How to Be a Woman (2011): Caitlin Moran


I can’t quite remember how I first heard about How to be a Woman, but I bought it at Waterstone’s yesterday on the basis it might be an amusing way to pass the time while waiting for Middle Temple Hall to open.  I’d never knowingly read anything by Caitlin Moran before.  Little did I know what a treat I was in for.

In the past 24 hours, I think I’ve laughed more than I did in the entirety of the preceding week.  This book is so irreverent, so down-to-earth, so completely, matter-of-factly open… These are the kind of subjects I wish I could talk about with my girl-friends, but don’t, because my psychological makeup is 65% prude and such conversations have only occurred in the past after large quantities of wine have been consumed.  But Caitlin Moran just plonked herself (in spirit) down next to me, ordered an imaginary bottle of gin and said, “Look, we need to talk about this…”  And I found myself nodding at practically everything she said – at the times when I wasn’t thinking, “But I thought other women didn’t think like that…”

On my way home on the Tube yesterday evening, I was furtively reading Chapter 2 (this book is so frank that I got a bit nervous about people reading it over my shoulder on public transport.  People do read over your shoulder in London.  It’s the result of our evolutionary adaptation to being crammed into small spaces, where there are five people for every accessible newspaper.  Therefore certain books aren’t really appropriate, like the Collected Works of the Marquis de Sade which I once realised the guy next to me on the Tube was reading.)  Initially I was able to contain myself, with merely the odd smile, but when I came to the marmoset comparison halfway down page 47, I inadvertently emitted such a choked gurgle that half the carriage looked at me in sudden alarm.  I only managed a few more lines before I had to close the book.  Tears were beginning to build up in my eyes from the effort of suppressing my laughter, and the nice old man sitting opposite me was looking rather concerned.  This morning on the bus, I tried again, with the result that the woman sitting next to me was so intrigued by my surreptitious sniggering, she said she would go to buy the book in her lunch break.

I’ve always been a feminist with a small ‘f’, in the sense that I’m intellectually equal to any man out there (anyone for University Challenge at 20 paces?) and, frankly, should be paid the same as any man doing the same job as me.  However, I’ve never bought into the hardcore Feminism which burns articles of clothing and demonises men.  Fortunately Caitlin Moran’s book is not only devilishly funny but also very commonsensical.  It articulates a lot of things that I’ve felt for a long time, and it makes me wish that I could be as funky, outspoken, liberated and generally cool as Moran seems to be.  Sadly, that seems unlikely, as no amount of furtive sniggering will alter the fact that I’m fundamentally a ‘nice’ girl: I find it easier to talk about Raphael, or Shakespeare, than to discuss pet names for parts of my anatomy.  But it’d be nice if this book made certain subjects a little less taboo.

And it’s not just women whom I’d urge to read this.  I saw a good uni friend last night – a lovely boy, very polite, impeccably brought-up, public-school, holds doors open for girls, very English – who on seeing the book said, “Oh yes!  I read that; it’s very good.”  I was quite surprised at the time, and that was when I’d only read Chapter 1.  Having now read the rest of the book, I can only imagine the dizzying introduction to female psychology which he must have had; but I’d like to salute him for his intrepid choice.  If more men read this, and find it funny, and touching, and honest, then perhaps as a society we can shrug off some of this sexism nonsense and get on with just being, as Caitlin Moran would say, ‘the Guys’.

Buy the book

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