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 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 25 August 2011
Adverse effect of Kindles, they make it easy to purchase things you wouldn't dream of buying otherwise. I have long suspected that Caitlin Moran is a bit over-hyped. Her columns are sometimes funny, sometimes a pointless stream of conciousness, written while hungover (as she is happy to admit).
This book is an ill-conceived hybrid of the type of bare-all confessional that too many female journalists indulge in these days, and childish feminist drivel that a first-year student might burble while necking bottles of alcopop in the college bar. Hardcore pornography is demeaning to women, apparently. Who knew? She mistakes crudity for humour (if you want genuinely funny toilet humour, read "the Tent, the Bucket and Me"),and contradicts herself frequently- sexy lingerie is an essential, no, wait, big knickers are good and men don't care what you wear.
The unedited, under-informed and over-sharing style, which relies on capital letters to make her points, is of the kind you would expect in a teenage girl's diary. And I suspect herein is the issue. As she proudly tells us, a few times, she was employed as a journalist at 16. So Ms Moran has retained the writing style, and maturity, that served her so well back in the day. Her pronouncement that she is better than Barack Obama, because she is a mother, suggests that she takes the supermarket slogan "Because mums are heroes", a bit too literally. Michelle Obama might make the claim to be better than Barack, but not someone whose main contribution to society is a column about celebrities.
Lastly, and worst, she chooses to compare the imagined horror of a 10 year old boy seeing a bra, to the horror of the naked girl in the photo taken of children running from the My Lai massacre. At least, that's who I assume she meant when she blithely referenced "that Vietnamese kid covered in napalm". Beyond unfunny and tasteless, it smacked of ignorance and immaturity. Which, given what she tells us of her life, shouldn't be too surprising. How to be a woman? I think not.
on 16 August 2011
I'm a bookworm. I keep every book that I read, and I dread moving house due to the sheer numbers of them that I own.
So it takes a lot for me to take a brand new book to the charity shop - but with this one, I made an exception. How to Be a Woman was recommended to me by a close friend who loved it, and so I bought it on Amazon straight away. It's done nothing but annoy me and make me roll my eyes since. Feminism? Really? Since when did feminism consist of laboured jokes and childish capital letters? I knew hardly anything about Caitlin Moran prior to picking this up, and now I feel like all I need to know is that she doesn't seem to have grown up as a writer since 17.
I really can't stress enough how disappointed I was. Never before have I actually felt like I've thrown money away on a book.
Clearly a lot of people love it, I suppose it's just one of those books that divides people, the above is obviously just my opinion.
on 16 December 2013
Gosh, being a feminist is BRILLIANT!!!!!! I love being a woman. Well, I love being me. Women should love being women, but only if they're like me. If they're not like me, then they are sexist and RUBBISH. Women shouldn't shave because that's unfeminist, but women should shave because it feels LOVELY. They should definitely do one or the other. I don't know which, but if they do the wrong one, then they are SEXIST. Here is a word I don't understand, followed by a faux-feminist point about why Katie Price should LITERALLY DIE. I love burlesque because it's empowering, but STRIPPING is VILE. Here's a joke about a child covered in napalm, and here are some EXCITING CAPITAL LETTERS. This s a typo because my editors couldn't be bothered to read this tripe either. This book took FIVE MONTHS TO WRITE and it shows!! I grew up poor, you know. Like, really, really poor. So poor I didn't even have a BIRTHDAY CAKE. If you had a birthday cake, then you were probably privileged scum. I'm best friends with Lady Gaga and sometimes I hang out with loads of other famous people. They're all FANTASTIC feminists, obviously, because they know me. I've been writing since I was a LITERAL CHILD and I didn't have any of that pubic hair, so I couldn't be a feminist then, but I've grown up now (although my writing hasn't changed A BIT) and now I have hair under my ARMPITS so I guess that makes me fully qualified!! Although I do shave sometimes but if you do that then you're SEXIST because you're not me. This book is LITERALLY BRILLIANT and if you don't agree then you are clearly part of the sexist patriarchal mulch that constitutes our modern day society. Please love me.
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 13 May 2012
Filled with with tasteless jokes, contradictions, self importance, arrogance and LISTEN TO ME CAPS LOCK. It's certainly not a fun read.
Some things really bothered me. For someone who recently critised Ricky Gervais being disabilist, she says some pretty questionable things herself. Describing herself as having the "joyful ebullience of a retard". Jokes about "that napalm kid" are equally shocking.
on 27 March 2016
This book has made me angry and rather sad; something I never expected to feel, having read and heard positive reviews of it since it was first published.
I received my copy as a Christmas gift from my husband and daughters. I had previously read Moran's book 'Moranthology', which was funny, sharp, direct and topical. Therefore, I expected 'HTBAW' would be the same. However, I was sorely disappointed.
Although Moran's writing style fits well with an observational column format, it's jarring in a book of this nature. As many other reviewers have noted, the text is shouty, unstructured, sloppy and ill though-out. The stream-of-consciousness style veers from one point to another with little rhyme or reason. Moran dwells on some topics far too long whilst other more important issues are swept over. This all makes for rather exhausting reading.
However, while Moran's style of writing is irritating, it is her attitude and outlook which I find most distressing. Yes, I use the word "distressing" primarily because I cannot believe she had the gall to call this book "How to Be a Woman". It is certainly nothing of the kind. It is a memoir of her own life mixed in with her views on feminism. If it was called "How to be Caitlin Moran", it would be easier to take. At the start, I found her description of her early life refreshingly honest, particularly her account of going through puberty and the practical challenges this brings. I also had no problem with the swearing, descriptions of intimate issues and near-the-knuckle humour (save for the awful napalm 'joke'). However, as the pages wore on, it became clear that Moran is extremely arrogant and self-obsessed. Her point of view is completely centered on her own experiences and feelings, without much thought for the challenges faced by others. Yes, her account of growing up in a poor, large family is interesting but not nearly as interesting or uncommon as Moran believes it to be. Strangely, despite being candid about many things, she doesn't comment on how her upbringing actually affected her - I wanted to know what she thought of her parents' decision to have more children when they could not afford it, having virtually no privacy at home at such a sensitive time in her life and the apparent lack of practical and emotional support from her mother when she started having periods. These are the kinds of experiences which form us as women so why couldn't she be frank about it?
It is the same when it comes to Moran's career. It would have been insightful and most likely inspiring to hear how a home-educated teenager managed to become a successful journalist at the age of 16; however, she doesn't explain how this happened. She also doesn't cover important work-related issues such as the gender pay gap, the glass ceiling and maternity/paternity rights. It's not clear whether this is because Moran hasn't experienced these challenges during her career (highly unlikely) or some other reason but when a writer professes to describe how to be a modern woman, it is unacceptable not to cover these topics to some extent.
Instead, the feminist issues Moran describes are largely clichéd 'women's problems', such as the pain of wearing high-heels, the perils of dealing with fashion trends (take, for an example, the fascinating story of Moran agonising over whether to buy an expensive handbag), how much labour hurts and deciding what to call your private parts. Yes, it is appalling that society compels women to conform to unrealistic standards of beauty, remove their body hair and follow ridiculous fashion fads but there are also many more issues at hand, such as FGM, arranged marriage, domestic violence and rape - where do they figure in Moran's world view? There is no sign of any inter-sectional feminism in this book - if you fall outside the category of a 30-something white woman working in London on decent pay, forget it; Moran does not devote even a paragraph to women of other cultures, ethnic groups or financial/social strata.
Moran's self-regard as a media personality is obvious - I tired of her repeated name-dropping, apparent worship of certain celebrities (her lengthy tract about Lady Gaga is verging on sickening) and harsh derision of others (Katie Price gets a rough ride, after failing to enthusiastically engage with Moran during a week of interviews). The tone throughout is "I'm cool! Listen to me talk about all the great things I've done and all the famous people I know!".
Moran essentially lists what she considers to be good feminism and bad feminism. Stripping = bad, burlesque = good. Waxing = bad, natural pubic hair = good. It is implied that if you disagree, you're not a proper feminist. This is a divisive, unproductive message that is damaging to feminism and contrary to the view that women should be free to make their own choices in life.
I have mixed feelings about Moran's chapter on abortion. As a pro-choice woman, I support the discussion of abortion within and outside of marriage and I do not shy away from the reality of the procedure. However, I object to Moran's harsh, callous tone in some parts of this chapter, which smacks of an attempt to shock. To describe the foetus as "lucky" before going on to describe the procedure in a fashion which is rather sensationalist and brutal is almost cruel - there will obviously be readers who have had the experience, voluntarily or otherwise, who may be triggered by Moran's phrasing. I think Moran should have considered that fact when writing the chapter.
The final postscript is a hurried attempt to fit in a selection of additional points in the briefest of detail. It's like Moran has run out of time and is stuffing in as much as possible before sending the text to print. Moran ends on the note that she considers herself "One of the guys", an interesting take by a feminist but that's her call.
In any event, I finished this book feeling like I'd been misled and in a way, violated, having been given the impression that Moran's word is law and any dissenting voices are less valid. It seems she is increasingly being held up as the face of modern feminism. However, she is not that for me. As feminists, we have to allow others flexibility and the freedom to take an alternative view. This book does not offer that flexibility. This is why I am giving it one star and will not recommend it to others.