Emma Watson started a feminist book club on GoodReads. This month, we read Caitlin Moran’s How to be a woman.
Caitlin Moran is raw, funny, open, and nothing if not controversial.
(Though I try to be as family friendly as possible, due to the nature of this particular book, this post is not for young eyes. You have been warned.)
This month’s selection had all sorts of Our Shared Shelf-ers up in arms. Maybe folks expected something different from a book with the words “how to” in the title. Maybe they were not ready for her language. Whatever the case may be, folks railed against her exclusivity (she wrote from an exclusively white cisgender female pov) and words she used like “fat” and “tranny.”
So, in lieu of a review of sorts, I decided to go with a warning of sorts this month. Just in case you are thinking of grabbing this book off the shelf to take a gander…
- This book is not ok for young young ladies. Moran talks about– and thereby normalizes– things that are typically off limits (especially for us ladies). Things like masturbation, menstruation, drug use, miscarriage, and abortion. If these are things you have not talked about with your little lady, you may want to do that first. On the other hand, because of how raw and open Moran is, I think this could be used as a discussion starter with older teens. Mom and daughter book club, anyone?
- This is totally NOT a “how to” book. Before I started reading it, my eight year old saw it on the counter and said, “How to be a woman?! But, there is no RIGHT way to be a woman, mom!” to which I replied, “I am thinking that might be kinda the point.” It is, on the other hand, a memoir about her adolescence and young adulthood. One Our Shared Shelfer put it really well, “…the whole thing reads like a love letter to her younger self, like advice she wishes she could’ve sent back into the past… Like she’s teaching herself how to be a woman.” She opens each chapter with a personal memory, an experience. Then she takes us through lessons learned and her thoughts on those experiences now. So, if you are thinking you might want to see what all the fuss is about, remember, you will not actually learn how to be a woman. You might, however, learn about another woman’s life. And thereby learn a thing or two about yourself.
- Keeping the fact that this is a MEMOIR in mind, Caitlin is a WHITE, CIS FEMALE. She is now upper-middle class, though some of the stories about her youth strongly suggests she grew up downright poor. And she writes from this white, cisgender female, middle class point of view. Though this seems obvious, I add it to the warnings, because folks over at Our Shared Shelf were super upset about her ignoring the experiences of non-white, non-middle class, non-cis gendered females in her book. I might be totally missing the point of their argument, but I feel like I would have been pretty offended if she tried to include the experiences she had not herself experienced.
- She is not formally educated and writes in a very raw way. According to some book club members, she was homeschooled, and then started working as a pop culture and music critic when she was 16. She writes in a very readable manner-I like she is writing to a friend. She uses ALL CAPS and lots of exclamation marks!!!! So if you are looking for a scholarly discussion of the female experience, this ain’t it.
- She is not angry. She is a feminist, sure. But you will not find angry rants here. In fact, she talks about things like laughing at the patriarchal crap, encourages us to look at everyone as “one of the guys,” suggests replacing terms like “pro-women” with “thumbs up for the 6 billion,” and asking if things are “polite” rather than “sexist” or “misogynistic.” One group member put it this way:
I think one of the main things I am going to take from this book is that it’s time to laugh at the patriarchal crap that is said in my presence. Laugh at it and give it no power. Oh I will still fight for the things that need a strong and perhaps angry voice. But in my day to day life, it’s time to laugh as if what has been said is just too stupid to be taken seriously.
The response to this book was VERY mixed, and lots of members decided not to read it at all. One member, however, could not get enough. She wrote:
Can we appreciate this book for what it is? I also have a deep appreciation for her very graphic depictions of pivotal moments in a woman’s life, often considered taboo to discuss publicly in too much detail. While she still employs humor in those sections, the tone definitely shifts; the material is darker, heavier, and simply disgusting. I love it! I’m referring specifically to her graphic discussions of menstruation, masturbation, and drug use, but especially her first childbirth and later abortion. I know she is not the first or only writer to do this, but this is one thing that, in my opinion, we can’t get enough of. These issues need constant exposure to be normalized and to erase the stigma!
Personally, I enjoyed the book. I thought she used humor and blatant honesty to discuss things I had never seen anyone write about before. Yes, she was insensitive about some issues that are on the fore-front of everyone’s minds right now, and I will not defend her for it. Nevertheless, I was able to take some nuggets of wisdom away from the book, and I thought it was intriguing to read about a coming-of-age experience that was so different from mine (or was it??).
If you are not at all familiar with Caitlin Moran (I had never heard of her before reading this book) here are a couple of clips to give you a feel for her style…
The first clip is an open letter to teenage girls. I dare you not to tear up.
In the second clip, she kinda sorta addresses a comment she made on Twitter. See, apparently she and Lena Dunham chatted and Twitter user lizzie c was not happy that Moran did not address the lack of women of color in Dunham’s show “Girls.” When Lizzie expressed her concern, Moran replied that she “literally couldn’t give a shit about it.” This obviously made quite an impression on folks. Though she doesn’t apologize (I have a feeling that’s not really her style), she does touch on it a bit at the end of the second clip. She talks about ‘Girls’ as being mostly about spoiled white girls in New York because Lena Dunham was a spoiled white girl in New York. Dunham is most comfortable making jokes about her experiences because they are her experiences. Moran mentions that she looks forward to more and more people sharing their own experiences, perhaps by using the template Dunham has laid out.