Book Review: How to Be a Woman

How to Be a WomanHow to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

Genre: Memoir, Feminism
Rating: 2/5 stars


I noticed some very mixed reviews about this book prior to reading it. Some have been hailing it has the go-to feminist book – a must-read for women everywhere. Others – including those who identify themselves as feminists – said it was horrific.

My experiences with the book were all over the place. Depending on the topic, I found myself emphatically agreeing with Moran, understanding and assimilating new ideas, or astonished at how much she’s off her freaking rocker, sometimes all within one chapter.

Generally, I don’t give much away when I write about a book . . . I offer my reaction to it and no more of the plot than you’d get from the back cover . . . but I just have so much to say about How to Be a Woman that there’s no way for me to do without giving away quite a bit from the book. So if you intend to read this and don’t want to know the author’s perspectives prior to reading, you should stop now. (I should also warn you that this is incredibly long!)

First off, the description of the book promises “laugh-out-loud funny scenes.” I can assure that I did not once laugh out loud. In fact, I don’t even think I chuckled to myself at all while reading. And it’s not that I’m just not the laugh-while-reading type . . . I have no problem busting out with a full-on snorting laugh on the bus if the book is funny enough . . . the book just wasn’t funny.

I can get past that though. If there are enough interesting things going on, I don’t need to laugh. As I already mentioned, my feelings jumped like crazy in this book . . . so I’ll break the rest of this up by subject.

  • Pornography – I agree with Moran here . . . that pornography is just people having sex, which cannot be innately demeaning unless you think women having sex is demeaning. The problem with the pornography industry is the limit to what’s offered . . . the completely unrealistic scenarios where women are mere objects and their satisfaction is secondary at best and non-existent at worst.
  • Shaving/waxing – Moran brought up some interesting points that I hadn’t really thought about before. This quote sums it up – “It’s not to look like a model. It’s not to be Pamela Anderson. It’s just to look normal.” And I agree with her stance that that’s ridiculous . . . that women are shaving areas that will hardly be seen just to be normal because that’s what our culture has perpetuated. However, I disagree with Moran’s judgment against anyone who chooses to shave/wax. It should be about personal choice . . . not because culture or a man or even some feminist in a book dictates it.
  • Naming body parts – Apparently Moran has an issue with using the proper names for her body parts, which has led her to seek out words that work best for her. Fabulous for her. I have no problem with that. But I don’t think it’s necessary to denigrate all other choices. I personally prefer to call my breasts and my vagina what they are. That being said, I agree with her love of the word cunt.
  • Reclaiming “feminism” – A giant, giant yes to this. So many have decided to turn this word into something that it’s not . . . to make it a man-hating declaration . . . when feminism is simply about the liberation of women . . . from the right to vote to the right not be a husband’s property to, hopefully someday soon, the right not to make 30% less than our male counterparts in workplace.
  • Fat – This was a mixed chapter. There were some points she made that made a lot of sense – how overeating is the one vice we cannot talk about (it’s okay to walk into the office and say, “Man I had a rough night – I drank an entire bottle of vodka,” but it’s not okay to say, “Man I had a rough night – I ate an entire pecan pie.”) and how overeating is the first-choice vice of care-givers because it leaves them completely able to function to breastfeed, change diapers, make dinner, etc. etc. What I found disgusting was her reference to what is “human-shaped.” It’s her determination for what’s fat and what’s not and what’s fat is not human-shaped. So if you’re a little chunky but still human-shaped, you’re not fat. But if you’re not human-shaped, you’re fat. And apparently, when she was 224 pounds, she was not human-shaped. I think have too many words for this bit to fit in here.
  • Strip clubs – From what I gather, Moran went to one cruddy strip club and decided that not only are they all degrading to women, but any woman defending her choice to work in a strip club is “letting the rest of us down.” Burlesque, however, is classy so that’s different. Issue #1 is the judgment against all strip clubs. I’ve been to a few . . . some were truly disgusting (and trust me, I didn’t stay long), others were not only clean with a warm, welcoming atmosphere, but you could see the difference in the attitude of the strippers —- from one of “I’m doing this because I have no other choices.” to “This is what I want to be doing.” Issue #2 – Who the hell is Moran to shame those who are doing what they want to do? . . . This is where the book’s vibe of “feminism means to be exactly like me and to think exactly like me” begins to really solidify.
  • Fashion – I don’t know anyone who owns an “investment purse” (which is about a $1000 pocketbook). I’ve never spent more than $50 on a pocketbook (and that’s a rarity). I also don’t have a box full of heels under my bed. Apparently, all other women do.
  • Children – I enjoyed the chapters, “Why you should have children” and “Why you shouldn’t have children” —- basically summed up with, do what you want and your life will be fulfilling either way. It’s your choice. . . . Yes. Exactly.
  • Role models – I must have missed Lady Gaga becoming the premier role model for feminists everywhere. This entire chapter reads like it was written by giddy teenage fangirl who just wishes she could be her idol. I have nothing against Moran’s worship of Lady Gaga (though I really have no opinions on her either way), but it’s hardly worth the devotion she gave to it in the book . . . it was more like she just wanted an excuse to share her adventures palling around with the icon. . . . I’m also quite surprised that she neglected an entire era of female musical artists – Sarah McLachlan, Tori Amos, Indigo Girls . . . to name a few. Hell, one mention of Lilith Fair would have been nice. But for someone who spent her teen and young adult years covering the music industry, you’d think she’d have more of an understanding of the female music base than Lady Gaga and Madonna (who is, apparently, not as great of a role model as Lady Gaga because she wasn’t a hit by the time she was 24).
  • Abortion – Moran adamantly makes the point that making the decision to have an abortion does not have to be one filled with torment . . . that for her it was, in fact, an easy decision. She knew what was right for her and she didn’t have any turmoil over that. I can respect that. I have no desire to make someone feel any kind of way about the decisions she makes. As I mentioned in a recent post, my feelings about abortion are irrelevant – what another woman chooses to do and why she chooses to do it is none of my business. However, she then explains about the worst parts after the procedure was finished and I felt that she contradicting herself . . . and I think denying that difficulty is as bad as someone refusing to accept that it might not be a difficult decision.
  • Afterlife – So according to Moran, society’s biggest problem – the number one reason people are less willing to help others and to do better with their lives – is that so many people believe in an afterlife. “Underneath every day – every action, every word – you think it doesn’t really matter if you screw up this time around because you can just sort it all out in paradise.” – Um, seriously? Her answer is that when people fear an absolute end then they will be better motivated. My personal beliefs asides, I could probably write an entire paper about what’s wrong with those statements.
  • Honesty – I’ll end my list on a positive — “Simply being honest about who we really are is half the battle. If what you read in magazines and papers makes you feel uneasy or shitty – don’t buy them! If you’re vexed by corporate entertaining taking place in titty bars – shame your colleagues! If you feel oppressed by the idea of an expensive wedding – ignore your mother-in-law and run away to the justice of the peace! And if you think a £600 handbag is obscene, instead of bravely saying, ‘I’ll just have to max my credit card,’ quietly say, ‘Actually, I can’t afford it.’”

I was completely unfamiliar with Caitlin Moran before reading this book. I was hoping it would be a humorous look at feminism and why it’s important in today’s culture. What I got was a bunch of ranting about what pisses her off in the midst of her occasionally amusing anecdotes. If this was written as a straight memoir, I probably would have enjoyed it more. As a feminist manifesto? Hell no. Moran holds entirely way too much judgment for women who don’t do feminism the way she thinks it should be done . . . which is funny considered she criticized Germaine Greer for the same thing at one point in her book.

The constant generalizations were probably the biggest turn off. She seems to expect everyone to have the same experiences she’s had, which is really rather ludicrous.

Overall, I am glad I read the book. I love a good debate and while maybe it wasn’t “good,” I did debate the author through much of my reading . . . it caused me to think – whether it was because of a new perspective I’ve adopted or in order to argue my point against Moran’s stance – and I’ll never regret reading a book that makes me think.

Now I’m off to read something that will hopefully be much more enjoyable!


Upcoming reviews — Island of the Sequined Love Nun by Christopher Moore, Athena the Wise (Goddess Girls #5) by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams, and Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

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5 responses to this post.

  1. Wow, this IS a long review! I feel like to respond to what you said about each section would be a huge post in itself…so I will just say that you were right and it does make me not want to read it as much….BUT I think I might still consider it just to see the differences for myself…idk…


    • I *am* happy that I read it. There were enough good bits to make it worth it . . . just don’t go into it with expectations as high as mine were!


  2. Great review, I’m definitely intrigued. It probably wouldn’t be a book I’d grab to read – I’m not a huge feminist – plus everything I need to know about being a woman I learned from Bossy Pants.


  3. […] just one man.” (I had issues with so much of this book . . . which you can read about here . . . but there were a few really great quotable […]


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