1913 – Suffragette throws herself under the King’s horse.
1969 – Feminists storm Miss World.
NOW – Caitlin Moran rewrites The Female Eunuch from a bar stool and demands to know why pants are getting smaller.
There’s never been a better time to be a woman: we have the vote and the Pill, and we haven’t been burnt as witches since 1727. However, a few nagging questions do remain… Why are we supposed to get Brazilians? Should you get Botox? Do men secretly hate us? What should you call your vagina? Why does your bra hurt? And why does everyone ask you when you’re going to have a baby?
Part memoir, part rant, Caitlin Moran answers these questions and more in How To Be A Woman – following her from her terrible 13th birthday (‘I am 13 stone, have no friends, and boys throw gravel at me when they see me’) through adolescence, the workplace, strip-clubs, love, fat, abortion, TopShop, motherhood and beyond.
The word 'feminism' strikes fear into the heart of the Whitehead-Parkinson household - a brief mention of the word makes us freeze in terror and then lunge for the nearest lightsaber. Then we do battle with the dark side - cause 'dis shit just got real, yo. Or at least until Luke Skywalker ends up crying in a corner and refusing to speak until Darth Vader brings him some cheesecake.
It all started because I mumbled something about how much I liked the book and how I saw Caitlin Moran as a 'sensible feminist.' By that, I mean she doesn't hate men or want them to change in any away, she doesn't think all porn should be banned and is happy to wear a dress and make-up. She just thinks that women should be seen as completely equal to men, and not have to bear the brunt of sexist comments and attitudes. Because that's what feminism is - just the desire for equal rights and respect.
I think that was the reasoning behind our argument. The-Boy-Whom-I-Love-When-He-Pacifies-Me-With-Cheesecake believes that feminism is now unnecessary because women already have the same rights as men, in everything. We've been able to vote for nearly a century and have access to the same educational and occupational resources. Women don't feel slighted until they read books like this one, and are then brainwashed into looking for problems that aren't there. I can kind of see his point - I wasn't overly concerned with these issues until I read this book (and a similar one last year - Female Chauvinist Pigs) and I wouldn't have called myself a feminist either. But now, after having the concept explained to me by Ms Moran, I know that feminism isn't about not shaving your legs, refusing to make dinner on an evening or over-reacting to a male flirt. I know that's the publicly accepted definition, but it's wrong - thus, we argue.
Regardless of where you stand on feminism, this book is hilarious. I laughed out loud in a number of public places. A lot of reviewers have said that, I know, but just to put it in perspective - I am not a giggler. My natural expression is somewhere between Blackadder and Queen Victoria, with a dash of Pol Pot. I just don't like... things. But God, this book is funny.
But for some women, flirting's just... how it comes out. It's not there as a defence mechanism, or as a result of years of being unwillingly sexualised by the godddamn patriarchy. It's not a consequence. It's an action. It comes from an almost demented joy in being alive, talking to someone who isn't boring you to death, and conspiring in an unspoken, momentary, twinkly, 'I like you, and you like me. Isn't it lovely that we're being total lovelies together?' conspiracy.
Some parts of this book just make perfect sense to me. I don't agree with everything she says; of course not, but paragraphs like the above (I'm a god-made flirt, through and through. Despite the scowling.) just kind of flash at me and make me smile. I admire her for not being afraid to offend people - there are a few paragraphs where I'm sure a few people reacted badly, like the abortion section or when she talks about heaven and the afterlife. Thing is, she isn't arrogant about it. She doesn't apologise for her opinions but explains the reasons behind them in a calm and rational manner. Who can ask more than that?
'It also turns out that husbands do not read Grazia, and no matter how magnificent or loving they may be, they can't help themselves from sporadically saying '£225! For a purse! JESUS CHRIST,' as if you've just stabbed them quite violently in the balls with a fork, left the fork there, and then hung your coat on it while you go and have a bath.'
Ms Moran comes across as a normal woman - not some angry, ranting feminist nor a name-dropping celebrity wannabe. She's a little confused about the conflicting roles of women and it somehow makes her more likeable. She envies the attractive celebrities in the glossy magazines and lusts after the handbags she can never afford, just like the rest of us. She's a normal person with a normal life and it shows.
Maybe Lewis is right - maybe this book has 'brainwashed' me. But so what? I think this should be recommended reading for every person (male or female) above the age of thirteen. It might do the world a favour. I'd love to see a male version though. There's quite a few books on what it's like to be a woman, maybe it's time the men told us the gritty, gross, annoying bits of manhood.
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