How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
It may seem an odd choice to review for this blog and I have, to be frank, ummed and aahed about actually doing so. But then I thought again about the range of accessible feminist literature for this age range and realised that yes, How To Be A Woman deserves a consideration on its role for the young adult market.
But how then can I review something when I am not a young adult myself? It’s borderline presumptive to decide that my viewpoint is representative of an agegroup I am not, and that is something I am not trying to do here. Rather, I want to look at How To Be A Woman from the perspective of identity. Womanhood, girlhood, gender(ed) experience, call it what you will, is hard. Complex. It’s something I’m struggling with even now.
I think How To Be A Woman can and does fit into that space and I would have loved to have read it during my teenage years. There aren’t that many other books out there that so overtly and boldly try to explain the madness that can be womanhood. And Moran is good at this, she’s a smart, clever and vivacious writer. Appealing, frankly, at parts, and stylishly searing at others. She’s the sort of person I’d want as a friend though I think I’d be terrified by her.
But this book, oh how I longed to love this book more than I did.
In a way it suffers from the same tension that this review suffers. Writing a book on womanhood from a sole authorial perspective will naturally exclude others. It will also naturally promote a certain, particular sort of gender experience. There are others who have and do comment much more articulately on these issues better than me, so I recommend seeking out some other reviews in order to fully understand what I mean.
In addition to this, there’s an odd sort of disconnect to it. Moran’s writing is luscious in parts but in others, comes across as subdued. Her chapter on abortions is stunning, and perhaps more educational than anything I’ve ever read on the subject, but then in other parts, she is just – a – little – conciliatory? As if, after saying X is wrong but then in the next chapter X is alright if you do it like this?
So why am I reviewing this in the first place? It all boils back to identity, the discovery of it and the (re)claiming of it, and if that’s not at the heart of the teenage experience than I do not know what is.
I am a fan of Moran’s writing. I love her columns, her crisp and stylish columns, though I do not agree with them all. And though I do not agree with all of this book, I appreciate the articulation of the issues. As a teen, I would have clung onto How To Be A Woman and hoped that it would have given me a map out of the sea of hormones and angst that was my life. As an adult, with one hand almost, but almost, starting to hold onto the person that I think I am, I found How To Be A Woman lacking and in some places, antithetical.
It’s not a guide to finding out what the world means. I’m not sure it could ever be one. What it is is finding out about how you could interpret the world, about how you can filter all these messages coming at you from all sides, and about how you can hold onto your self throughout. Your self isn’t Moran. It can’t be. But the acknowledgement and discovery of that through reading How To Be A Woman is perhaps one of its better points.
4 thoughts on “How to be a Woman : Caitlin Moran”
I enjoyed reading this book but I know what you mean about feeling conflicted about it too. Some of her arguments didn’t stand up to close scrutiny either. Style-wise there was too much capitalization too, which sort of belittled her points because it was reminiscent of text speak or a child writing. Generally I find Moran amusing and liked the book but it wore a little thin at times. Glad I read it though.
It’s a complicated one isn’t it. I agree with what you mean about the thinness of it – there were moments when she very much had me, and others where I just slid right back from the text.
I loved most of this when I read it, but there were a couple of comments she made about lesbians and trans people which made me wish she had thought a bit more about what she was saying, or just not mentioned either group at all because it seemed to me that she had little understanding or sympathy with either. Having said that, the parts where she talked about things common to all women, regardless of sexuality, had me literally laughing out loud and I found much of what she said witty and refreshing.
That’s the bit that got me, she was so brilliant when she was on point, but when she got off point, she was so very much off point. Thank you for your thoughts on it, it’s really interesting to hear what people say.