Laugh Your Head Off About Feminism: Read Caitlin Moran's How to be a Woman & More Than a Woman

Journalist, screenwriter and novelist Caitlin Moran is well-known for her columns in the Times (see Moranthology from 2012 and Moranifesto from 2017). Moran claims she became a writer partly because prostitution was not an option. Sharing a bed with her sister, the lack of space would have made clients hit their head on the Paddington Bear lampshade (Moranthology). She also describes writing her books “like writing chatty letters to all the women out there“ (More Than a Woman). And that is exactly what reading them feels like.

The 2011 How to be a Woman and the 2020 More than a Woman are her autobiographical … yes … what? They seem to be a unique blend of autobiography, columns, and some even say manifesto. Written in her funny and entertaining trademark style, the former contains chapters such as: “What to Call my Breasts”, “I am Fat!”, “Encounter Some Sexism”, “Why you Should Have Children” and “Why you Shouldn’t Have Children”. While talking about her own coming of age, Moran puts these gendered experiences into their wider social context, all the while critically questioning conventional understandings about womanhood and gender in general. And about men, of course. She also offers practical political solutions, such as “flexitime” for the patriarchy, with ruling the world to be shared between men and women because “the patriarchy must be knackered” after 100.000 years without even a tea break.

In More than a Woman Moran employs the same style of writing and biographical approach. The topics are arranged around experiences of middle-aged women in their forties. TheGuardian summarises them as, “anal sex, smear tests, hangovers, teenagers, ageing parents, careers, the tyranny of the to-do list, big bums and the moment when your entire wardrobe seems to turn against you,“ all laced with her customary “commonsense feminism” (Sturges, 26 August 2020) and advice such as not to marry “a cunt”, keeping long-term marriages alive with “maintenance shags” and that it’s okay for feminists to use Botox. In addition, she does not shy away from very serious and emotionally scarring descriptions of her teenage daughter’s eating disorder and self-harming.

Plus, the book is not only about women. There is a whole chapter dedicated to the question of “But What About Men?”, asking whether feminism has gone too far. Although Moran acknowledges the pitfalls of using the term patriarchy (“men hear it and instantly fear that nine thousand angry women are going to come and cut their penises off, and burn them on a bonfire”), she insists that “the partriarchy [is] bumming you [men] as hard as its bumming us. We all got patriarchy problems up the bum, dude.”

In my 25 years of teaching and researching gender, I have not come across any other writer who is as side-splittingly funny and at the same time insightful as Caitlin Moran. I urge every woman to read these books. On second thought, I urge men to read them, too. Please, men do.

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