By Caitlin Moran
Rating: 2 Stars
Goodreads Rating: 3.72
Genre: Nonfiction Feminist Memoir
Publication Date: June 16th 2011
Format Read: Libby Audiobook
Goodreads Summary: Caitlin Moran puts a new face on feminism, cutting to the heart of women’s issues today with her irreverent, transcendent, and hilarious How to Be a Woman. “Half memoir, half polemic, and entirely necessary,” (Elle UK), Moran’s debut was an instant runaway bestseller in England as well as an Amazon UK Top Ten book of the year; still riding high on bestseller lists months after publication, it is a bona fide cultural phenomenon. Now poised to take American womanhood by storm, here is a book that Vanity Fair calls “the U.K. version of Tina Fey’s Bossypants….You will laugh out loud, wince, and—in my case—feel proud to be the same gender as the author.”
I should have seen this coming. It’s a book literally called “How To Be a Woman” that was published in 2011, but it was recommended in all of my book lists because of all the other feminist books I’d read from that time period recently, and it got pretty good reviews, so I figured- how bad could it be! Reader: I did not enjoy this book.
From the title of this post you will know that this book completely ignored the existence of genders other than “man” and “woman”. It also continuously conflated gender with genitalia. If you are a trans or otherwise genderqueer person thinking of reading this book, I would recommend you do not for those reasons alone. It was perpetually invalidating of that community.
Setting that aside for now, there were so many other things that aged, if less problematically, still not well. In fact, the author would agree with you in this Guardian article that she wrote, so perhaps the benefit of the doubt is warranted in this case. While there were some interesting chapters, particularly about how she was raised, most of her feminist commentary felt uncomfortable and limiting when viewed in the context of someone who grew from child to adult in the time period long after 2011.
Moran is obsessed with body image, discussing baggy clothing as “dressing like a man”, and judging other women for getting Botox or other superficially altering procedures. Feminist thought felt similarly to Moran back in 2011, but at this point it just feels wrong. Her “radical” takes are now so far past radical that they’ve become extreme in the opposite direction in many ways. I think this book is truly a product of its times and as someone who was still in middle school during those times, it just wasn’t an enjoyable read.
In terms of writing style, this book was written in a casual, friendly way. In fact, the book is broken down into a series of essays on different topics, and many of the individual essays read like something you might see on a particularly well written blog. I personally enjoy this because it gives an easy inlet to potentially hard to talk about topics. I saw some people on Goodreads judging her writing style for not being exceptionally highbrow, but I actually think this is one of her biggest strengths. Moran made a book about non-funny topics funny. Unfortunately I wasn’t a fan of her opinions on these topics, but that’s another issue entirely.
After all of my negative commentary in this review, I will say that I appreciate Moran’s chapter on abortion. I think it was incredibly powerful and (although the binary gender approach made me uncomfortable) did a lot to destigmatize abortion even within the context of my own pro-choice head. If you want to read something Moran writes, I would recommend reading just that chapter, because it’s worth it.
I listened to the audiobook, and the author does read it herself, which is cool and brings a lot to the narrative.