One reviewer noted that she was pretty much a dude before she read this book, then magically she turned female. I think I feel the same way.
Caitlin Moran is hilarious. Let’s just get that out there. While How To Be a Woman is a New York Times best seller, I didn’t really know about the book until I started researching contemporary books for the feminist book list blog series published on this site.
The overall composition of this book is different from other autobiographies I’ve read, albeit I haven’t read many by comedians. It’s funny, but it’s more than that. How To Be a Woman is composed in a very exact way. Each chapter starts with a childhood memory. For Moran, it starts on her 13th birthday, walking home, and getting rocks thrown at her by some boys. Instead of a cake, her mother makes her a baguette with cream cheese in the middle. She whispers secrets to her dumb dog who just hides under Moran’s bed. But Moran doesn’t just tell us her life story, she connects her experiences with a central moral of the chapter, then brings that lesson into the present. Each chapter is executed in such a fashion, and each chapter contains a different lesson that started in adolescents and can be traced into adulthood.
I think what struck me most about this book was how honest it was. Moran isn’t afraid to talk about herself or the awkwardness that is womanhood that we all go through. She is frank, direct, and recognizes her own ignorance about her own body and the changes it was going through from childhood to womanhood. Moran’s comedy comes from an honest place as well – we need to laugh at ourselves, at this transformation, at the ridiculousness of the world around us. The comedy doesn’t take away from the issues she’s tackling, though, but rather allows us, the reader, to laugh while we think.
The most powerful and relatable moment for me in Moran’s adolescents was getting her first period. She opens her book with this story because, well, because it’s the start of womanhood, isn’t it? Personally, my parents never had “the talk” with me, or it was something so awkward I have blocked it out of my memory. In school we had videos of cartoon bodies and little animated eggs passing through a blue bisected uterus that explained the changes our bodies would go through when we reached womanhood. But when the time came, I really had no clue what was going on. I grabbed a pad and stuck it in my panties and that was that.
Moran’s experience is more extreme than my own. Her first period, she notes, lasted three months. But she didn’t know that this wasn’t normal. She felt faint, weak, and miserable, but she didn’t talk to anyone about her periods besides her dumb little dog. Periods aren’t polite conversation, but they should be, and her book makes the case for female issues being discussed more and less taboo throughout her book. When her younger sister got her period shortly after her, she finally had someone to talk to. Even then she didn’t realize that her three month long period was anything abnormal.
One of my favorite parts of Moran’s book comes when she talks about what to call her vagina. Vagina is too clinical for her, but pussy is too soft. She settles on the most offensive and powerful word associated with the vagania that she can think of – cunt. Personally, I love the word, but I know it can be offensive for some. Her logic in using it, though, is flawless. There is no word more offensive used to describe a penis, no word that other people gasp at or fear when it comes to the body as much as they take offense and fear the word cunt.
While this book does tell the story of womanhood and feminism, I don’t think this book is only for women. Anyone interested in woman’s issues or has a woman in their life going through adolescents would benefit from reading this book. And, of course, girls on the cusps of becoming women should also be given this book to read too. I know it’s for adults, I know it has crass language, but it’s one thing most books aren’t when it comes to puberty: honest, awkward, and funny. I can’t think of any better way to welcome a girl into womanhood.