Weighing in on “How to be a Woman” by Caitlin Moran


Until about 3 months ago, I had no idea who Caitlin Moran was. Then, over Christmas, there was a big love fest for her recent book “How to be a Woman” over Twitter and on Mamamia.

I immediately reserved it from the library and decided it was a ‘must read’. As soon as I picked it up from the library, I started reading it, before reading the 20 or so other books that were due back earlier (I have an obsessive way of reading library books, they must be read in the order in which they are due back). I read it in a day, eager to find out what everyone was so enamored about.

Each chapter is framed around a part memoir/part rant by Moran. And let’s be clear here, when I say rant, I don’t say rant in a negative way. It begins with her recounting some aspects of her childhood/earlier life/experiences and ends in her opinion and views on the specific topic. She delves from growing pubic hair (which ends in a rant about brazilians and the porn industry), to talking about why strip clubs are very bad but burlesque is good, child-birth, abortion (and how she had one after her two children), to female role models (Lady GaGa is a good role model, but Katie Price a.k.a Jordan is not).

Essentially, Moran thinks that being a feminist is about men and women being equal. Her judgment test is whether the men are doing it, worrying about it, thinking about it and if they are, then good, you can worry about it. My only criticism is that I felt she could have gone further in some areas.

She makes some excellent points and really makes the reader think about things, in particular, her arguments about the pornography industry are very compelling and have strong merit. Some things, such as a person qualifying as a feminist if they have a [insert word for female parts that Caitlin Moran would be outraged I am omitting from my review but my Mum reads this and so do her friends, sorry Caitlin] and they want to be in charge of it, then they’re a feminist, feel a bit simplified. Now, I’ve not studied feminist theory in detail, but it seems a little more complicated than that. Some women of my generation think of feminism as being a ranty pants movement, and that being a feminist involves having hairy armpits, acting like Germaine Greer and hating men. Well, that sounds bloody awful, no wonder women of my generation think that is not relevant to them, they’re disillusioned with the idea of feminism. They don’t think they need it anymore!

However, I realised through reading this book that feminism is not about burning bras and having hairy armpits, as has been depicted to my generation, but about the right to expect equality between the sexes and demanding that equality. Without consciously doing it, I realised by reading this book that I AM A STRIDENT FEMINIST (Caitlin says this must be shouted, so, because we’re on the internet, I’ll use caps) . So even if Moran’s definition of ‘feminism’ is somewhat simplified, she gets the message across loud and clear.

I have a career, I’ve had the same educational opportunities as my brother, I’m in control of my life, my finances, my body. I have the same earning capacity as any man with my qualifications.

I suppose I never really thought of myself as a feminist because I was raised by my mother that men and women are equal and have the same opportunities in life. My mother stayed at home, but she stayed at home because she chose to work in the home, not because it was expected of her and that is what ‘women did’. She renovated our houses growing up, raised us, ran the household and the financial side of Dad’s business.

There was no obvious ‘gender divide’ in our household, in fact I distinctly remember dressing my brother up in leotards and performing dance concerts for Mum and her friends (HAHA oh I hope he doesn’t read this, promise, your identity is safe, I think). Both my brother and I were raised by our mother that men and women are equal, education and training were vital for both of us, ambition is an excellent trait to have, that we create and own our identities based on what we do and who we subsequently become, all people deserve to be treated with fairness, dignity and respect, we should strive for and be proud of success and achievement and importantly, that you need a trade or a degree that will keep you qualified for a job you can do forever and support yourself. For BOTH of us.

Without even realising it until recently, I think Mum IS AND WAS A FEMINIST (again, shouting) and she RAISED ME TO BE A FEMINIST. In fact, my Mum was such a good feminist and equalist, that I had no real understanding that gender inequality existed or was rampant until I was in my later high school years and we were exposed to it in study! All of my achievements, ambition and success thus far, I owe to this my feminist mother who did AN EXCELLENT JOB OF RAISING ME THANKS MUM (don’t cry if you read this Mum).

Back to the book. In my opinion, Moran’s editor needed to reign in the ranting a little bit. She repeats her views over and over again until it’s like you wanted a row of Cadbury’s and then you eat the whole block, good idea at first but you should have stopped at the first row. It is hilariously funny at times, and she has excellent anecdotes. It just isn’t quite the home run it could have been.

It’s worth reading. I’ve even downloaded it onto my Kindle and think I will read it again and again on each flight in my trip across the US.

But you know what she’s done? She’s got us talking about feminism and what it means to be a feminist again, and for that, the book and Moran are worth their weight in gold.

Did you read it? Did you like it?

Buy How To Be A Woman on Amazon here

  • Monique Fischle

    I’ve told you this before, but I don’t want to read “How To Be A Woman”. I’m sure it’s fantastic but it has just been so hyped up and it doesn’t really seem like the kind of book I would enjoy reading.

  • Melissa Savage

    I read this book in October last year and adored it, but I am well enmeshed in the feminist and political blogospheres and used to read Moran before The Times had a paywall.

    Funnily enough, the chapter about her abortion was so confronting to me. I’ve always been fiercely pro-choice (I couldn’t forgive President Roslin in Battlestar Galactica for banning it due to the need to repopulate), but in my clucky state I found myself going ‘WTF are you doing, you could have another baby and it would be fine and it would be awesome cos you’d have a gay son’ and I had to give myself a smack upside the head and remind myself that pro-choice means trusting individual women to make the right decision for their particular circumstances. I think it was meant to do that to me, and it worked.

    Until I read it, I also thought I was the only teenage girl ever who sought out the books with sex scenes and masturbated furiously, because nice girls just do not talk about their sexuality during puberty, and it is completely denied by the pervading culture (unlike boys), so I thought I was a massive deviant.

    • http://tamsinhowse.com/blog Tamsin Howse

      Hmm… You may have just sold me on reading it.

      • Melissa Savage

        Wast it the masturbation or the judgey-wudgey pants?