The Yorker Archives… (‘How To Be A Woman’, Book Review)

Not many books fall under both categories “Humour” and “Feminism”, but Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman certainly hits the spot for both genres.
The Times columnist takes us through key points in her womanhood; from discovering masturbation to handling evil boyfriends, with a brilliant deadpan humour and an infallible sense of logic throughout. She doesn’t flinch while discussing the horror and embarrassment of locating the first hairs “down there”, but instead provides a list of reasons why she stopped shaving them. It’s this trademark Moran charm that makes the book fresh and exciting, and makes feminists and feminism seem much more approachable.
Moran is undaunted by the controversial nature of some of her musings. She openly discusses her decision to have a termination, while bluntly refusing to be made to feel guilty by a society which she believes views abortions as inherently wrong. She expresses her outrage at statistics that infer women want to disassociate with feminism (“WERE YOU DRUNK AT THE TIME OF THE SURVEY?”) before lapsing back into her calmer mode, coolly reassuring herself and the readers that any female who disagrees with feminism because it “isn’t fashionable” is similar to a black person in the 1960’s who “isn’t into civil rights” (“Martin Luther, he just needs to chill out…”).
Caitlin’s debate on what we’re supposed to call our vaginas had me sniggering away on trains, her anecdotes had me reminiscing of my own similar experiences, and her reasoning had me convinced that feminism isn’t frightening or irrelevant. She does a wonderful job of showing that however serious we should take feminist issues, doesn’t mean we should be humourless, that we can’t find the hilarity in absurd situations. She recreates the stereotype of feminists as a dry political spinster, into a warm, clever, witty and relatable woman.
The book isn’t exclusive; in fact, it explains female experiences in way that is neither patronising nor dull to an audience of either gender. The descriptions of solely female enterprises, such as childbirth, or the difficult timing of body-hair removal in relation to socialising, are as equally detailed as they are comical.
“Feminism” has become a loaded word, associated with hypocritical and hysterical women, bra-burning men-haters, or the outdated movement that was solved when women gained the vote. But maybe it’s time to reclaim the word, and reclaim the movement altogether. Caitlin Moran exemplifies and explains, precisely, how to be a woman. And the conclusion seems to be, however you want.
(Originally published 19th October 2011, http://www.theyorker.co.uk/news/culture/7631)
How To Be A Woman: Amazon
Caitlin Moran: Twitter or Columns