on 14 August 2011
...which I'm not, you understand. I've a decade on Caitin and grew up with the feminist debate raging about mine ears. For a while now I've been sighing heavily at how it seemed to have fallen off the cultural radar - no one seemed to be talking about it any more, let alone calling themselves a feminist. And now here's Ms Moran, putting the debate about what it means to be a woman in the 21st century not just back on the agenda, but in the non-fiction top 10. Hoo-blooming-ray! Look, there's heaps about this book that's annoying. The incessant CAPITAL LETTERS. The surfeit of screamers. Initially I felt like I was being shouted at, that the jokes weren't all funny, and this was a memoir masquerading as polemic. But unlike other reviewers who thought it petered out, I warmed to How to Be a Woman hugely. The writing seemed to calm down, become less personal, more thoughtful. So by the end I was converted. I've just been to buy a copy for my teenage goddaughter. She told me her ambition was to 'get married and go to parties' (presumably not in that order). So I hiked her by her beautiful long hair to the nearest bookshop and thrust a copy into her perfectly manicured hand. 'Read this,' I said. 'It's funny'. She may not agree with all or even any of it. But I think she's much more likely to actually read it than Germaine Greer or Simone de Beauvoir, and if it makes her think - just a bit - then I'll be pleased. And if she gains just a smidge more ambition, I'll be cockahoop. So if you've never read a book on feminism, read this one. And if you've read a few, read it too. It's contemporary, strident and wise. You'll also have a laugh, and crikey, there are a lot worse ways to spend your time.
on 30 July 2011
I'm giving this book 3 stars as an average based on the fact that at the beginning I thought I would be giving it 5 but by the end I wanted to give it just 1.
My girlfriend has been asking me to read this book for a while (for the record I am male but like to think I am as liberal as they come). Eventually I acquiesced and started reading with few expectations (I had never heard of Caitlin Moran before I picked this up). I thought the prologue was great. It was genuinely funny (even made me laugh out loud a couple of times which almost never happens), well written, and engaging. The next few chapters were just good, though I felt like it could have done with some ruthless editing of the bits that weren't quite so funny or poignant to make it great. But towards the middle of the book things started to go downhill, pretty steeply.
One of the problems with the book is that the author talks as if everything is black or white, gloriously righteous or disgustingly evil. In the beginning when she is talking about obvious things (woman should have the same opportunities as men, etc..) this is fine. It's when she gets into more debatable arguments (strip clubs= evil, burlesque shows + pole dancing lessons= fantastic), even about things that I agree on (e.g. pro-choice, aethiesm) that this starts to grate. She treats the idea that any opinion other than her own could have any validity with contempt and doesn't really put forward any cogent arguments for her reasoning (but basically devolves into semi-coherent rants over and over again- and this is coming from someone who actually agrees with the broad points she is making!!).
She talks in sweeping generalizations and sometimes contradicts herself. More and more so as it goes on the book reads as if it has been written in a rush and never re-read or edited. When I started reading I was actually thinking the author is someone I would love to have round for dinner to have a conversation with, by the end of the book that idea seems more like an opportunity I'd run a mile from because I envision she would not let anyone else get a word in edgeways, shout down any opposing opinions and to be honest, I'm not sure she's actually a very nice person.
Something I also came to realize through the course of the book is although I think MOST of her opinions are right, it comes across as if she doesn't think they are right because she's sat down and tried to think things through objectively. It's because things have pissed her off or got in her way and so she has come up with arguments (and not necessarily well thought out ones) to justify the way she already feels.
Would also like to point out that making a joke about a child covered in napalm is never funny, particuarly when you are trying to take the moral high ground. And also that I have never read anything about Oprah's arse but quite lot about China's growing economy, if it's the other way round for the author and it pisses her off so much perhaps she should stop buying Grazia and Heat and perpetuating the culture of criticizing the appearance of successful women she claims to be so against.
Essentially I really enjoyed this book when I started it but by the time I finished I was so irritated it took me an hour and a half to get to sleep last night :(
on 20 September 2012
I was deeply, deeply unimpressed by this book. I think the main problem is it continually being touted as 'the next wave of feminism' or as some kind of modern feminist keystone, rather than what it actually is: a rather unexciting memoir interspersed with lots of "I am right listen to me CAPS LOCK" rants. If I'd expected the latter, maybe I wouldn't have felt so totally let down. Honestly, the only reason I finished the darn thing was so I could write a fully informed review explaining how much I disliked it, and why.
Firstly, the structure of the book is haphazard at best. It starts off fairly well, but once Moran moves from a fairly straightforward autobiographical account of her childhood, any sort of attempt at structure falls to pieces. It's a pretty disorganised bunch of vaguely-related anecdotes and angry rants. To be fair, it's probably quite difficult to write a part-autobiography-part-faux-feminist-manifesto and keep a good structure, and maybe I could have overlooked it if the content was good. But it wasn't.
I hate the way Moran presents her opinions. (Note: I don't necessarily hate the opinions themselves., but the presentation drives me crazy.) It's full of contradictions and dogma. She likes to tell you exactly what is ok, and exactly what is not. There isn't much middle ground. Just because HER wedding was a disaster and a waste of money, she tells you NOT to have a wedding. Right. It couldn't possibly be that her wedding didn't suit her and her husband's personal taste and needs, it is the case that weddings are stupid and you shouldn't have one. Strip clubs are WRONG. Burlesque is RIGHT. Katie Price is WRONG. Lady Gaga is RIGHT. Heels are WRONG. Leopard print is RIGHT.
... You get the idea. She contradicts herself constantly (eg. kids make you into a super human and once you're a mum you are better than Obama/don't feel the pressure to have kids) and it is incredibly frustrating.
However, what I hate even more is the extent of her dedication to social justice. She rants for pages and pages about the pressures put on women - and I sincerely believe she does care - but then in the next instant, will write off entire groups of people with shocking generalisations. She makes a disparaging comment about men running around pretending to be goblins on World of Warcraft - thanks, Moran. Because only MEN play video games, and it's ok to poke fun at the losers who do that, right? But god forbid you mention the glass ceiling and she'll explode. For someone so concerned with social equality, she is far too ready to write off other groups of people and judge them in the same way she's asking people not to judge women. It hacks me off.
Which brings me on nicely to the constant pop culture references she feels obliged to throw in as often as possible. A lot of the time, her references are solid, and she at least knows something about what she's referencing, but then it comes to video games, or manga (she calls Gaga a 'manga cartoon'), and she is embarrassingly uninformed - it feels like she's just chucking in the references like "HEY I KNOW SOME STUFF." It's fine that she doesn't know anything about some things - just stop pretending to. Stop writing about them. And worst of all, stop disparaging them.
She writes to shock, without actually being particularly shocking. When she does shock, it's in an offensive way - the Napalm joke obviously offended a lot of other people, myself included. Why did she think that was ok? How is that consistent with her philosophy? Again, it felt like she was just throwing in a reference to say "hey look I know about a famous photograph".
The chapter about her abortion was frustrating, and I wanted to like it - as she does say, it's not something often talked about, and I would have been interested for her to actually address the stigma. Instead, she implies that there is more stigma attached to being a mother aborting than a teenager aborting. It's like she's trying to big up her own circumstance - that just isn't true, at all. She dismisses one method of abortion as something that "everyone says" just "freaks you out", which really angered me. I'm not asking her to be a source of accurate medical information, but to just dismiss one legitimate method that many women go through just off-hand, without having actually experienced it - it seemed kind of irresponsible, to me. I just think a little research would have gone a long way. When it comes to the description of her abortion - as with childbirth - she seems to enjoy fear-mongering. Again, that might genuinely be her experience, but I think she gets carried away in making it sound like poor little Caitlin enduring all these terrible things - when SO MANY people go through this, she's hardly special. Too much drama. Then, she dismisses out of hand anyone who dares to feel upset after an abortion, because PROPER feminists wouldn't. Like her (unsurprisingly.)
It all boils down to Moran being RIGHT, about everything. Which leads to an awful lot of sweeping statements about incredibly complicated ethical (and occasionally religious) issues - which deserve thorough consideration and carefully constructed arguments. Moran doesn't do this. Instead, she capitalises angrily and yells about her opinions.
Moran's mostly right about the problems with modern society. They need to be addressed. What we really need isn't more dogma, but the opening up of a platform to discuss them. I don't think Moran's book does that.
on 20 September 2015
There are very few things that leave you feeling profoundly different inside in the way that this book did for me. Page by page I felt like the curtain was being lifted on the world I have lived in my whole life, and once the final page had turned I was a completely different person. I was, like a lot of people, put off by the reputation of feminism, and never really thought it to be relevant to me, but this book has really changed my mind. Feminism is presented in a down to earth, funny and light hearted way, there is nothing hateful or vengeful about what Caitlin is saying, it is in fact really uplifting. As a woman in a man's world it can often feel hopeless, and that equality and respect is an impossible dream, but Caitlin leaves you feeling positive and optimistic, and I dare anyone (male or female) to read this book and not feel empowered and passionate about equality. I have a 5 month old daughter and hope that she inherits a world more like that which Caitlin envisions.
on 27 February 2012
I had fairly average expectations of this book from the beginning, having recieved mixed reviews. The most disappointing part was probably the fact that it seemed to have potential; the first few chapters did really make me laugh, and were full of interesting anecdotes. However, the book quickly became an uncomfortable read. One particular thing (that I'm not certain has been commented on?) is the excessive Nazi jokes. This may seem like no big deal, but it was unnecessary for the topic, and the frequent Hitler/Nazi references were off-putting at best.
Another issue was the 14th chapter on 'role models'. This chapter seemed hugely out of place, largely based on opinion, and not especially related to the author. The chapter was just odd, and didn't quite fit with the rest of the book. The author just doesn't seem to have made up her mind whether the book is serious or funny - the constant jokes and humourous tone at the beginning keeps the book light, while still dealing with some important issues, while some of the later chapters are really serious, and completely change the book's tone.
On top of this, the author leaves no room for argument. She states her opinion as if it is fact, while often her opinions came across as a little skewed, and sometimes offensive. As I've said, I was only so disappointed by this book because the beginning set a higher standard than the way in which it ended. The ending was unsatisfying, and did not truly conclude the content of the book, in my opinion. And a purely structural point: much of this book was just a rant. Not really a well-structured novel, but more a stream-of-conciousness style (and not in a good way).
Not only did I not enjoy this book, but afterwards felt regretful for having read it. Really, really disappointed.
on 8 December 2013
Ms. Moran is the first to claim that her book is not academic. What she offers is a collection of anecdotes that illustrates what it was like to be born a girl and raised in the latter half of the twentieth century. Long Words with Long Definitions have little or no place here. 'How to Be a Woman' is probably the better for it.
Men should read this book. These anecdotes are wonderful. They chart a course through emotional trials that only women can know. After all, men cannot experience misogyny first-hand. Some might argue that Ms. Moran has everything but a sense of shame. However, awkward details only make the jokes sharper - and the points clearer.
Negative reviews suggest that the prose is alienating. True, Ms. Moran feels a deep affection for the exclamation mark. There are also moments when it seems that she cannot contain her excitement. Never mind. Leap over the hurdle of potty punctuation and be inspired. I can't remember reading a more amusing book in years.
on 12 August 2011
I really like Moran's descriptions of her life, frank, funny and original. Where this falls down for me is in two ways - firstly when she's not writing about actual happenings but ideas she really does repeat herself an awful lot - taking a whole para to say something three times three slightly different ways. This is something I really hate about newspaper journalism and I suspect that's where she picked up the habit. Secondly, partly because of this, she goes on and on about feminism and fat culture and god knows what else in ways that just aren't engaging. A shame, as I say, because what she writes about her experiences is really interesting. I'm glad I didn't buy this book - and it's going swiftly back to the library.
on 29 July 2011
I bought this book on a whim, having read a couple of rather mixed reviews. In that context, I was anticipating something entertaining and mildly stimulating. I was not expecting Isiah Berlin. But even against those less-than-demanding criteria, this book disappoints hugely.
Caitlin Moran entered journalism as a teenager, after winning competitions in national broadsheets including The Observer and The Times. Tellingly, these are omitted from this largely autobiographical book, which instead has her entering journalism at 16 when she went to work for Melody Maker. No doubt this version of history is more consistent with the edgy rise from working class obscurity she seeks to portray. I'm three years younger than Moran, and used to read her columns in my parents' copy of the Times, until I left home at 18, switched my allegiance to The Guardian, and lost track of her. So it was a strange experience to pick up this book and discover that, in terms of her attitudes and prose style, she seems to have become frozen in time as that precocious 16 year old - a kind of journalistic Dorian Gray. But what was endearing in a teenager is utterly infuriating - and oddly jarring- in a mature woman. The language is relentlessly mannered, with copious use of capitals and outdated slang from the 90s. This I could forgive if the book contained a single original idea, but the content is as banal, derivative and vacuous as the prose.
Take the chapter where she bemoans the lack of suitable female role models, and bizarrely juxtaposes Philip Roth with Demi Moore, Kim Cattrall and Madonna. This is simply baffling- comparing not so much apples and oranges as apples and donkeys. I don't even think she's trying to make the arguably valid but hardly original point that male writers tend towards the magisterial, zeitgeist-defining, century-spanning 'great novel', whereas women writers have tended to excel more at the (less esteemed) minute examination of the interior, domestic life. If she were, she might have found Margaret Attwood, Helen Simpson, or Anne Tyler more illuminating comparators than Moore et al. But by this stage you have started to form the impression that Moran's vision is entirely bounded by the confines of her media existence- a suspicion confirmed when you reach the Acknowledgements section and realise that, family aside, you recognise a good half of these names from the narrow world of broadsheet and TV journalism.
Ultimately, this is not a book about feminism at all- it's a not terribly interesting memoir with a spurious theme bolted on. Moran wants to validate her own preferences (burlesque clubs but not strip joints; Lady Gaga but not Katie Price), but she does not have the creativity or intellectual ability of, say, Camille Paglia, to do so convincingly. And speaking of Paglia, here's a funny thing. Only one feminist writer/thinker is namechecked in the entire book- Germaine Greer. If you are purporting to write a book about modern feminism, I'm not sure whether that speaks to arrogance, ignorance, or extreme laziness, but it's hardly impressive.
It could be argued that this book has some utility if it introduces WAG-obsessed young female readers of celebrity gossip magazines to a semblance of feminist ideas, in a language they'll readily identify with. But as a commentary on modern feminism for the mature, intelligent woman, it's a dead loss. If that's what you're looking for, give this a miss and try Natasha Walter, Maureen Dowd or Barbara Ehrenreich instead.
on 5 March 2014
‘How To Be a Woman’ written by Caitlin Moran is a memoir book in whose company you will (for the most part) have a good time, certainly many times it will make you laugh, and if you are a woman or even arguing for the rights of women, there is a good chance that it will become a reference to which you will sometimes refer.
Caitlin Moran is a published author since the age of 16 and she has been writing columns for The Times since 1992, mainly on culture topics. Among other awards she received, Moran was acknowledged as Columnist of the Year, Critic of the Year and Interviewer of the Year. She is often used as symbol of feminism writing but unlike some similar authors, Moran’s texts regardless of the seriousness of the issues she is speaking about are rich in humor.
Moran grew up in family of eight children where she was the oldest child; together with her sisters and brothers she lived not in excessive abundance that she later compared to Hunger Games what heavily influenced on her life attitudes and events that have marked the rest of her life – Moran revealed that she left home as soon as she was able to that, at the age of 18.
She did not go to school regularly and had been officially home educated from the age of 11; later she admitted that all of the kids in their family didn’t receive proper formal education from their parents during childhood, though it was unusual to hear that the local government allowed their parents to do everything they want with their children education because they were "the only hippies in Wolverhampton".
Given that she had a lot of free time, and obvious talent that could not remain hidden, Moran received her first literary contest award when she was 13 years old. That was only the beginning of her awards for which she deserved job position as a journalist for Melody Maker, the weekly music publication, at the age of 16. Year later she started working on TV where she became host of music show hosting many artists that were new on the scene such as Blur and Manic Street Preachers.
Her memoirs ‘How To Be a Woman’ in which she recounted her life not so long in duration, but rich in events in an interesting and humorous way, became internationally successful and it was translated in numerous languages. Moran is good story teller, especially when in a convincing and detailed manner is telling about her childhood, in many times managing to make reader smile. Despite their family poverty, she despised the idea of being pitied, what she successful avoided even when she was a child writing her diary.
She opened each of her chapters with some event from her life that explains creation of her particular feminist belief and then discusses the issue by inviting the reader to consider her arguments. Some of topics she speaks about, such as decision to have an abortion, are very good and manage to enter deep and well in subject, especially when she includes her own experiences. On the other hand Moran many times goes into generalizations when she speaks about particular subjects, dividing men and women in order to emphasize some point that makes her book for some parts somehow superficial. Also (which is probably a concession to younger generations) she uses the language that is these days encountered on the Internet, full of abbreviations and caps lock which does not seem the most appropriate for book format.
Still, ‘How To Be a Woman’ will be a book easy to read, for the most part interesting and funny, and is likely to appeal especially to women who consider themselves the distinct feminists. For others in the end it might seem that the author in some ways just scratched the surface and that the radicalism of attitudes cannot be equated with full knowledge of the subject matter on which the story is about.
on 3 July 2013
I am writing this some time after having read the book so will not comment in great detail - more about the impressions it has left with me. I was urged to read it by a friend. Caitlin Moran is roughly half way in age between myself and my three daughters, so I was interested to see what a book that seemed to have spoken to the younger generation might say to them and to me too. I read it, then passed it on to them.
My point of view is of someone who would call myself a feminist, definitely, but have seen my daughters massively turned off the term by what they regard as a po-faced, lugubrious, kill-joy, man-hating etc etc feminism, though they are perfectly able to see that in a world context, with all the issues for women out there, feminism is still a necessary force.
I enjoyed the book's light, experiential approach and it provoked excellent conversations, raising subjects humorously in a way that made sense to all of us. I liked the way Caitlin uses her own experience and writes about every day things (one of my daughters, on the strength of that book, went out defiantly to buy 'sensible' knickers instead of the uncomfortable snips of underwear so many girls seem to endure in the name of cool. So that could only be a good thing.)
This is no theoretical academic polemic, thank goodness, nor is it meant to be. Caitlin's honesty regarding her body, clothes, her attitudes to childbirth, abortion etc are all valuable and refreshing as well as accessible.
The book does not claim to cover everything - it is largely for western women. But thank goodness for someone opening up the conversation again. As Moran says, (I paraphrase) - 'which bit of women's liberation is it exactly that doesn't seem like a good thing to you?'
The price of freedom is eternal vigilance - we all need reminding.