Since we began studying contemporary women’s journalism at Sixth Form, I have been fascinated by Caitlin Moran. I have admired her for her ability to convey such important messages about feminism without laying all of the blame on men, taking other factors into consideration, laying accusations that feminists are all man-haters to rest. As I began developing my own views on the matter of feminism, which became stronger and clearer the older I grew and the more media I consumed, I was intensely intrigued to read her book How To Be a Woman, and after Moran’s name popped up in a French politics seminar discussion about the similarly amazing Simone de Beauvoir, I realised that this book may actually be a useful influence on my current studies, rather than simply just for my entertainment, and ordered it mid-seminar. Having read it, I think I was right, but it definitely entertained me, too!
I’m not sure what I was expecting out of Moran’s book, really, except her wit and humour that is apparent in so much of her writing- and she certainly didn’t disappoint. I suppose I thought it would be a critique of modern day society, and the negative impacts the Patriarchy has on women; I expected her to pepper her arguments with anecdotes, for credibility and comedy value. However, what I found was almost an autobiography, or memoir, of her life, illustrating how the world can be a difficult place for women to exist, despite their vital role in it.
We are thrown into Moran’s hometown of Wolverhampton, on the estate on which she grew up, in her severely overcrowded house. What is most striking, to me, is how Moran acknowledges her misfortune as a child and does make clear her disadvantaged upbringing and slightly eccentric family, without ever showing signs of being resentful.
I must admit that I cringed at some points, with her crudely honest description of puberty and the stuffing of tissues in her underwear, but Caitlin opening up so early on just allowed me to appreciate her as a normal woman who had endured all of life’s struggles as much as myself. In fact, I think her account of shaving her legs and pubic hair just goes to show that absolutely no one has it easy when it comes to puberty, not even one of of the most admirable women in today’s society. These accounts reminded me somewhat of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾, just told more self-deprecatingly, given Moran’s retrospective view of the events.
I love how Moran leads us through each important stage in her life, chapter by chapter, reflecting the shock of each by finishing their titles with an exclamation mark. She never pretends that any part of becoming who she is now was easy, but she seems mostly thankful that most of it took place, and recognises that things are only wholly bad if you allow them to be. She teaches the reader that everyone, but especially women, must decide and make their own freedom, so that they aren’t passively directed by the Patriarchy.
She is not afraid to admit to the reader that she has fallen so behind on paying bills that her telephone was cut off, or that she has had her fair share of experimenting with drugs, but neither does she boast about these factors of her life. She shares the heartfelt story of her abortion, although, even this is shot through with humour at points, but doesn’t suggest that it should be the only option for a feminist.
The greatest thing about Caitlin Moran’s How To Be a Woman is that she simply encourages people to be who they want to be without being judged, or needing the approval from society. She points to many flaws in the media, for example, when she meets Lady Gaga, and makes the ‘shocking’ revelation that women may dress sexily in order to feel empowered and to impress each other, rather than to attract male attention, for whom they aspire to be sexually objectified. However, Caitlin also posits that, if women do want to go around having sex with different men, or women for that matter, then that is ok, too!
It is undeniably that she has come a long way from the bed she shared with her younger sister, in which her grandmother died, and the threadbare hand-me-down knickers she inherited from her mother, in which, her sister jokes, her younger sister was conceived. But Caitlin Moran never forgets where she has come from; she lets every event in her life act as a contribution to the person she has become, and the beliefs that she has now.
She makes it strikingly clear that being a feminist doesn’t mean that you hate all men and that you want women to run the world, there wouldn’t be male feminists, if that were the case. In fact, she openly states that she doesn’t want any men to have any of their rights taken away from them, she just simply wants women to be able to share more of them. To have an equal chance in the world.
Having enjoyed the book so much that I couldn’t put it down, I read right through to the end of the Acknowledgements, which rarely happens. I am glad to have done so because possibly my favourite part of her life story occupies the very last part: her dedication to her husband. However, in true Moran style, she wouldn’t be able to simply thank him for his support without adding a sliver of humour, and here it comes in the form of her admitting her culpability in breaking their door handle.
The fact that Moran shares so much in this book; that she admits her wrongdoings and that she stays true to who she is only makes me want to be more like her than I did before reading it. I think the combination of her title and her content really does teach her readers how to be women, or men, for that matter: simply be yourself.