Review: How to be a Woman

September 30, 2011

Words by Anna Malzy

Hailed as The Female Eunuch rewritten from a barstool, How To Be A Woman (Ebury Press, 2011) – the latest book from Times columnist Caitlin Moran – is feminism for the 21st century. Hitherto unknown to me (a com- mitted Guardian reader) the first time I stumbled across her was in an Observer article entitled ‘Let’s All Be Feminists And Go To The Pub.’ As a feminist and frequent pub-goer I was intrigued. Moran leapt off the page – not least because the accompanying photograph depicted her sporting mad yellow boots and swinging on a tyre swing apparently screaming ‘WAAHEEEEYYYY!!’ What I discovered was one of the most frank, down to earth, and just bloody funny versions of feminism I have ever come across. Freshly reeling from a few terms worth of Judith Butler, feminist rallies and essays on feminist approaches to just about everything, I was in need of some serious belly laughter and Moran was more than happy to oblige.

With as much exclaimation and capitalisa- tion as you could wish for, Moran holds a 313 page consciousness-raising session with us, discussing pornography, strip clubs, birth, marriage, miscarriage, designer handbags, plastic surgery, pants and abortion, to name but a few. She describes herself as a feminist– nay, a Strident Feminist–and believes that all women should do likewise. For those who are unsure about whether or not to call themselves feminists she gives this simple solution: Put your hand in your pants: a) Do you have a vagina? b) Do you want control of it? If your answer to both of these questions is ‘yes’ then congrats, you’re a feminist. Simple as.

As students, we are constantly being asked to perform mental feats worthy of some schol- arly version of the Olympics, to include such tests as ‘How Far Can You Throw Kant’s Cri- tique Of Pure Reason?’, ‘How Many Copies of Frazer’s The Golden Bough Can You Balance On Your Nose’ and ‘Describe Derridean Deconstruction In One Minute Without Hesi- tation, Deviation Or Repetition’ – our collective idea of hell I’m sure. The academic tomes and reams of articles that we read are, I feel, absolutely vital to an understanding of feminism and to learning how we can continue to affect change in this world. We are standing on the shoulders of giants. However, when holed up in a stuffy library trying to write 4000 words before 4pm surrounded by only theory and Red Bull, we can lose sight of the fact that real human beings, here and now, are strug- gling in the face of patriarchy.

Moran says we should counter the ‘awk- wardness, disconnect and bullshit of being a modern woman…by simply pointing at it, and going “HA!”’ She writes that all of us on earth are basically just ‘The Guys’ trying to muddle our way through life, advocating that she is neither ‘pro-women’ nor ‘anti-men’ but is rather ‘thumbs up for the 6 billion.’ What she is saying is that life is tough, a lot of shit is flung in our direction and that as the main ‘losers’ throughout history, most of that shit is flung in the way of women. So, what is the best way to get along, disarm patriarchy, hegemony and the people trying to get one over on us? First, where possible, to have a sense of humour about it, and second to BE POLITE and demand that others do likewise. Nothing kicks the legs out from under The Patriarchy quite like a charge of simply being rude. Even the most rampant bigot on earth has no defence against that, says Moran – and I am inclined to agree.

Because the struggle for liberation and equality is exactly that – a struggle – we are all fighting what can feel like an uphill battle at times. Take a look at the latest rape conviction rates in the UK, or the gender pay gap. Women have supposedly been equal to men since uni- versal enfranchisement kicked in 1928 but the tide has not yet fully turned. While feminism is often seen as ‘Women’ pitching themselves against ‘Men’ I feel that Moran’s writing is part of a new feeling amongst feminists that this is not the way we want things to be. We’re tired of pitching ourselves one sex verses the other, partly because we realise that this black and white view of the world doesn’t really work any more. The theme for this issue is ‘Liberation’ and if liberation means anything then it’s understanding that we live in a world of plural- ities and that there is a dynamism that has never been so potent before. It doesn’t mean that we don’t still categorise ourselves – and others – along the lines of sex or race or sexu- ality, but we are coming to see that such tropes can be fluid, and it is understanding that which before was thought to be ‘other’ to ourselves and seeing ourselves through the ‘other’s’ eyes that will allow us to be liberated and free. Having a laugh at the insanity of it all and demanding good manners from all we encounter seems to me to be as good a place to start as any.


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