How To Be A Woman: Caitlin Moran in retrospect.

Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman was released roughly 5 years ago. At the time, I was deep in my admiration of everything she did. I had read her in the Times since I was a teenager, avidly followed her every Tweet, swallowed it all up without any critical analysis. She was funny , she was cool, she was clever. Is. Already a huge success, after the publication of How To Be A Woman, Moran verged on the ubiquitous. There was a novel (How To Build A Girl) and a sitcom (Raised With Wolves), all drawing heavily on her own upbringing, with which now we are all almost wearyingly familiar. And so whilst my admiration for Moran continued, my enthusiasm began to wane. I began to find her a bit…annoying , really. I saw my copy of the book sitting on my favourites shelf  and  thought I’d go back and read it with a more critical eye.


How To Write

What I was reminded of, returning to her work, is that Moran is first and foremost an excellent writer. This jumps out at you time and again in the book. On having a newborn,

Six weeks into being poleaxed by a newborn colicky baby, however, and I would have happily shot the world’s last panda in the face if it made the baby cry for 6 seconds less.

She does an excellent take down of Katie Price,

she was never less than charmless…as if wearing dresses, riding in cars and talking to people was the pastime of a cunt, and she was furious she got landed with it,

and why being a successful woman does not automatically make you a feminist icon.

Women who, in a sexist world, pander to sexism to make their fortune are Vichy France with tits…(they are) doing business with a decadent and corrupt regime. Calling that a feminist icon is like giving an arms dealer the Nobel Peace Prize.

How To Talk About Feminism

I was talking to a friend sometime ago, who doesn’t identify as a feminist, and was asking for a book recommendation as an introduction to feminism. I think this book would be a good place to start, because it does feel a bit Feminism 101. Moran talks about weddings, hen nights, botox, strip-clubs. I feel like in 2016 the feminist agenda has moved on from that. I kind of don’t give a fuck if you want to have a big white wedding and call yourself a feminist – I do give a fuck about violence against women, access to abortion, the pay gap and affordable childcare. But maybe it’s because of How To Be A Woman that the conversation has moved on – you can’t talk about the big things without an acknowledgement of the small things, that they exist and are part of the problem. (Moran likens it to Broken Windows theory – it’s not fixing the small things that leads to the big things.) I’d love to see her taking on the bigger issues, something she does regularly in her Times column.


How To Be Caitlin Moran

I do think that , ‘How To Be Caitlin Moran’ might have been a more appropriate title. Her background is so individual (route from homeschooling in a large, impoverished family in Wolverhampton to column with the Times by the age of 17) that she may as well have been from the Moon for all I could identify with it. This is fine, to an extent, she is writing from her own experience; however when she talks about her revelation , ‘ to not really give a not care about all those supposed ‘problems’ of being a woman,’ it seems that despite being someone who comes from an unprivileged background there is a lack of complexity to her viewpoint that seems quite startling in 2016. In the Postscript, she talks about princesses, both fairy tale and modern day versions. She says, ‘ the thing that has given me the most relief and freedom in my adult years has been, finally, once and for all giving up on the idea that I might be secretly be, or one day will become, a princess.’ I guess this is poetic licence ? I’m afraid I find it offensively simplistic.

How To Be A Feminist

One thing that hasn’t changed though is the negative association of the word feminism. Moran writes about the necessity to reclaim the word feminist – and enthusiastically puts forward the case for the reincarnation of the phrase ‘ strident feminist’. Many women still don’t identify with feminism – for many, it still carries its man hating, aggressive connotations.To those people , I shrug my shoulders and refer them to Margaret Atwood:

“Does feminist mean large unpleasant person who’ll shout at you or someone who believes women are human beings. To me it’s the latter, so I sign up”

Do we need to keep banging this drum ? Should we care less about whether you would call yourself a feminist and more about what you are doing to promote the cause of real equality for the sexes? We’re quick now to jump on people who aren’t doing feminism the way we would like and people are always looking for a new kind of feminist:  Hot Feminist, Bad Feminist, Guilty Feminist (for the record this is a brilliant podcast and you should absolutely check it out if you haven’t.) I guess it’s inevitable that a ‘How To’ book feels prescriptive, but I’m generally against telling people how to feminist, like being a woman, there isn’t just one way to do it.  Think critically, believe women, trust women, promote women. Be your own kind of feminist. If you’re curious to know how, this is a good place to start, but it’s not the only way. 


16 thoughts on “How To Be A Woman: Caitlin Moran in retrospect.

  1. LOVE this article. I read How To Be A Woman and felt like she hasn’t really talking about a universal experience but dressing it up as such. I realted much more to Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist because I like her way of talking about how we put self-proclaimed feminists on a pedestal and as soon as they do something that doesn’t fit with our understanding of that term (for example her love of rap music) we shame them, laugh at them and dismiss them. I love that Atwood quote as well – I’m totally going to use it.


    1. I actually haven’t read bad feminist ( that makes me a terrible feminist I know) – definitely on my list now tho . There’s lots of pedestal toppling – Lena Dunham and Amy schumer most notably

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Good piece. It almost became sacrilege to raise a brow at Caitlin Moran. She was in danger of becoming a sacred cow. There’s no way of knowing how much she contributed to reclaiming feminism from the stuffy mortar-boarded lot, but I think she was instrumental in opening it up. My favourite writings from her are those that address poverty and class. Yet, I disagree profoundly with her on the notion of equality coming down to ‘good manners’, and more recently that women who have the privilege of hogging the media and consequently – the message (middle class, Sandberg etc.) as being untouchable. Other than that, she’d probably be a good laugh in the pub until I got fed up trying to crack my own jokes and walked away seethingly.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Excellent article. I’ve actually had the book for ages, felt as though I should read it….yet haven’t. Maybe I will.


  4. I went off her when that execrable thing Raised With Wolves came out – it was just too much distilled essence of Caitlin Moran. Would make you bilious. Totally unfeasible, outlandish characters with off-key accents and ludicrous script. As for that book. I remember I took objection (as I’m wont) to the two chapters on having kids (towards the end I think), entitled something like ‘Have A Child’ and ‘Don’t Have a Child’. By then I was thoroughly sick of her and the ‘you don’t need to have kids’ chapter was just irritating and had no authority behind it, what with her having two daughters etc. But yes the real problem is being overly ubiquitous: it makes the best of people gratingly annoying, especially if they have distinctive features such as giant, backcombed, white-streaked hair. Hmm I do wonder what she’d be like down the pub. God I don’t think I’ve actually ever seen her speak – I have no business to be commenting on her, i’ll leave at once.


    1. It’s funny because I actually think she comes across as nervous when speaking – which I don’t think she is , just a strange tic. The whole book involves a lot of fence sitting.


  5. I know what you mean about finding her slightly annoying. I think of her like an irritating big (opinionated) sister who’s actually not that bad, in small doses, but fair play to her for doing her thing. I seem to remember HTBAW being entertaining and mildly amusing but didn’t read How to build a Girl as some reviews said it was basically the same story in novel form? Raised by Wolves was just painful. #brillblogposts


  6. I believe in women supporting each other. Life is too short for all the crap and bitchyness, it is pointless.


  7. I think the word ‘feminist’ can these days be counter-active because of the way it can be perceived. Which is a shame but its more geared towards rights for women as apposed to equal rights for everyone. I like Caitlin Moran but I can see what you are saying about this book now being a bit out dated #stayclassymama


  8. I’ve been in Canada for the last five years and have just moved back and into a Times-reading house. Caitlin is awesome and I love your take on her! Great post, refreshing to read something so articulate #fortheloveofBLOG

    Liked by 1 person

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