Book Review: A Sense of DirectionAugust 11, 2012
Dreaming of Jiro & SushiAugust 25, 2012
Most books are appreciated purely because of their content, but in the case of Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman, not only did I enjoy the stories she tells and the way she tells them, but I LOVE the fact that this book exists at all—and, even better, that it has become a bestseller. It makes me giddy with joy (and gives me some small measure of hope for humanity) to know that enough folks feel the same way and have propelled it up the book charts.
A music writer and former TV host in the UK, Moran takes on all of the sacred cows of womanhood including dating, sexism in the workplace, pregnancy, labor, abortion, and motherhood, but she does it with warmth and humor. That alone would be enough, but even better is her funny and spirited defense of feminism, in which she offers women a quick way of determining whether or not they are feminists:
“Put your hand in your underpants. a) Do you have a vagina? and b) Do you want to be in charge of it? If you said “yes” to both, then congratulations! You are a feminist…When statistics come in saying that only 29 percent of American women would describe themselves as feminist—and only 42 percent of British women—I used to think, What do you think feminism IS, ladies?…These days, however, I am much calmer—since I realized that it’s technically impossible for a woman to argue against feminism. Without feminism, you wouldn’t be allowed to have a debate on a woman’s place in society. You’d be too busy giving birth on the kitchen floor—biting down on a wooden spoon, so as not to disturb the men’s card game—before going back to hoeing the rutabaga field.”
And she doesn’t let feminism off the hook for its humorlessness either, but instead of complaining about it, she points a new way forward through her own good cheer. Whether you agree with her on every point or not, there is an unfailing lightness about the book that makes you feel like you are sitting at the local pub, just shooting the sh*t with a good, potty-mouthed friend. You will find yourself laughing out loud more times than you can count (as I did on the NYC subway system, where no one even batted an eye at the crazy lady giggling in the corner seat).
Take for instance this abridged version of the conversation she had with her friend Rachel as the latter agonized over whether to get a bikini wax prior to a big date. Initially, Rachel thinks she’ll be fine if the room is dark, and if she and the guy are both drunk—until Moran asks her a follow-up question: “‘But what about the next morning?…If you stay over, you might have a second, sober, well-lit pre-breakfast shag. Are you going to be ready?’ ‘Oh, God!’ Rachel says…’I hadn’t thought of that. Bloody hell. But it’s £20, and I’m broke.'” Counsels Moran, “‘If you are getting your bikini done, you’ll need to do it by Wednesday—to let the terrible, disfiguring rash die down.’ We stare at each other. Rachel starts to get annoyed. “I can’t budget correctly with all these Random F•ck Factors in my week.'”
Moran goes on to deconstruct the insanity for her readers: “All of this isn’t done to look scorchingly hot, or deathlessly beautiful, or ready for a nudie shoot at the beach…It’s just to look normal. To have normal-looking legs, and a normal-looking face, and a crotch you’re confident about. To not be anxiously standing in the bathroom with a roll of Scotch tape, dabbing at your upper lip and wailing, ‘As soon as the bright lights hit, I realized I was looking a bit Hitler! I honestly don’t want to annex the Rhineland! I just want a beer and a feel!’…I can’t believe we’ve got to a point where it’s basically costing us money to have a vagina.”
I could go on and on about this book, but please save me the trouble (and the copyright-infringement lawsuit) of transcribing all of the brilliantly funny bits, and just go buy yourself a copy. You’ll thank me later.
How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran (Harper Perennial, 2011)