Surprised by how much I enjoyed Caitlin Moran’s _How To Be A Woman_

Nowadays, it seems like every female-oriented book (particularly the ones about motherhood) that I read is in conversation with The Feminine Mystique. In some ways, that’s not surprising. The primary message of The Feminine Mystique was that women should go out and get careers. And now that many have done so, there’s a desire to re-examine that call to arms and see whether it needs any modification. Even books that aren’t overtly feminist (like Tina Fey’s Bossypants) seem to be somewhat-influenced by Friedan’s book.

But not this one! Moran’s book of essays contains no shout outs to Friedan. All the references are to Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch (which I’ve never read). And it’s clear that Moran approaches female issues from a slightly different and (for me) somewhat refreshing angle.

The Feminine Mystique and many of the current crop of “women in the workplace” or “women in the family” books deal primarily with women’s relationship with society and with her own self-identity. And that’s cool and all. But Moran’s book is more personal than that. To a large extent, it’s more focused on women’s relationships with men and with their own sexuality. For instance, it contains (to me) fascinating essay on underwear, on weight, on walking in high heel shoes, on weddings, on getting an abortion (for family planning purposes) after already being a mother, and on, well, all kinds of stuff.

It’s also one of the first books of this sort that was written by a working-class person. Moran grew up in a fairly poor British family that contained eight[!] children. As a child, she shared a bed with a much-younger sister. And, because she was the oldest, after she became a teenager she only wore her mother’s hand-me-downs. From looking at her wikipedia page, it appears (although the book doesn’t talk about this much) that her parents held her out of school and claimed to be home-schooling her but they actually didn’t give her much in the way of education at all. Instead, she educated herself, in a haphazard way, by reading books from the library. When she starts talking about career and jobs, it’s clear that going to university was never really in the picture for her.

I can’t tell how much a woman would enjoy reading this stuff, but I certainly enjoyed it a lot. And I learned a lot. Probably one of the books that I enjoyed most this year. But since it’s midnight on Christmas, I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t expend the brain power that I’d need if I wanted to be more specific. The book is just not quite like anything else I’ve ever read. It’s clearly not a polemic. It somewhat resembles a book of comedic essays (e.g. Tina Fey’s book). But it has more cohesion and more message than that. It was fun to read.


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