How To Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran


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 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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