But if there is to be a fifth wave of feminism, I would hope that the main thing that distinguishes it from all that came before is that women counter the awkwardness, disconnect, and bullshit of being a modern woman not by shouting at it, internalizing it, or squabbling about it – but by simply pointing at it and going “HA!” instead.
How to Be a Woman
By Caitlin Moran
Though they have the vote and the Pill and haven’t been burned as witches since 1727, life isn’t exactly a stroll down the catwalk for modern women. They are beset by uncertainties and questions: Why are they supposed to get Brazilians? Why do bras hurt? Why the incessant talk about babies? And do men secretly hate them? Caitlin Moran interweaves provocative observations on women’s lives with laugh-out-loud funny scenes from her own, from adolescence to her development as a writer, wife, and mother.
How to Be a Woman was the April selection for Our Shared Shelf, and a title that tends to create some mixed reactions (if the reviews of others are any indication).
Caitlin Moran, a writer and journalist from the U.K., writes the book as a combination of feminist essay and personal memoir, and on the latter goal she succeed brilliantly. Moran relates stories and observations from her life with a fantastic sense of humor, providing clever, colorful, and often crude descriptions that reminded me very much of a candid conversation I might have with a close friend. She is wickedly funny within these smaller recollections, but it is her larger, grand-scheme point that left me feeling that this book could have been better.
It is clear that Moran wants people to understand what feminism is- that it is, in reality, the simple concept of believing that women and men should have equality. Though many of her points are insightful and well made, others come out half baked and uneven, giving the book a mixed feel.
For one, she generalizes quite a bit. Moran speaks to poor experiences that she has had, asserting that they are commonplace and universal for all women, even though many are not. Additionally, at the same time, she gives a perspective that is very specific to her race, sexuality, socioeconomic status, and upbringing. She tries to be both intensely personal and all encompassing at the same time, and it doesn’t always work.
In trying to make this book both about herself and about the experiences of all women Moran creates inconsistent chapters. For example, she writes at length about having children, and her own personal journey as the parent to two daughters. Motherhood is clearly a choice she made for herself that has affected her in a profound and positive way, and she discusses how life changing it has been in regards to her perception of happiness and love. But at the same time, presuming that a woman will automatically wish to be a mother goes against the feminist belief that women should be able to make their own choices. She writes a follow-up chapter on why not to have kids, and while she does make good points (celebrity interviews for example) it isn’t as impactful of a statement.
Finally, I should point out that there has also been some backlash regarding her use of a handful of words that are… not exactly politically correct. These insertions, while few and far between, again point to a text at odds with what it wants to be. In trying to be humorously frank with her points, the author diminishes the book’s ability to be a feminist statement for all.
Should You Read This?
If you go into this book expecting a spot-on feminist masterpiece for the 21st century… you will probably be disappointed.
However, if you look at it instead as a comedic memoir that includes opinions and interjections relating to feminism… you’ll be on a much better path.
I actually did enjoy this book very much, and would read more of Moran’s work. I enjoyed her writing style and sense of humor, and though there were some ideological missteps, she does make some very good points on topics that I had never considered.
How to Be a Woman was a hilarious look at the life of one writer and some of the total bullshit, double-standards, and patriarchal expectations that women often with. It is not a perfect, all inclusive feminist decree, but it is a vibrant, funny, and insightful look at one woman’s personal experience.
Summary from Goodreads
I’m glad that you included your observation that Moran’s commentary is a “perspective that is very specific to her race, sexuality, socioeconomic status, and upbringing.” That awareness is too often lacking in readers of memoirs that also try to include a larger breadth of social commentary. Great review!
Agree here. Many people cite this as a feminist masterpiece but it’s not quite there. However it is a very accessible book on something akin to feminism for a younger generation who might not even go near this stuff otherwise. So I’m grateful! Bronte
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Great review. I loved How to Build A Girl so I’ve been very tempted to read this.