Friday, August 22, 2014

How to Be a Woman

How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran (2011)

How to Be a Woman was recommended by my coworker Jenny who, among her many fine qualities, is always up for a good feminist rant. This is an uncommon trait these days and one for which I am very grateful. I also know that any book about feminism she recommends is going to be worth reading.

A cover blurb from Vanity Fair calls it "The British version of Tina Fey's Bossypants" and it is quite similar, at least in spirit. Moran describes her experiences growing up in a society where women are too frequently judged by their looks and made to feel uncomfortable when they don't conform to cultural beauty standards. She recounts the awkwardness of puberty, self-deprecatingly reveals her love life, and describes the sometimes graphic physicalities of womanhood such as menstruation, childbirth, and abortion. All with her sharp sense of humor and a great deal of swearing. This is where it begins to differ from Fey's book.

This book is not for the faint of heart. Moran does not shy away from using her words, and includes a whole section in which she lists and examines all the possible names for ladyparts. One of the funniest passages - and please, look away if graphic things bother you - is in the chapter "I Become Furry!" which is all about pubic hair.

"Watch any porn made after, say, 1988, and it's all hairless down there: close-ups are like watching Daddy Warbucks, with no eyes, eating a very large, fidgety sausage."

Oh my god! I love it!

(I think it was around here, still early in the book, when I remembered that the aforementioned Jenny had picked this for a book discussion group at the library. You know, the one attended almost exclusively by 60-something ladies. I had not realized until now just how brave a choice that was.)

Another of my favorite passages - this one with less disturbing visuals - is from chapter 4, "I Am a Feminist!" Moran urges her readers to stand on a chair and shout "I AM A FEMINIST!" and does not exempt boys from this directive:

"A male feminist is one of the most glorious end-products of evolution. A male feminist should ABSOLUTELY be on the chair-- so we ladies may all toast you, in champagne, before coveting your body wildly. And maybe get you to change that lightbulb, while you're up there. We cannot do it ourselves. There is a big spiderweb on the socket."

Okay, just one more. In "I Get into Fashion!" she recounts how her quest for an investment handbag only reaffirmed that she is part of the underclass.

"If I'm honest, the handbag I would probably like most is a big hollowed-out potato with handles on it. A giant King Edward with satchel straps. Then, in times of crisis, I could bake and eat the handbag and survive the winter. That is the way of my people."

Amen, sister.

Despite how I'm presenting it, How to Be a Woman isn't just one hilarious anecdote after another. Real issues are tackled and examined. But it helps that her thoughtful commentary about the patriarchy, abortion, and role models are illustrated by real-life stories about the difficulty of buying underwear, the unwearability of high heels, and that time she got drunk with Lady Gaga. They make her points relatable as well as entertaining.

There were so many passages I wanted to remember and go back to that I have bookmarked and dog-eared this thing to death, which I'm sorry to say since it's a library book. Reading this made me feel like I was 20 again and discovering feminism for the first time, a feeling which was only heightened by attending a Tori Amos concert mid-book. It was all enough to make me want to get together with a group of my closest female friends and burn some bras while shouting "Down with patriarchy!"

In summary, if you are a woman, or love/support/appreciate women, like humor, and aren't offended easily then you should probably read this book. It will have you standing on chairs declaring to startled passersby "I AM A FEMINIST!"


Sam (Tiny Library) said...

I love a good feminist rant, and I so wanted to love this book, but I just couldn't. Glad you loved it so much though :)

3goodrats said...

I actually tried reading it once before and couldn't quite get into it. But I decided that I just wasn't in the mood and should try it again. It's definitely a particular type of feminist book, and probably not for everyone.