Highly Recommended / New to Me Author / Nonfiction (Misc)

How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

HowToBeWomanLast year I said that every woman should read The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman. I’m adding How to Be a Woman to that list.

I’m coming late to the Caitlin Moran party, since I’ve read about her from many bloggers. She’s the author of Moranthology and most recently, How to Build a Girl.  She’s a columnist, a TV critic, and wrote her first novel at the age of fifteen.

Everything about this book was funny but also completely RIGHT. Moran takes us from her teenage years to her forties, describing what it means to be a woman every step of the way. There are chapters on sex, shoes, menstruation, breasts, weddings, childbirth, and plastic surgery. There are a bazillion things I wanted to quote from this book, but here are just a few.

On sexy underwear:

Women wear small underpants because they think they’re sexy. But in this respect, women have communally lost all reason. Ladies! On how many occasions in the last year have you needed to wear a tiny pair of skimpy undies? In other words, to break this right down, how many times have you suddenly, unexpectedly, had sex in a brightly lit room, with a hard-to please erotic connoisseur? Exactly. With those kind of odds, you might just as well be keeping a backgammon board down there to entertain a group of elderly ladies in the event of emergencies. It’s more likely to happen. Imagine if men suffered from this demented level of over-preparation. If they did, they would be packing two tickets for a long weekend to Prague in their boxers, lest they suddenly come across a lady who needs romance RIGHT NOW. And men aren’t doing that. They really aren’t.

On weddings:

While there are plenty of awful things we can place at the door of men – wars, rape, nuclear weapons, stock market crashes, Top Gear, that thing where they put their hand down the front of their jogging bottoms and rearrange their sweaty knackers while on the bus, before touching a railing I then have to touch, too, all covered in their sweaty bollock-mist – weddings definitely come down to the ladies. … And yet women now think of it as our “reward” to spend one incredibly expensive day acting like these twats, before biting the bullet, settling down, and never having another “special” day again. … With stuff like this, you have to look at the men. Do they have one special day where they feel like kings of the world and then go back to lives of quiet drudgery? No. Surely, women, we would happily exchange one “special” day for a life filled with more modest pleasures?

On plastic surgery:

So. Yes. We’re all dying. We’re all crumbling into the void, one cell at a time. We are disintegrating like sugar cubes in champagne. But only women have to pretend it isn’t happening. Fifty-something men wander around with their guts flopped over their waistbands and their faces looking like a busted tramp’s mattress in an underpass. They sprout nasal hair and chasmlike wrinkles, and go “Ooof!” whenever they stand up or sit down. Men visibly age, every day – but women are supposed to stop the decline around 37, 38, and live out the next 30 or 40 years in some magical bubble where their hair is still shiny and chestnut, their face unlined, their lips puffy, and their tits up on the top third of the rib cage. Why can’t we just loosen our belts, take off our heels, and cheerfully rot, like the boys?

This book isn’t just hilarious though, there are important life lessons too.  Here’s what I took away.

In the same way that you can tell if some sexism is happening to you by asking the question, “is this polite, or not?” you can tell whether some misogynistic societal pressure is being exerted on women by calmly enquiring, “And are the men doing this, as well?” If they aren’t, chances are you’re dealing with what we strident feminists refer to as “some total fucking bullshit.”

and:

 The thing that has given me the most relief and freedom in my adult years has been, finally, once and for all giving up on the idea that I might secretly be, or will one day become, a princess. Accepting you’re just some perfectly ordinary woman who is going to have to crack on, work hard, and be polite in order to get anything done is – once you’ve gotten over the crippling disappointment of your thundering ordinariness – incredibly liberated.

Moran has a chapter on how motherhood makes you stronger, because it gives you more perspective on what’s important. As a non-parent, I was less into that chapter, but I get it.  And then she follows that one up with a chapter on why everyone doesn’t need to have kids. She covers it all.

My one caution for readers is that if you don’t know a lot of British slang, you’ll miss a few things. I found I could figure most of it out, although occasionally I didn’t get a reference or two (what on earth is a “womble”?). But I read a lot of British authors, so words like slag and knickers don’t phase me. I loved the way Moran writes — you simply can’t beat the expression “bollock-mist”.  As you can tell, a little bit of swearing doesn’t phase me either.

Moran is an amazing, brilliant writer and every chapter of this book was something I wanted to share with my sisters and with my husband. Seriously, it should be required reading for both sexes.

9 thoughts on “How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

  1. I never got to those passages because essentially I found the the early part of the book unreadable. It felt she was trying too hard to be provocative. Germaine Greer did it all so much better.

    • You make a good point, and I do think the book got funnier once you got past the feminism chapter. But I never found it unreadable. I don’t know that most of the “younger generations” are reading Germaine Greer, so I guess I’m just glad someone’s talking about feminism.

    • Thanks, I’m glad you liked it. I feel like I took away some really important messages for such a funny book — like the idea that we should stop trying to be perfect as we get older, and the idea that if men aren’t doing something, maybe we shouldn’t either.

  2. I almost wish I had done a readalong of this with someone. I just didn’t get it :/ It’s funny, I see a comment above that mentions not being able to get through the beginning and that’s exactly what happened to me. I’m no prude and can swear with the best of them, lol, but I felt like she was trying so hard to be shocking that I was rolling my eyes. I know that I’m in the tiny majority and most everyone I know loved this book. As the old saying goes, it’s not you, it’s me 😉 I do want to read her fiction book though. I haven’t given up on her!

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