Thursday, July 24, 2014

Audiobook review: How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

How to be a Woman

Written and read by: Caitlin Moran

Published: 2011

Synopsis: 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 the riot of adolescence to her development as a writer, wife, and mother. With rapier wit, Moran slices right to the truth—whether it's about the workplace, strip clubs, love, fat, abortion, popular entertainment, or children—to jump-start a new conversation about feminism. With humor, insight, and verve, How To Be a Woman lays bare the reasons female rights and empowerment are essential issues not only for women today but also for society itself.


“When a woman says, ‘I have nothing to wear!’, what she really means is, ‘There’s nothing here for who I'm supposed to be today.”

Caitlin Moran is a very funny woman. I am basically reduced to shrieks of laughter and tears every other sentence. She's also seems very down to earth and approachable. I am not good at approaching people, even the people I know, but I feel like I could at least squeak a hello her way and she'd probably give me a big smile and compliment my dress and then I'd cry and scurry away before I made a fool of myself. But perhaps what I love most about her, is how passionate she is about women. Even though a lot of her columns aren't exactly platforms to discuss feminism, she's always managed to weave it in. Or maybe it's just that because she obviously feels so strongly about the issue of female empowerment that it comes through in subliminal waves.

So I was so happy when I discovered that How to be a Woman is, as the title might slightly suggest, about women. And it's about all kinds of womanly issues, from lighter fare about handbags to tales of terrible boyfriends and confrontations with co-workers and strangers and siblings. It's about periods and hairstyles and weddings and babies. It touches on every contradiction women are forced to deal with, every sexist, unfair way of life that doesn't seem likely to change in the near future. It discusses stilettos and glass ceilings and falling in love with celebrities.

It is, overwhelmingly, a book about feminism. HOORAY!

I'm sure there are men (and maybe women) that roll their eyes and mumble under their breath about the feminazis and make pithy comments about it being "that time of the month" when they hear me exclaim excitedly about a book being about feminism but to me it feels really important that we have fun, interesting and relevant books about feminism right now. It seems like every other week another celebrity is coming out to say "never fear fans! I'm no feminist!". No, they're humanists; they actually love men a lot; they don't think it's helpful. It's infuriating and it's a subject that Caitlin beautifully, bluntly covers in her book.
“We need to reclaim the word 'feminism'. We need the word 'feminism' back real bad. When statistics come in saying that only 29% of American women would describe themselves as feminist - and only 42% of British women - I used to think, What do you think feminism IS, ladies? What part of 'liberation for women' is not for you? Is it freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? The campaign for equal pay? 'Vogue' by Madonna? Jeans? Did all that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES? Or were you just DRUNK AT THE TIME OF THE SURVEY?”
When women are dying and being humiliated for wanting to be sexually responsible,shamed for being raped and are bullied out of having abortions, feminism is that much more important. It shouldn't be a dirty word. It shouldn't be something people wonder if we really need. It is confounding to me that anyone would hear the definition of feminism and think "hmmm, no, not for me".
“What is feminism? Simply the belief that women should be as free as men, however nuts, dim, deluded, badly dressed, fat, receding, lazy and smug they might be.”
I'm sure the staunchly anti-feminist types aren't likely to pick up this book but they really should, because Caitlin is incredibly fair and reasonable in her perspectives on society. Perhaps my favourite example is her chapter on porn. Caitlin makes a very important distinction between porn, or the act of watching two people have sex, and the porn industry. There is, as Caitlin believes, a world of difference between the two. There is nothing inherently wrong with enjoying sex and even wanting to watch two people who are attracted to each other bump uglies. It's why romance novels always sell like gangbusters. There is plenty wrong with an industry that objectifies women and presents an unrealistic expectation of sex, relationships and female bodies though. These sorts of distinctions sometimes get lost in the general anger of internet feminism, and perhaps to some people it isn't an important distinction to make, but I think a lot of the feminist blow-back from men is just reactionary responses to issues like this being raised. They feel threatened and attack and before they know it they're yelling about feminists being lesbians or old cat ladies or social outcasts (as though there'd be anything wrong with being those women, I basically fall into two of those three categories) and then huff off to their shitty jobs that pay better than their female co-workers.

What made it a truly wonderful experience, though, was listening to Caitlin read the audiobook herself. I'm a big fan of comedy autobiographies read by the author (I can't even imagine having read Bossypants, it was made for Tina Fey to read out loud) and this is pretty much the same category. Whether it was Caitlin's impersonation of her over-enthusiastic 14 year old self reading diary entries, or her raucous laughter over a memory of her sister or the rising volume as she got angry about the glass ceiling or the ever present expectation that a woman needs to have babies to be complete, it was just the absolute perfect way to experience the book. It was like having an invisible Caitlin Moran following me around all day, commenting on life and love and careers while I drove to work, or caught a bus from uni, or waited in line at the post office. I'd find myself laughing along with her, or nodding along to her argument, or tutting in commiseration about the asshole musician boyfriend she once had. The only downside is that I didn't take any notes on my favourite quotes and parts, which means I can't just quote bomb you all for the final part of the review. But trust me, it's hella quotable.


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