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How To Be a Woman

how to be a womanDespite the shouty, superlative narrative, Caitlin Moran’s ‘part memoir, part rant’ about womanhood is a very engaging and at times laugh-out-loud read. Moran’s main objective is to drive home the fact that as women, we are brilliant, a fact we shouldn’t feel the need to be apologetic for and that we should stop buying into things that serve to undermine our womanhood. For the most part I agreed with her arguments such as the pointlessness of Brazilian waxes: If part of the defining physical moment of arriving into womanhood is the appearance of pubic hair, then why should we be so determined to remove every appearance of it from our bodies, in the belief that we would be more desirable without it? The answer, Moran believes is pornography, which has apparently convinced many a man (and woman) that beauty is completely hairless (if you are a woman), simply because some have never seen a grown woman with full pubic hair and when they do are shocked and troubled by it. In a disturbing John Ruskin like way, a grown woman’s body (with the exception of her boobs) is seen as really wrong.

According to Moran the porn industry is responsible for a lot of unrealistic expectations and representation of women and their sexuality, i.e. it is always presented from the perspective of men and male sexual pleasure. Women are not shown to be enjoying sex at all –  they are present to give pleasure rather than to receive. Moran’s solution is to not to ban porn but to present sex in porn as it is in real life where two people enjoy each other and are each in control of their own sexuality. Her main reason for this argument is that seeing as most teenagers get their sex education from pornagraphic material, it should be material that is wholly representative of the actual sex they would have in real life. While I see the validity in her argument, I don’t see it happening because I think the powers that be in the porn industry rather enjoy the subjugation and control of women and the exploitation of female sexuality. Furthermore the responsibility for educating youngsters about sex shouldn’t lie with the porn industry, that’s like asking someone with six children in care for neglect to babysit your kids. It should lie with the adults in said teen’s life be their parents, guardians, older brothers and sisters etc. Porn shouldn’t be the only avenue, in fact I don’t think it should be an option as it is.

Through her own experiences growing up, Moran takes you through destructive relationships, sexism in the workplace, media representations of women, the tyranny of wearing high heels and of course motherhood. Much of what she discusses I don’t disagree with and where I do disagree it’s merely on a point of personal choice rather than politics. But I found that where I was really at odds with Moran’s discourse was where she argues that women should reclaim the term ‘strident feminist’ in the same way the Black community has reclaimed the word ‘nigger’. WHAT?? Since when? Who said that we did? With all her intelligence, wit and charm, and insightful arguments, Caitlin Moran has fallen for the deception that all Black people happily call each nigger as a term of affection, while willfully ignoring the origins of the term, and why it’s presence in language is still a contentious issue, and not helped by people claiming that it has been it has been reclaimed!

This where I usually part ways with mainstream feminist discourse because, often as it is written by white women, it fails to take into account women of colour who are fighting against discrimination on several levels and for some (me) caught between two different cultural constructs which can define femininity and womanhood in different ways. This kind of feminism assumes that we are all the same and because we are women we should all agree one another on everything and that can be rather prescriptive as well as exclusive. I don’t expect Caitlin Moran to write a discourse on feminism from a Black woman’s perspective because she isn’t a Black woman, but I do expect her to be more careful with her words and to take into account or even acknowledge that some women’s experiences and definition of feminism will and do differ.

However despite my contention on this and other matters, what I personally took from this book was that being a woman, being a feminist is about being comfortable in the skin that you are in, the clothes you wear, whether it is Jimmy Choos or Doc Martens, being assured in what you believe in and being open to challenge, and most importantly knowing that you can achieve whatever it is you set your mind to to do. Amen to that.


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