So being a Literature student paradoxically means I have very little time to read books which are not on my course. Even over the Christmas holidays, reading anything other than next term’s books feels a bit naughty, like I am scoffing all the cookies just before a nutritious meal. I want a healthy balanced diet just as much as I enjoy Shakespeare and Woolf … but I also really like cookies.
However, there was one book under the tree that absolutely refused to go in the “When I have more time” pile. Caitlin Moran’s How To Be a Woman, to stick with the food analogy, is not just any cookie. It’s one of those large novelty cookies you can get iced for your friend’s birthday, and then it looks so good you start having intense daydreams about it: it’s so tempting; maybe if you just have a crumb, no one will notice … and soon you’ve accidentally eaten the whole thing yourself.
For a young liberal feminist living in the 21st Century, Caitlin Moran just gets it right. Her feminism is not exclusive or hypocritical, it does not get caught up in its own bubble of issues that no one else really understands or cares about … it is very simple. Her rule to identify sexism (“Are the boys doing it?”) is easy to remember and makes perfect sense: if a situation would be different for a man, it is deemed “patriarchal bullshit”. There is no concept of “us and them” in Moran’s ideal world, no gender is privileged, and we are all just “the guys”. Getting along, working together, helping each other out. It’s very simple. How has it ever not been that simple?
Helpfully, Moran is also hilarious. Using her own experiences to talk about current issues such as body image, porn, sex, motherhood, abortion and Katie Price vs. Lady Gaga, she is able to be honest, practical, funny and serious. The retelling of the teenage discussion with her sister about what to call their vaginas are some of the funniest pages of a book I’ve ever read (“We both know that Rolf Harris is not the answer we are looking for”). Her honest discussion of her reasons for her abortion, while more serious, is written with the same dedication to absolute practicality and honesty (“I can’t agree with a society that would force me to bet on how much I could love under duress”).
Reading How To Be a Woman was fantastic. I actually got two copies for Christmas, but decided that this was a good thing, because more people could borrow it at once. My stepmum is currently reading one, and so is my brother. Absolutely deserving the Galaxy book of the year for 2011, I will recommend this book to everyone, anyone, insistently, until everybody just stops talking to me.