Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman is to me a cushty feminist manifesto, accessible. There is none of the ‘male-hating’ which feminists are so often accused off, it does not cite reams of statistics or complex analysis. Moran tackles the small (though not insignificant) stuff, the too-small underwear, high heels, ugly handbags. She accepts that texts already exist which examine FGM, the glass ceiling, the gender pay gap, rape, and this is not that. If you’re looking for that, you can find that elsewhere. This on the other hand, is lighthearted, more fun.
Caitlin Moran’s writing has been somewhat problematic for me, while I wholeheartedly agree with a lot of what she says, it is her tone I cannot get on-board with. It is funny, it is informal, but is also reminds me of what I was writing when I was a teenager (although admittedly I’ve never had her skill). Guest writes that How to Be a Woman is ‘full of shouty capitals and shocking personal confessions, which could so easily come across as teenage, grating and slightly mental in less assured hands’. And while I think for the vast majority of readers, it is personable, they feel as though they would love to be friends with the writer, for me it is a wee bit irritating. It’s like I can see why it is funny, but it’s just not. Maybe it is the medium, I would probably adore it as a TV show, I would no doubt be fully on-board.
I wanted to get my criticism of How to Be a Woman out the way quickly so now we can focus on the ways in which it is fantastic.
For Moran, the personal is very much political, I think the ways in which Three Women highlighted the ways in which heterosexual relationships are predominately patriarchal, here Moran is empowering women to be more. Moran wants women to strive to be more than a mother and a wife, a framework which writes her off when she is finished being fertile. Her conclusion is, she wants to see more women. I grew up in a household where everyone (except me) was very good at science and maths, I was more arty. When I was younger, it used to enrage me that my mother didn’t see any value in this. I recognised early the need for society to be a variety, we couldn’t all be scientific because then there would be no music, no film. I didn’t see why there should be a hierarchy of expertise. Moran reminded me of these feelings when she loudly proclaims she wants to see more women. It’s not that we don’t also want to see men too, we just want variety. I think it was Gloria Steinem My Life on the Road which I read recently which also made this point that the personal is always political.
Moran’s views on sexism were interesting, though I am not sure I agree, she states that if you strip it all back, sexism is simply impoliteness, bad manners. She sees sexism as not about men vs. women, but winners vs. losers, in that men have just been leaders for so long they don’t want to give up their birthright power. I think it was Rebecca Traiser in Good and Mad who wrote, that too often women are made to feel like they need to put other women down to get ahead. As though there is a finite amount of success afforded to women, a slice, whereas it should be seen as a cake, there can be some for everyone. I think that is the point though of all kinds of prejudices, sexism, racism etc, it is letting someone get ahead who you may have previously had an upper-hand over. Rather than allowing a rightful meritocracy, getting ahead based upon your demographic is tempting when you have the ‘right’ credentials.
It wouldn’t be my blog if I rattled off some personal detail which no one excluding myself really cared about so here goes! How to Be a Woman gave me clarity. Recently, I have been speaking to a man I was previously speaking to. I had stopped speaking to him months ago as he ignored me for long stretches of times and I often felt as though he was avoiding my messages, and he is a lovely guy, a really nice guy and I felt that he was perhaps too nice to just tell me he wasn’t interested. He popped back into my life recently and I responded. This weekend, his behaviour is repeating, he is actively avoiding the message I sent him and I know he will message me back when my weekend finishes and he knows he won’t have to spend time with me. I’ve been feeling desperately for the last few weeks that I was – I need – to speak to a friend for advice. Moran makes the point that in the early days of a relationship, dating, wanting to talk about it often highlights that the relationship isn’t right, when really all you’re doing is talking about great length because nothing is happening. If you were happy, you would just disappear for a few months, no one would hear from you and you’d return fatter after just getting on with it. My desperation to talk, to hear a different perspective which pins the blame on my unrealistic expectations emphasises that this is not the right thing for me.
I wanted to end the post with a quote from Sawyer, ‘the joy of this book is just that: the joy. What Moran is really arguing for is more female happiness’. She is championing unadulterated joy, sheer delight at being a ‘woman’, she wants us to be free from the meaningless worries and ‘do’ more rather than just ‘be’. The ‘joy’ is also the pleasure that can be found in friendships between women and the utter hilarity of many women which is all too often dismissed.