Feminist · Humor · Memoir/Biography/Autobiography · Nonfiction

How To Be A Woman

This was a foray into a new genre for me…and I think I’ll be going back for more. In general, nonfiction is not my favorite. I sprinkle them in here and there, but it’s definitely infrequent. In the past year, I can think of only 2 I’ve read – one that I loved (Modern Romance, by Aziz Ansari) and one that I felt was way overhyped (Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris). And this leaned closer, in style, to the one I didn’t like. But I had seen it mentioned on Our Shared Shelf (Emma Watson’s feminist book club – many of the books they choose/mention are on my TBR shelf, including this one, but I just hadn’t taken the plunge yet). Then it was one of the popular drop books for The Book Fairies’ International Women’s Day campaign (it’s the coolest idea ever and I want to figure out how to be more involved!). And finally, what tipped me over the edge was a recommendation from a friend. We were talking about books we’ve read recently and our choices were so drastically different, it really got me thinking: maybe I should use my reading to see the real world more. Don’t get me wrong, I still plan to read for escapism purposes, but I’m going to make it a goal to engage more through reading from now on. It’s the perfect platform for me.

How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

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“This is a collection of what I suppose you’d call essays from British journalist/author/broadcaster, Caitlin Moran. Like I said, this was my first journey into the feminist genre (because yes, I think there should definitely be a whole genre dedicated to feminism and feminist writing) and one of a select few nonfiction books I’ve read in general. And I ­really enjoyed it. Moran explores her own life and discoveries of all the things women learn throughout their life that, considering that fact that almost all of us experience these things, are so minimally talked about or acknowledged.  Things like getting your first period, buying underwear, what to call your vagina and breasts (and if you cringed just reading those words, this book is definitely for you), dating, marriage, family, having kids (or not), abortion, style/clothing, plastic surgery. I mean really she covers the gambit. And though there are some chapters that I identified with less than others, there were some that hit home SO HARD. (Moran is a fan of capitals, so get ready for that when you pick up this book.) No matter what your personal experience is, living as a female in this world, you will find something in this book that makes you just want you stand up and yell “YES!” and read it out loud to anyone around you. (In my case, that was often my husband – but he mostly handled it with good humor, especially because there were so many Lord of the Rings and Star Wars references.) And Moran did all of it with great insight, great humor, and some surprisingly useful tidbits of advice.

But this was more than just a woman’s telling, albeit an hilarious telling, of her own life. This is a beautiful, strong commentary on what her experiences mean on a larger scale, on the world and the place women have in it, on the assumptions we make and the roles we play without even realizing it. She has a whole chapter, towards the beginning, on her discovery of feminism, and from then on it winds its way through the rest of the book – sometimes subtly, but most times not. She brings up questions and points that make you feel a little guilty for not recognizing it before, but, more than that, make you want to stand up and do more/be better moving forwards. Her definition of feminism, her argument to take back the word and make it be what we need it to be, make it really support women, all women, again, is inspiring in its simplicity. At one point Moran suggests an easy “rule,” a question to ask when we aren’t sure about something we think we have to do as women, when we are not sure if feminism applies or not, that I found quite insightful. She tells us to ask ‘Do the guys have to worry about it?’ Whether this is in regards to what we wear (can we leave the house in sweats and with hair/makeup undone and not get weird looks), what we spend money on (waxing, expensive purses, plastic surgery to look younger/prettier), how we speak (can we swear/call our body parts their correct names comfortably), general reactions to us sexually (being labeled a “slut,” wearing clothing that was “asking for it,” etc.) our decisions on family (judgment or having kids or not having kids)…her list was endless. And honestly, if nothing else, it’s such an intriguing thought exercise. But I tend to think it’s more than that…

So pick this book up – it’ll be empowering if you’re a lady and hella insightful if you’re a guy (ever wonder how a woman thinks – this is majorly on point, plus you’ll learn a lot about life as a female that will definitely open up your eyes). Plus, it is laugh out loud funny and there are tons of great pop culture jokes and references to keep things light while you are slowly realizing how serious some of these points actually are. This was a great place for me to start in my feminist reading journey and I’m excited for where it’ll go next.

I’m going to end with this quote I saw the other day that I think is really important, after reading this book.  Because it would be so easy to come out of it feeling bad about buying into all these societal expectations, even worse about the ones you actually like (cute underwear for me, for sure), and super guilty for all the snap judgments you’ve made about other people (read: other women). And when that happens, you have a choice, you can deny and ignore because you’re embarrassed or self-conscious OR you can take a second to look at what just happened and make a choice to embrace the cognitive dissonance: ‘The first thought that goes through your mind is what you have been conditioned to think. What you think next defines who you are.’ So let’s all go and redefine who we are. As for me ‘I AM A FEMINIST!'”

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