Book of the month: How to be a woman by Caitlin Moran

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I have been meaning to read some of this lady’s work for some time. My only prior knowledge of her was seeing both her and her magnificent barnet of silver streaked hair on the Late Late show, albeit in a pub with the sound muted. But she had me curious to find out more. And so I finally did.

This is Moran’s first foray into writing a full non fiction title. I learned that she was once an intern at Melody Maker who rose up the food chain to become a permanent and well respected part of the publication. If I could offer one criticism it would be that this book did not tell me how she got the job in the first place. Perhaps though, the evidence is all there on the page. Moran is an excellent writer.

The acid test, if there such a thing anymore, is to see if as a man, you can survive the opening horrors of her teenage years. The chapter titles hint at this: I start Bleeding, I become furry, I am a feminist, I need a bra. It’s the kind of territory most men would avoid given the chance but it’s all handled so deftly here, you can’t help but go along with it.

It becomes clear throughout the book that Moran has had a tough upbringing. A small council house at bursting point trying to contain a large family. A frankly tragic situation with hand me down underwear and a curious habit of getting changed in the sitting room because the rest of the house is too cold. (actually I used to do this too after my bath, the 80s was a bit poxy kids)

What also becomes clear is Moran’s total coolness. The best kind of coolness, not realising it. She wears ridiculous T-shirts with no sense of irony and starts reading Germaine Greer long before the suggested age bracket.

As she grows up she meets a boy who plays in a band and it doesn’t work out. But all the way through this I can’t find any fault in her. He sounds like a right pillock and she definitely dodged a bullet.

Adulthood comes and with it the possibilities of a slightly more disposable income and perhaps a chance to broaden her sartorial horizons.

The self deprecation she brings here is often hilarious, but with some very valid points. After all surely designers don’t design clothes for normal people to wear. It’s all just pot luck. Her advice on owning at least one pair of yellow shoes went a little over my head but I guess it makes sense.

There are some excellent points raised about men and the arts and the opportunities they have received through the whole of civilisation. She rightly points out that women have achieved so little in comparison but only because their role has only been defined elsewhere. Notably this comes across in a very matter of fact fashion, rather than some tantrum. It is this kind of logic which pervades the book, with only the occasional slip or purchase of a £500 purse sneaking through.

Just as you think she might turn into one of them irritating name dropping music journalist types, she is onto marriage and having babies. This might be some of the most well constructed and even handed commentary I’ve ever heard on either subject. I share common ground with her on the silliness of the modern wedding extravaganza but the more heartfelt and poignant detail comes with her memories of childbirth; of what worked out and what didn’t, the tough choices she made and how she justified them.

I don’t know if I can fully do this book justice without sounding overly sycophantic to the feminist cause. Only to say that if there are any broad minded teachers out there looking to add something worthwhile to the transition year syllabus they could do a lot worse than buying a few copies of this and making sure the boys read it.

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