How To Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

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How To Be A Woman was the April book for Our Shared Shelf. In the announcement post, Emma Watson said that she laughed out loud when reading it for the first time, and she meant it as a more light-hearted and entertaining read than some of the previous books. When I bought the book, the cover included a quote from VanityFair.com saying, “The British version of Tina Fey’s Bossypants.” Okay. I was sold.

Honestly, Moran is funny. And maybe slightly ridiculous, but I mean that in the best way. She is just so very… herself.   I think her personality really shines through. I would absolutely love to sit down at a bar and have a few rounds with her. Because not only is she hilarious, but she’s also wise (or at the very least she gives really, really good advice). I experienced a few “aha” moments while reading the book, and it has definitely made me question some things in my own life. Admittedly, though, there were a few topics that I found difficult to relate to, but for me that didn’t take away from the experience. If anything, it makes me want to re-read this book in a few years to see what more I will gain from it.

Moran begins the book by talking about her 13th birthday, and sharing thoughts she had at that time about what being a women meant, or what she felt she had to do to become one. Saying it like that sounds kind of ridiculous, but 13 is a confusing time, especially for girls. I think a lot of people would agree with that. But as Moran continues and discusses different topics concerning modern women (body hair, breasts, pornography, love, etc) she makes it clear through the telling of her own experiences that for women, growing up is a lot more than “finding yourself.” She points out over and over again all the different ways that society dictates how women “should” be. Ultimately, she reveals that the real learning experience was in figuring out how to block out all that noise, and just be her own person freely without judgment or consequence. Which essentially is how she goes on to define feminism in the fourth chapter: “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.” *applause*

One of the first chapters that really hit home for me was when she discussed encountering sexism at work. I can completely relate, and I understand the frustration of trying to figure out how to deal with it. Because, as Moran points out, the sexism encountered today in the modern workplace isn’t flagrantly obvious.   It’s subtle. It’s tricky. It makes you question yourself, “Was that really sexist? Or am I too sensitive? Is being sensitive giving into a predetermined role for a woman? Is calling sensitivity a female trait sexist? Am I sexist? I’m a woman how can I be sexist?!” I work in a corporate setting in a predominantly male environment (and a lot of these males are over 60), so I experience this kind of stuff daily and have learned to just shrug it off. It sounds crazy, but the flip side is filing a (probably embarrassing) report with HR that will be taken very seriously and might cause someone to lose their job, and is all of that really worth it just because of a few comments here and there? Because again, it’s never overtly sexist.   It’s mostly comments that are quite possibly intended as jokes, and I can take a joke right?

The very next chapter (about relationships) felt like it could have been written out of pages from my own diary, but it was also one that made me laugh a lot. My favorite part was when Moran discussed how so many women have imaginary relationships with men, and as she put it, “living in a parallel world in their head; conjuring up endless plots and scenarios for this thing that never actually happened.” I mainly enjoyed this because I am fully aware that I do this. Here is a summary of my most recent imaginary experience:

A couple of months back, I had been on a few dates with a guy when I saw on Facebook that he RSVP’d to a cocktail event that was about a month, maybe a month and a half away. And even though we had never actually discussed this event in person, I started thinking about buying tickets. Should we get the VIP tickets or go for the regular tickets? I thought VIP would be better, it included drinks so we could save money. And what about a dress? This would be our first public event as a couple, and someone would probably take pictures of us, so oh my god this is going to be our first Facebook picture together. Now, I absolutely had to buy a new dress, and probably new shoes too. I wanted to pick out a really nice dress, preferably a little sexy, because I’m relatively young and wanted this first picture to look Really Good. But it can’t be too sexy, because his mom will see it and I didn’t want her to think I was slutty. And while I was thinking of picking out a sexy-but-classy dress I thought I should plan on hitting the gym more just to make sure I look Really Good in this monumental picture, but I was going on a work trip the next week and visiting my brother out of town the following week, so how was I going to find the time?!  And I thought that I really should get my hair cut and maybe get my nails done too? Forget the VIP tickets, all of this costs money, and I’ve been trying to save up for vacation so maybe I should just plan on skipping some museums in London and then I won’t worry about spending the money now. And on and on I went, thinking all these crazy things, and the whole thing was pointless because he ended up not even going to the event! He was out of town that weekend!  And to top it all off- we aren’t even a couple!

Retrospective conclusion: I’m insane. But Moran made me feel like I wasn’t alone, and that it was perfectly normal for women to think things like this because society has such a negative opinion of single & unmarried women. I mean, if you’re a single woman I’m willing to bet you’ve been asked these questions more than a few times: When will you settle down? Don’t you hate living alone? When will you get married/have kids/start a family? Why are you single? Aren’t you afraid of becoming a crazy cat lady? Ugh… it’s all so annoying. Moran’s point was that there’s so much pressure out there on women when it comes to relationships, so it’s pretty natural that we go a little overboard when we think about them.

This was just one of the sections in the book that made me feel so understood. Like yes, this is what it’s like. This is what’s going through my head. I’m not alone, other women feel/think/do this too. Another chapter that I related to was when Moran discussed fashion and clothes, and how it’s about so much more than just picking out a shirt you like. She says, “How women look is considered generally interchangeable with who we are – and, therefore, often goes on to dictate what will happen to us next.” Basically, she’s saying that for women life is an elaborate game of dress-up where every day your clothes are just a costume for the person you’re supposed to be that day. For me, I could live in jeans and tee shirts (in the summer) and leggings and sweaters (in the winter). But at work I have to dress the part of Young Bright Professional Woman, so it’s all heels, skirts, and dresses. And heaven forbid I wear slacks and pull my hair back, coworkers might think I was out late the night before! (True story: I once wore slacks and pulled my hair back and my coworker asked if I was out drinking the night before. I wasn’t.) And if I go out at night, whether with friends or on a date I have to be the Cool Attractive Post-College Easygoing Woman Who Isn’t Trying To Be Cool And Attractive. For the record, I’m still trying to figure out how to pull that one off.

Basically, How To Be A Woman made me feel understood.  I could go on and on about everything that I related to, and how some of my experience were so similar to what Moran described.  There were some heavier topics in the book (children, abortion, etc) that I couldn’t relate to because personally I’m not there yet in my life, so I’m not ready to fully comment on those right now. But for the rest of the book, for all the chapters that I found relatable, including the topics I didn’t discuss here, reading felt like hanging out with a friend. Moran is funny, personable, and to me, relatable. I’m definitely looking forward to reading some of her other books, and I’m incredibly grateful to Emma Watson for introducing me to her.

 

 

 

 

 

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Girl Underwater by Claire Kells

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Girl Underwater was just what I needed this weekend. I’ve been in a funk recently; there’s a lot going on in my life and I haven’t been able to really get into what I’ve been reading. This book was the perfect cure- completely consumed within 24 hours!

Before this, I was trying to work my way through All About Love by bell hooks. It was the March book for Our Shared Shelf, Emma Watson’s feminist book club on Good Reads (of which I’m a member). But things were going slow… First it took me a while to get the book. Then, once I had it, I planned on reading it in the car on the way to my brother’s house, where my family was helping him move. That turned out to be a fail: we made the 5 hour drive after the sun went down, and I completely forgot that I would need sunlight in order to read in the car. Then my life got a little crazy: less than one week after I booked flights for an epic (but kind of expensive) adventure in London and Iceland this summer I found out my rent was going up by quite a lot. Then my car broke down on the turnpike on my way back from a work trip and I learned that I will need to buy a new one. Then I received news that there’s a chance my office could be closed or moved, but nothing is final or confirmed and no one really knows anything. Needles to say, I’ve been a little stressed out and spending a lot of my free time researching apartments, cars, and jobs. And even though I kept trying, I couldn’t get into All About Love (which actually made me stress out a little bit more because I don’t like to be behind on my reading list). I wanted to hear the message, I could tell it was meaningful, but the book is essentially an essay, and I couldn’t calm my brain down enough to focus and take it in. I needed something more engaging, and that’s where Girl Underwater came in.

Girl Underwater was recommended to me by my friend Sam around the time that I started this blog. When I bought it, I didn’t do much research other than skim the book jacket. Basically my mentality is that if a friend cares enough to recommend a book to me, then I should care enough to take the time and read it. So there was no doubt as to if I would read it, it was just a matter of when. And last week when the craziness began to feel like a little too much to handle, I set aside All About Love for another day, I threw a few clothes in a bag with Girl Underwater, and I drove out to my parents’ house to spend the night and read a book. Their house (my childhood home) is one of the coziest, most comfortable, and relaxing places I could think of, and it was the perfect setting for me to de-stress and unwind. Armed with Girl Underwater, I curled up on the couch and spent most of Friday night and Saturday afternoon reading the whole book. And it was awesome.

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My childhood home at Christmastime… so cozy

This is where I have to give Sam a lot of credit- this book wasn’t on my radar at all but it was exactly the kind of story I like to read. It’s a love story but not overwhelming in the romance department, definitely nothing like the Nicholas Sparks type fluff that seems to be popular. (Side note: my eleventh grade English teacher once spent half a class period talking about how Nicholas Sparks is a “fluff writer,” and I’ve referred to his books as fluff ever since). But Girl Underwater is more about the story leading up to the romance part, and it’s full of suspense and adventure. Add in an incredibly smart, strong, and brave female protagonist and I was hooked. So Sam- here’s a huge thank you for the recommendation!

Other than romance, I would categorize Girl Underwater as a coming-of-age story more than anything else. The main character, Avery, is a sophomore in college who is one of a few survivors of a plane crash in the Rocky Mountain wilderness. The novel alternates between her life post-crash and her struggle for survival in the wild with three young boys and her male teammate on her university’s swim team. I thought that the survival part of the story was pretty intense. As an avid hiker, it definitely made me more aware (or re-aware, if that’s a thing) of the dangers I put myself in every time I walk in the woods. Though I always carry a first aid kit and flashlight when I go hiking, this book served as a reminder to brush up on my survival and emergency skills, especially since hiking season is right around the corner where I live.

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Moraine Lake in Alberta, Canada- this is how I pictured the location where the plane crashed in Girl Underwater

Throughout the course of the novel, both in the present and in the flashbacks, you get the sense that Avery struggles with knowing and accepting herself for who she really is. Amidst all the trauma going on, much of the novel centers on Avery finding herself and becoming her own person. That’s something I found incredibly relatable, and my guess is that a lot of people would say the same thing. Looking back at my own life, I don’t think I was being my “true self” when I was 19, and it took me a few years to not only realize that, but also figure out who I am and where I want my life to go. Sometimes I think I still struggle with that, at least to some extent. It’s so easy to get caught up in everything that’s going on around you and forget to put yourself first. And it’s hard when someone you care about has different expectations for you than you do for yourself, because it can feel like you’re letting that person down by just doing what makes you happy. But Avery powered through it (as did I, and I hope millions of other young people all over the world). I think the author did a great job of weaving that coming-of-age aspect into the novel, it was heartening but not overwhelming.

All in all, Girl Underwater was a great book and I’m incredibly happy that I spent a significant portion of my weekend reading it. For someone who likes adventure and a little bit of romance in a book, this was just what I needed to get back into the regular swing of things!