Book Review – How To Be A Woman. Caitlin Moran

Caitlin Moran is a funny, clever and engaging writer that I was recommended to read by a friend after commenting about the F = feminist word earlier this week.  Her book ‘How To Be A Woman’ is a raucous page-turner chronicling her progression from awkwardly innocent pubescent teenager to fully-fledged womanly woman (albeit one without an expensive handbag or shoe collection)! I devoured it in a two-day binge-read fest in-between doing womanly things such as plucking out the hairs on my chin, ferrying the kids to and from school and ssssshhhh I’m trying to work in here……

So, the big thing about this book is the conclusion that Caitlin draws about women – we have vaginas therefore we should be feminists. Hmmmmm

I don’t agree.  Well, to be absolutely honest I do agree that there are some big feminist issues out there that still require a tenacious activism that can only be mustered up by women who have had their fill of being overlooked, undervalued or exploited but it would probably be wise not to think before we make a ‘feminist’ issue out of everything and tattoo the term firmly across our breasts.

I believe that Caitlin has confused ‘sisterhood’ which deals with the personal with ‘feminism ‘, which deals with the political and as a result is leading us down a path of thinking where we need a group debate about everything. Let me explain my thinking as quickly as I can so that you don’t hit me/ get bored or pull my hair :)

Issue 1) what to wear. 

I live in Australia, a fairly liberal country with a very relaxed outlook on fashion.  It is possible for a girl to go out wearing anything from a burqua to a bikini thong without fear of getting raped, mugged or locked up in prison.  That said we do still have some rules, personal standards and legal requirements regarding dress and it does tend to help if one understands and abides by them.  So, do we really want our politicians or activist groups telling us what we should wear or can we rely on our own common sense plus a little group ‘sisterhood’ therapy to guide us when our inner fashionista radar goes a bit wonky?  Thought so.

Issue 2) How to behave.

Lucky me, Australia is also a country where girls and boys can go out and get completely trollied, post the pics on facebook and still hold down their day jobs but that doesn’t mean that it makes sense to do that.  Feminism may have made this all possible but common sense and personal responsibility are all we can count on these days to not turn our private lives into a media circus.   So, do we really need political activism to teach us that sexting pictures of our rudie bits is not normal?  No, thought not.

I’m not sure that we need feminism for these things any more…..

The same can be said about our life plan.  Caitlin Morris’s journey to adulthood rang bells with me as I too thought that I’d somehow pass through a magical doorway one day where I leave my awkward, clumsy and un-sassy childish self behind emerging as a beautifully coordinated, intelligent and got-my-shit together woman who never had ladders in her stockings, pen up her arm or dinner in her hair.  Wrong!!!!!   But this isn’t a feminist issue either.  This is yet more personal, journey-of-life stuff that doesn’t need mandating, legalizing, protecting or prescribing.  Our sisters, our female friends that really KNOW us are the only support we need here and they will help both celebrate with you when you get it right and cry with you when it all falls flat.  Our brothers too can help, let’s not make out that they are all porn-hungry aliens who like us only as far as they can shag us. That’s terribly depressing and in my experience utterly wrong (although to be fair Caitlin doesn’t say this either).

Caitlin does mention the sisterhood but quickly brushes it off as a bit twee maybe in favor for the robust, strong and directness of the F word.  But to me the F word feels rather like one of those conical bras that Madonna wore in the 1990′s. They look great, grab your attention and mean business but you are bloody glad when 7pm comes and you can hoist it off and change into something more yielding.  The sisterhood on the other hand is rather like a comfy sports bra top thing.  Yielding enough to sleep in yet strong enough to run a 10km race without giving yourself a set of black eyes.  You know it’s on because you feel good. Supported. That’s all.

Many women don’t want to wear the feminist label all of the time. Life isn’t like that any more. 

It is not surprising that it is a minority (albeit large) of women who call themselves feminists these days. Especially in the western democracies that I’ve inhabited and absolutely especially given that we now live in a conscious-vote referendum-friendly political (albeit ‘social’) arena.  What I mean by that is that issue-driven blogs, Facebook pages, twitter streams and narrow interest websites are changing our political behavior massively. With so much choice and ability to be heard the idea of putting your eggs into a particular political basket and then sitting back is somewhat alien.    When we are worried about the pollution in our streams we act on it, find the environmental lobby group working to clean it up and support them.  We do the same when it comes to education, health, retail, spirituality, fashion and sexuality.  Quite simply we’ve become politically diverse and impossible to organize which I believe is a good thing.  The feminist umbrella only comes out when it’s raining!

So Caitlin Moran, while there are many, many issues in the world today that still demand affirmative and assertive feminist action, becoming a woman needn’t be one of them.  Yes, the sisterhood may be a bit bitchy at times and contain one too many sympathetic non-shouty, non-confrontational vaginas that don’t know they are born because they’ve never thrown themselves under anything worse than a soft cock (breathe) but they will help you to grow up and bloom into the unique ball of woman-ness that you were always meant to be without the F word fuss.

It is always a pleasure to come across another fun, fearless female that isn’t afraid to tell it as it is, have a laugh and see the glass as half full.  A great book from a great writer, add it to your list!

Read more about it on her website here.

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