think thanks to various blogs and podcasts I've been reading/listening to in the last year or so, mostly in the spec fic community, especially the Galactic Suburbia podcast.

    I haven't read, but am planning to, How To Suppress Women's Writing by Joanna Russ. Some recent blog posts about women in writing (is that the same as feminism? I think not exactly, but they're tied up together):



  6. Oh, and: