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A book for any gender and any stage of adult life (read: men, this is for you too), How to Be a Woman is a modern feminist track-cum-memoir. Caitlin Moran, an award-winning columnist for The Times, is a skilful narrator who tackles with abundant humour the most perplexing question to plague the modern woman: how to be one. Or, more precisely, how, in this world of loose morals and tight undies, can we navigate through life under the glass ceiling and come out the other side laughing?
With the first 11 chapters boasting exclamation marks in their titles, including “I Don’t Know What to Call My Breasts!” and “I Go Lap-Dancing!”, readers are well warned about Moran’s characteristic exuberance. It charts the rise of Moran’s sexuality, from the first whiff of puberty to procreating. In the mix of these life events are musings and conversational yarns about the state of womanhood these days and in those days (the late 80s and early 90s get plenty of exercise). The wry humour and wit that accompany the first chapters set Moran up to deal with some of womankind’s more pressing social and moral issues towards the end.
Her ruminations, rants, and moments of despair range from obvious questions surrounding feminism, to the more inconspicuous topics. She deals with Brazilians, strip clubs, tiny underwear, being fat, and being bitchy; as well as subtle sexism, the pros and cons for childbearing and rearing, and what is happening to our role models, eloquently discussing Scarlett Johansson’s breasts, masturbation, and the (scary) truth about women’s thought processes.
This is a woman who has done her homework. Wage-gap statistics sit comfortably beside a lifetime of experience. Her arguments are smart and well rounded, arriving at clear, but often ignored, conclusions. Her myriad of experiences, including run-ins with drugs, that time she got drunk with Lady Gaga in a German sex club, and an abortion, give authenticity to her reasoning on contentious issues.
The book is full of syntactical gems illustrating apt truths, as if they were simply waiting for Moran to reveal them. “At 18, I am discovering what generations of women have long known: that the natural ally of the straight woman is the gay man. Because they are ‘other’…too.” She understands the power of words; she doesn’t ask that women become feminists: she assumes that they already are, encouraging us to reclaim the label “strident feminist”. She queries how it ever went out of fashion to be into equal rights: “What part of ‘liberation for women’ is not for you? … Or were you just DRUNK AT THE TIME OF SURVEY?”
She goes beyond the interesting but dry world of social criticism and feminism to a laugh-out-loud, incredibly relatable, and important read for women. And men too. Moran makes it clear that more men should “stand up on [their] chairs” and proclaim that “I AM A FEMINIST! …[as] a male feminist is one of the most glorious end-products of evolution.”
While Moran despairs at the status quo, she is an optimist who has created a toolbox of rhetoric for all women to take themselves and their cunts (not that this is requisite to womanhood) to a position of greater self-awareness and well-earned respect. It’s a wonder that there hasn’t been a Government initiative giving everyone a copy on their 16th birthday.