Endless Reads Review: How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran + Swag!

This book was a gift from my friend C., who wants to chat about the content with me, so I read with a critical eye – and came away with the feeling that this book, while in some places moving and funny, is just not for me. It is not a self help book, more a polemic. In parts. In parts it is the story of Caitlin Moran’s adolescence and adulthood, her job as a music reporter and later columnist for major newspapers: her teenage struggle with weight and identity, her mildly disastrous wedding to (literally) the man of her dreams, the horror story of her first child’s birth, along with that time she hung out with Lady Gaga – a very nice, down to earth human being. For me, these were the parts with worth, with humanity – when she was being specific, when she was talking with brashness and grace about her own life.

The other side, the polemic – well, there are many many points in which her ideas of feminism fall flat for me. Mostly it’s in the urge I have to say CITATION NEEDED quite a lot. After every fact, after ‘every woman feels this way/does this’  i.e. has loads of shoes she doesn’t wear, has a terrible wedding, wants or wanted at some point to be a princess. In other places, she even states that women are not a monolith and that the problem with the patriarchy is that women are presumed to act the same.

Furthermore the idea that we can resist the dominant modes of expression by, as Moran suggests, simply ‘being hot’ and ‘laughing’ seems a little bit less active than I would like. Laugh it off, rather than engage, because if you are engaging, speaking out, you turn into a shrew, and become less attractive. I’m happy enough to be a truthful nag or a tiny long nosed mouseish creature, if the alternative is to pretend what is said or done doesn’t hurt me or trap me in a genderised cage.

So, problematic to say the least. I did appreciate her resistance to the Sex and The City gleeful capitalism, WAG aspiration and Princess-passivity (that is pushed on young girls and women through disney and the pink parade of toys they are exposed to). There were some points where the jokes fall flat for me because they are not based in truth ( and where I felt the need to read parts out to D, in order to vent my disagreement) and at others I was quietly snorting to myself.  For a really more thorough tackling of this book, I’d direct you to Victoria’s review over at Eve’s Alexandria – she articulates a lot of what I found problematic, in a far more eloquent way.

To end this on a more positive note  – I just wanted to post a picture of my swag. I’ve never really had swag before, except once when I was a runner up in a script-writing competition as a teenager. I don’t know if a messenger bag full of prizes count. Anyway, ‘swag’ is a fun word to say, and even more fun to get when you are talking about books:

From left to right:

The first two are chapbooks from the feminist press Birds of Lace, which I won by replying to a tweet on St Valentine’s Day. ‘Meet the Lavenders’ by Carrie Murphy is a poetry collection,  ‘The Birdwisher’ by Anna Joy Springer, which describes itself as ‘a murder mystery for very old young adults’.

The next three are: a small yellow book of poetry called Trees of the Twentieth Century by Stephen Sturgeon, which was given away as part of a subscription to Hobart (the journal next to Trees is issue 13), and most suprising of all, included the Hobart package, a copy of Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead by Barbara Comyns, which had long gone out of print until Dorothy press brought it back.

The cover of the novel, so lovely and murky, was illustrated by Yelena Bryksenkova, who in my dreams will illustrate the cover of my novels. I’ve been a fan of Dorothy press since I first heard of it – it’s a small affair which only publish books by women, and they seem to take up works that I immediately want to read, but have until now not been able to afford.

Thank you Birds of Lace and Hobart – and hooray for swag. (I had to write it one more time)

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11 Comments

Filed under 2012, book cover, book review, consolations of reading, Endless Reads 2012, Illustration, reading

11 responses to “Endless Reads Review: How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran + Swag!

  1. Your review expresses why I mainly read fiction: Hold the polemic, tell me a story.

    • I read mostly fiction. And by that I mean literary fiction, mostly by Anglophone speakers. But that’s what my long project is for, to try to get me to experiment more with my reading. If there is a dud or two a long the way, well, I shall just try to move on.

      • That’s a fabulous attitude. I have branched out quite a bit in recent years but could probably do with further attempts to broaden my horizons. Lead on, my friend.

  2. CJ

    Being hot or laughing it off have never been my strong suits. But then I’m a bawdy dreamer not a dreamy bod. A subject not an object.

  3. I thought I was the only one who had read Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead. Interesting (and strange) book.

    I’ve won a few books and one ceramic mug from blog comments contests. Once I won the complete set of James Bond novels.

    Many years ago I tried to read The Women’s Room, which is called a feminist polemic. I couldn’t finish it for many of the same reasons you cite. I keep meaning to go back to it, but I never do. (And I’m a sympathetic reader.)

  4. I’m glad you feel the same about this book – I’ve found the uncritical reception of it by the mainstream media a bit depressing. Moran has dressed feminism in such a way as to be socially acceptable but at what intellectual cost?

    Oh my goodness that reprint of Comyns is beautiful! I have a second hand Virago copy. How have I never heard of Dorothy press till now? Thank you for pointing me in their direction

    • If I was thinking of a book of approachable feminist theory to give to, say, someone at high school, I just couldn’t give them Moran’s book, for fear of either putting them off (if they can see through the holes in her logic) or worse, if they just absorbed it all uncritically. I think perhaps the positivity is down to a lack of (or low visibility for) new easy-to-read feminist stuff out there, perhaps?

      I have such a thing for Dorothy press at the moment, but having to hold back from buying them for cost reasons. I hope you get your hands on a few!

  5. Weird, after resisting for some time I recently ordered Moran’s book, but underneath I think I expected one of those easy womany reads which I don’t often agree with. Having said that if I examine my own women’s commercial novel about to come out I realise there are models I would run a mile from, but hell, marriage and society do produce some basket cases!

    I love small presses.

  6. macdougalstreetbaby

    I just picked up Moran’s book but now, after reading your review, have absolutely no desire to open it. Isn’t that sad?

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