The other F-word: Caitlin Moran’s 'How to Be a Woman'
MANILA, Philippines - I completely understand people’s fear of the word “feminism” — it’s not so much the actual beliefs behind those 8 letters, but the stereotypes that have sprung from them.
The word "feminism" brings to mind bra-burning, unshaven legs and armpits, mannish clothes, and a healthy dose of anger towards men, all of them!
Also, throwing that word around comes off a little old-fashioned. We already have the RH Bill. We can vote. We can work outside our homes and not be judged. In the 21st century, do we still need feminism? And can we still use it to talk about ourselves and not sound like that tita who’s stuck in the '60s?
Caitlin Moran says, "Oh, yes we do; and it’s not as difficult as you think." Her recently-released How to Be a Woman fuses an honest, witty, sometimes outrageously funny memoir with keen observation and a razor-sharp analysis of her own experiences, creating a book that’s smart, relevant, and ambitious in its scope: to reintroduce feminism to the 21st-century reader.
Through a chapter-by-chapter take on her life, she demonstrates how her experiences have convinced her that “the little things” — being fat, being pregnant, falling in love — are feminist issues, too. Because, let’s face it, the world isn’t equal for men and women, in many ways, and something has to be done.
The tone of Moran’s book can be off-putting: the overly graphic and intimate details in the first two chapters (her dog gnawing on a discarded sanitary napkin, wrinkled fingers as a result of excessive masturbation) and the abuse of ALL CAPS AND EXCLAMATION POINTS TO DEMONSTRATE HOW HER FAMILY MEMBERS YELL AT EACH OTHER! almost made me regret buying the book.
But I soldiered on and made it to "Chapter Four: I Am a Feminist!," and this is where Moran strikes gold. Finally, she delivers on the promise of the blurbs and jacket copy: Moran begins to talk about something other than herself and explain feminism by referring to her own experiences.
For most of the book, the author’s voice transforms from a mawkish oversharer into the tough, fast-talking big sister who, through stories, gives us straight advice. I couldn’t get enough of it, and even after 17 chapters, I felt bad about being done with the book.
Moran has many astute insights in this book, but it’s in her chapter “Role Models and What We Do With Them” where she’s keenest. She argues that we have to start talking about women in pop culture because the world is paying attention, and critical non-attention won’t alter the influence they have.
In particular, her analysis of the dynamic between the snark with which we regard women in entertainment (“God, Judi Dench is so FAT! Taylor Swift is such a hoe!”) and the pressure on non-celebrity women to live a full life and look good doing it adds a new angle to the discussion on women’s bodies and popular culture.
The goal of the celebrity female memoir is to demonstrate that the author is exceptionally funny, smart as a whip, but underneath it all, just like us ordinary Janes. Moran’s book is only one among many women’s memoirs that have been published in recent years, e.g. Tina Fey’s Bossypants, Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), Chelsea Handler’s Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea. While these memoirs are entertaining and insightful in their own right, they’re more cautious about alienating readers, and so there’s no label of "feminist" on their work, nor a discussion of anything too intimate or divisive.
Smart PR, I suppose. But unlike her predecessors, Moran is willing to go beyond the “easy” topics for women such as shopping, weight, romance, and sex, which are topics you’ll find in both feminist tracts and chick lit. Instead, her book bravely tackles topics that will alienate some readers on moral or political grounds, such as porn, abortion, not wanting to have kids, and strip clubs. Moran is lucky to be riding the industry’s heightened interest in women’s memoirs, but she also deviates from the trend and acknowledges the school of thought that has made women’s writing possible.
Just by willing to identify with feminism, her take on an old buzzword is groundbreaking and courageous, especially in these sales figure-conscious times.
Of course, the reader should not take Moran’s book as a substitute for the rigor of feminist theory, nor as an all-encompassing discussion of feminist issues. There is much that is not addressed in the book, and it’s precisely because of the imperative of the memoir — write about what happened to you, in the way you saw it.
While speaking “from experience” affirms one of the key tenets of feminism (the personal is political), it also makes much of women’s experience in the 3rd world, in poverty, and in the lower and subaltern classes inaccessible to this author.
However, as a treatise on how to begin approaching feminism, and on gender and power in our lives, this book is a must-read. Go forth, ladies and gentlemen (yes, you too) and learn how to be a woman. - Rappler.com
(Florianne L. Jimenez teaches Literature and College Writing at the University of the Philippines Diliman. She is a Palanca award-winning non-fiction writer, with a creative interest in the self, places, and consciousness. She has a massive to-be-read pile dating back to 2008, which includes such titles as 'The Collected Stories of Gabriel Garcia Marquez,' 'Book 5 of Y: The Last Man,' and 'The Collected Works of TS Spivet: A Novel.')