Books

Excerpt: Caitlin Moran's How to Be a Woman, the next Chatelaine Book Club pick!

Humorist and quick-witted London Times columnist Caitlin Moran lets loose with a frank assessment of what it means to be female today in her acclaimed book, How to Be a Woman. Here's an excerpt.

Caitlin Moran's How to Be a Woman book cover

There’s a whole generation of people who’ve confused “feminism” with “anything to do with women.” “Feminism” is seen as absolutely interchangeable with “modern women” — on one hand, a cheering reminder of what feminism has done, but on the other, a political, lexical and grammatical mess. Over the last few years, I’ve seen feminism — to remind ourselves: the liberation of women — blamed for the following: eating disorders, female depression, rising divorce rates, childhood obesity, male depression, women leaving it too late to conceive, the rise in abortion, female binge drinking and rises in female crime. But these are all things that have simply INVOLVED WOMEN and have nothing to do with the political movement “feminism.”
In the most ironic twist of all, feminism is often used as the stick — actually, a stick is inappropriately phallocentric — to stop women behaving as freely, normally and unselfconsciously as men. Even — in some extreme cases — suggesting that acting as freely, normally and unselfconsciously as men is destroying other women.

Like with bitching. There is currently this idea that feminists aren’t supposed to bitch about each other.
“That’s not very feminist of you,” people will say if I slag off another woman. “What about the sisterhood?” people cry when Julie Burchill lays into Camille Paglia, or Germaine Greer has a pop at Suzanne Moore.
Well, personally, I be­lieve that feminism will get you so far — and then you have to start bitching. When did feminism become confused with Buddhism? Why on earth have I, because I’m a woman, got to be nice to everyone? And why have women — on top of everything else — got to be particularly careful to be “lovely” and “supportive” to each other at all times? This idea of the “sisterhood” I find, frankly, illogical; I don’t build in a 20 percent “Genital Similarity Regard Bonus” if I meet someone else wearing a bra. If someone’s an arsehole, someone’s an arsehole — regardless of whether we’re both standing in the longer bathroom queue at concerts or not.

When people suggest that what, all along, has been holding women back is other women bitching about each other, I think they’re severely overestimating the power of a catty zinger during a cigarette break. We have to remember that snidely saying, “Her hair’s a bit limp on top” isn’t what’s keeping womankind from closing the 30 percent pay gap and a place on the board of directors. I think that’s more likely to be down to tens of thousands of years of ingrained social, political and economic misogyny and the patriarchy, tbh [to be honest]. That’s just got slightly more leverage than a gag about someone’s bad trousers.

I have a rule of thumb that allows me to judge — when time is pressing and one needs to make a snap judgment — whether some sexist bullshit is afoot. Obviously it’s not 100 percent infallible but, by and large, it definitely points you in the right direction.

And it’s asking this question: “Are the men doing it? Are the men worrying about this as well? Is this taking up the men’s time? Are the men told not to do this, as it’s ‘letting our side down’? Are the men having to write bloody books about this exasperating, time-wasting bullshit? Is this making Jon Stewart feel insecure?”
Almost always, the answer is: “No. The boys are not being told they have to be a certain way. They’re just getting on with stuff.” Men are not being informed that they are oppressing other men with their comments. It is presumed that men can handle perfectly well the idea of other men bitching about them. I think, on this basis, we can presume women can cope with other women being bitchy about them, too. BECAUSE WE ARE ESSENTIALLY THE SAME AS MEN WHEN IT COMES TO BEING VILE ABOUT EACH OTHER.

This isn’t to say we should all start behaving like bitches toward each other and turn every day into a 24-hour roasting session, in which people’s lives, wardrobes and psyches are destroyed before our eyes. All along, we must recall the most important Humanity Guideline of all: BE POLITE. Being polite is possibly the greatest daily contribution everyone can make to life on earth. But at the same time, “Are the boys doing it?” is a good way to detect spores of misogyny in the soil, which might otherwise seem a perfectly fertile and safe place to grow a philosophy.

It was the “Are the boys doing it?” basis on which I finally decided I was against women wearing burkas. Yes, the idea is that it protects your modesty and ensures that people regard you as a human being, rather than just a sexual object. Fair enough. But who are you being protected from? Men. And who — so long as you play by the rules and wear the correct clothes — is protecting you from the men? Men. And who is it that is regarding you as just a sexual object, instead of another human being, in the first place? Men.
Well. This all seems like quite a man-based problem, really. I would definitely put this under the heading “100 percent stuff that the men need to sort out.” I don’t know why we’re suddenly having to put things on our heads to make it better. Unless you really, genuinely like all the gear and would wear it even if you were alone watching EastEnders, in which case carry on. My politeness accepts your choice. You can be whatever you want — so long as you’re sure it’s what you actually want, rather than one of two equally dodgy choices foisted onto you.

***

Because the purpose of feminism isn’t to make a particular type of woman. The idea that there are inherently wrong and inherently right “types” of women is what’s screwed feminism for so long — this belief that “we” wouldn’t accept slaggy birds, dim birds, birds that bitch, birds that hire cleaners, birds that stay at home with their kids, birds that have pink Mini Metros with POWERED BY FAIRY DUST! bumper stickers, birds in burkas or birds that like to pretend, in their heads, that they’re married to Zach Braff from Scrubs and that you sometimes have sex in an ambulance while the rest of the cast watch and, latterly, clap. You know what? Feminism will have all of you.

What is feminism? Simply the belief that women should be as free as men, however nuts, dim, deluded, badly dressed, fat, receding, lazy and smug they might be. Are you a feminist? Hahaha. Of course you are.