This, now famous, title by the award-winning Times journalist, Caitlin Moran, chided me somewhat in its presumption when I first heard it. It appeared to be saying: “Do you want to be a woman? Yes? Well, then read this book, because if you don’t read it, you can’t become a woman.” Yet, in a sense, I think it is not a case of presumption. If you are a young woman (or man) who still thinks that feminism consists of a bunch of 'man-hating lesbians', you need to read this book.
It is a touching, yet undeniably funny look at what it means to be a woman today. For Moran, to develop equality we need one thing: "strident feminism." True, it is not 'The Female Eunuch', but Moran’s book succeeds on a level which Greer’s never did – approachability. To a 15 year old me, Greer was terrifying. Inspiring as 'The Female Eunuch' was, it lacked the gentle humour that Moran brings to the table here. She pushes a radical agenda, so foreign to the lad culture of today, and succeeds in showing us that even in the simple action of standing up and saying, “I am a Feminist” we start a motion towards gender equality.
Or rather, that should be “I AM A FEMINIST!” My one critique of Moran is her insistence on using caps-lock every three lines to emphasise her point or show that she is angry about something else. Ultimately this is a stylistic choice that could jar with some readers, but I found that I quickly became accustomed to her desire to shout and began to laugh all the harder at her jokes. More than a feminist manifesto, Moran takes on topics from bras to abortions and ties each of them to her life in a vaguely chronological order. “How to be a Woman” documents Moran’s development, from a 13-year-old reading Jilly Cooper to a respected journalist partying with Lady Gaga. From her dual chapters on children (Why You Should Have Children, and Why You Shouldn’t Have Children) to her attempt to bring 'The Saarlac Pit' in as an affectionate name for her vagina, this is a very personal account of womanhood.
Being a man, reading this book in public has taught me one thing: people do not expect men to want to read a book written explicitly for women. I have even had one or two negative comments thrown at me on the train. Yet Moran’s book does not directly exclude men – it is mostly written for a gender-neutral audience, with large chunks directed at the female reader and a few asides for a specifically male reader. Even so, I still find this an odd concept, that men and women have specific texts that only they will want to read. If anything, it made me enjoy the book more in the knowledge that I was subverting this gender expectation in some small way.
If you want a brutally honest, hilarious rumination on the position and identity of women in society today, this is your book.
Images sourced from The BBC, Jessica Schilling, The Guardian, and The National Portrait Gallery. Compiled by Nicole Horgan.