Back in September 0f 2014, Emma Watson (yes, Hermione from the Harry Potter movies) spoke before the United Nations and declared herself a feminist. Maybe this isn’t as big a deal as I think it is, but seeing a young, attractive woman speak in front of the world about what feminism is, and what it’s actual goals are was pretty inspiring. It sucks that it has to be a young, attractive, famous, white woman for people to start paying attention…but she knew she had a platform, and she used it for good. That speech is here:
Anyways – skip ahead a year and three months. In January of 2016, Emma announced she was starting an online book club through Goodreads called Our Shared Shelf, and all the books would focus on feminism, and have discussions and occasional interactions with the authors. So that’s pretty cool. I signed up, and saw the first book choice, but didn’t read it because I had a few other books on my plate at the time. And then I lost track of it. Perhaps they didn’t have the notifications system going properly, but the next I heard was in late March, and they were announcing their April book (I’ll have to go back and read “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker and “All About Love” by bell hooks later on). But by a miracle, when they announced “How to Be A Woman”, I looked it up in Overdrive, and found that there was only a very short wait. Woohoo!
And guys – as much as I occasionally feel like listening to the audiobook version of a book is “cheating”…this was an amazing experience, a large part of which was because it was read by the author herself. The book is a combination memoir and non-fiction statement piece by Caitlin Moran on what it means to be a woman, and how feminism fits into modern life. And the main idea being that if we women want to have control of our own bodies and lives the way that men do, we are feminists…and you can argue semantics, but that’s what you are. Caitlin also has the most delicious accent that feels very real, and not posh at all, so while a fancy British accent can make you feel talked down to, listening to Caitlin is like listening to a friend.
Caitlin grew up as the oldest of eight children (!!!) in Wolverhampton, which is outside of Birmingham in England. She was home-schooled, poor, and rebellious, and as soon as she could, she moved away and became a music journalist in London. From there she continued writing, and eventually became a big deal columnist at The Times. Her first book – published when she was still very young – was a novel, but this book (“How to Be a Woman”) was written after she’d had a little more experience in life and felt comfortable enough to make it a manifesto of sorts.
Which it is – and it’s one that I feel like everyone ought to read. Even as someone who already considered herself a feminist, Caitlin gave me lots to think about. Why did I think the way that I did? Why was I making judgments the way that I was? How did Caitlin’s young adult experience match mine, and how and where did it differ? The biggest thing that I took away from this book was Caitlin’s near constant question of “Are the men doing it?” as a way to find out if something is feminist or not. Do we expect men to wear makeup? To maintain a perfectly hairless body? To stay home with children? To perform for the opposite sex? The answer for all of these is no. And because it’s no, the expectation by society for women to do them is anti-feminist (and thus, anti-all-of-us-humans-together). Now, Caitlin also reiterates that if a woman wants to do something because it brings her joy, then it doesn’t matter whether it’s feminist or not – it’s her choice, and that’s fine. Being a stripper or sex worker because you literally have no other choices in life is bad. Being a stripper (or maybe even a sex worker?) because that’s an active choice that you made…still vaguely problematic because it can glamorize the industry for outsiders who believe that everyone in it is making a choice, but it’s not anti-feminist itself.
So yeah. Lots to think about, but also lots of riotously funny bits as well. Quite a bit were things that I wanted to remember and keep in my brain for the future when there are young women around me who will need to be told that it’s ok. That as long as they’re happy and healthy, the choices they make may be hard, but that they are as good as any boy out there. That their bodies are not to be feared, but to be understood, and occasionally celebrated. That it’s better to ask questions and find out what’s really going on with ourselves and the world. This book would be a terrific primer for high school girls – probably on the older end since there’s swearing, talk of drugs and alcohol, and of sex. But all this is important for young women to know. If we are kept in the dark, we will continue living our lives in a way that lets us become the “lesser sex” that society tries to tell us we are. I hope everyone who reads this blog considers getting this book from the library, or buying it, or something – it’s that important.
And when you are in doubt about whether something is wrong around you, ask yourself “Are the me doing it?”
Details: How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran, published 2011 by Ebury Press