How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran is half autobiography, half feminist rant. It is also incredibly funny and all the way through the book I was snorting with laughter. As a result, I wouldn’t recommending reading this book in bed if you have someone else trying to sleep next to you. A couple of weeks ago, I was watching Newsnight (at least that’s what I think it was, it was Jon Snow and three women having a discussion about objectification and the oversexualisation of society), and Caitlin Moran, with the woman behind Belle du Jour Brooke Magnanti, and feminist activist Kat Banyard were having a heated discussion about oversexualisation in society. For the most part, Brooke Magnanti was becoming increasingly defensive with Kat Banyard, who is strongly against porn and sexualisation. Caitlin Moran seemed intriguing to me, even though her feminism seemed watered down next to Kat Banyard’s. It is interesting to me that I found myself getting wound up whilst watching the programme – I also felt a little confused. I mean, Brooke is entitled to her own opinions, all people are, but at the same time, I felt that she was being overly defensive with Kat, when all that Kat was doing was explaining how she felt about objectification.
I can relate, because I agree that our society is increasingly over-sexualised, and not in a good way. Sex has lost its intimacy, it’s sense of human closeness – it is instead about profit and homogeneity, plastic, about ‘performance’ as opposed to having a good time, a bit of a laugh, a joyful exploration of our own sexuality. This is the difference between lap-dancing dens and burlesque – lap dancing is miserable, sad, completely serious, exploitative. Burlesque is women exploring the human and unique side of their sexuality, a warm and off centre performance, lots of personality and laughter. This is what Caitlin Moran distinguishes between in her book – she says that we all need to identify ourselves as feminist, and stop feeling ashamed of the word, of being associated with a movement that can often seem alienating to people who might be afraid of being seen as ‘man-hating’ or something like that.
She feels that instead of seeing things in terms of men and women, we need to think of ourselves as human beings, with choice, who need to fight for our rights. She argues that it is ridiculous that we are still fighting for our equal share in life, in careers, in pretty much everything, and if more women take up the baton of feminism, then nobody would be able to stop us from claiming our deserved equal footing with men. Like many feminists, she argues that it is also about liberation, and I agree. It isn’t just about being equal – we want to be liberated from stereotypes, from anachronistic and dinosaur views of women and men. If we all saw men and women as human, people, then it would seem ridiculous to make distinctions (apart from perhaps biological stuff like periods and stuff) between what men and women can and can’t do, what we are meant to like and not like, etc etc. This book, as you can tell, has got me thinking about feminism again, and what it means to me to be feminist. She says the most liberating thing a woman can do is not give a crap about what anyone thinks – just be yourself, don’t worry about doing something if you don’t want to (like dieting or shaving or whatever), cast off the pressure that we get from society to look or behave a certain way.
Though for the most part I agreed with much of what she said, some of the things I wasn’t sure about, and feel that with some things we will have to agree to disagree. Some of the sweeping generalisations she makes are perhaps a little too much. However, you do get the feeling that she is open to discussion, which is what feminism is about – discussion and trying to make the world a better place. With some people I have had discussions with, and they don’t agree with each other, things tend to disintegrate into in-fighting, which definitely gives a bad name to feminism. But then, that happens in any movement for social change – sometimes there are factions, sometimes there are issues. Nobody completely agrees with each other, that would be boring. Caitlin’s opinions are her own, coming from her experiences and things that she has spoken about with other women.
As a seasoned feminist, I would say that what this book has given me is a no nonsense, common sense discussion about what it means in the twenty-first century to be someone in a woman’s body. I’ve read a lot of feminist books, and none of them has made me cry with laughter like this book; she tells the truth and that is funny. Ultimately, being a human is a messy, ridiculous and confusing state of affairs. I love this book, and I think both men and women will too, because it is easy to access and a good introduction to feminism, as well as being laugh out loud funny and interesting. It has made me feel more positive and excited about feminism again. Most of the time, being a feminist doesn’t feel funny at all because there is so much to be angry about – but I figure, we can learn a bit from Caitlin – she knows how to have a laugh. Perhaps being lighter about feminism, and not taking it all too much to heart, will help us cope when things get depressing and difficult.
Some people have suggested that Caitlin Moran’s book and politics are watered down and a little bit too simplified. She takes offence at the idea of radical feminism, but also advocates for calling ourselves strident feminists. In some ways, her argument annoyed me a little because, well, it gives the impression that there are no young, active, passionate feminists out there, who already call themselves strident feminists. Maybe she isn’t aware of it, but I find that hard to believe. She argues that not giving a crap about all those beauty myth things is a way to rebel against the patriarchy, but at the same time, what if you’re a feminist and still find dressing up and putting make up on fun? Her book is a light hearted and bolshy look at feminism, but it is maybe not deep enough or rallying enough for those of us who are already feminists and lacking a little bit of direction.
Because it’s not as if strident feminists want to take over from men. We’re not arguing for the whole world. Just our share. – Caitlin Moran, How To Be A Woman.