How To Be a Woman, By Caitlin Moran

We need to talk about Jordan...

Reviewed,Katy Guest
Sunday 03 July 2011 00:00 BST
Journalist Caitlin Moran was named as the 10th most powerful woman in the UK
Journalist Caitlin Moran was named as the 10th most powerful woman in the UK

I met Caitlin Moran once, in a taxi queue at Charing Cross station.

She offered me a bite of her prawn sandwich and I said "You're Caitlin Moran," and then, of course, we were new best friends, as I always knew that we would be when I read her columns.

This sense of instant camaraderie that Moran's writing inspires is often attempted but hard to achieve. How To Be a Woman is full of shouty capitals and shocking personal confessions, which could so easily come across as teenage, grating and slightly mental in less assured hands. What makes Moran's style so impressive is that she makes writing like that look easy. (It's not.) That, and the fact that she's properly funny.

The book is described as "part memoir, part rant". It begins on Moran's 13th birthday, when she is 13 stone, eating lumps of cheese the size of her head, and being chased by stone-throwing boys. How she got from there to here is the story of the book.

Essentially, it comes down to dancing, well-fitting pants, and declaring with gusto that "I am a strident feminist". But it bears close reading, memorising, reciting in social situations and giving to your daughter. In fact, it ought to come free with all waxing strips and women's magazines, and be obligatory reading for all teenage girls.

When only 25 to 30 per cent of women identify themselves as feminists, and girls aspire to being glamour models, footballers' wives or in The Only Way is Essex, Moran's book comes not a moment too soon. "Feminism, as it stands, well ... stands," she writes. "It has ground to a halt .... And no one is tackling OK! magazine, £600 handbags, tiny pants, Brazilians, stupid hen nights or Katie Price. And they have to be tackled ... rugby-style, face down in the mud, with lots of shouting."

The book is rooted in the school of thought that "the personal is political". Moran writes about discovering masturbation, her breasts, and a lot about being the proud owner of a big, furry muff. She describes her three-day labour and a later abortion in horrible detail, so she seems in a position to hold forth about the joys of having children, and the liberation of not doing so. She speculates about over-eating as an addiction (what if more women hit the heroin while Keith Richards binged on pasta?), concluding that: "Over-eating is the addiction choice of carers, and that's why it's come to be regarded as the lowest-ranking of all the addictions." Katie Price, and "women who, in a sexist world, pander to sexism to make their fortune", she likens to "Vichy France with tits".

While this book will inspire moments of righteous fury in all but the most cowed fashion-magazine victims, its overriding achievement is to make feminism seem unthreatening and forehead-smackingly simple. She is not anti-men (in fact, among life's bad stuff, "weddings are our fault, ladies".) Having grown up one of five brothers and sisters, she honestly believes that we're all just "The Guys", that sexism is just a form of bad manners, and that one thing that would help is more imaginative porn.

It would be almost unkind to call this an important book, because what it is mostly is engaging, brave and consistently, cleverly, naughtily funny, but actually it is important that we talk about this stuff. Problems such as domestic abuse, female genital mutilation and women's suffrage don't mean that we shouldn't sweat the small stuff, too. And nobody ever started a revolution while wearing really uncomfortable pants.

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