After I finished reading Moranthology, I had all sorts of questions about Caitlin Moran. There are just enough details about her life in that collection of articles – about her childhood, her husband, her teen years as a wunderkind journalist – to make me want to know more. Her memoir, How To Be a Woman, happily answers all of those questions and proves that she can be just as entertaining a memoirist as she is a columnist.
The memoir is framed around various experiences in Moran’s life that have helped to define (for her) what it means to be a woman. She discusses with her usual humour her first period, her overweight youth, her first encounter with sexism in the workplace (which she handles with impressive bravado), her marriage, her experiences with childbirth and abortion, and her opinions on those hot button issues that allow outraged responses from a good proportion of readers (topics like the porn industry, modern standards towards body hair, how female celebrities are treated in the media, etc). Moran is never short on opinions and, whether you agree with her or not, she is always entertaining in her arguments.
Admittedly, I only agreed with her opinions about 50% of the time but this is not meant to be a general guide to others on how to be a woman: this is a book about Moran and how she, over the course of more than twenty years, tried to figure out what it meant for her. Does every woman’s path to becoming a woman include the contemplation of what to call their genitals? God, I hope not. But that doesn’t mean they can’t appreciate other lessons Moran learned along the way.
For me, the chapters on “Why You Should Have Children”, “Why You Shouldn’t Have Children” and “Abortion” were the most interesting. They felt more sincere and less jokey than other sections of the book and I found Moran’s account of her abortion very powerful, both in her description of the physical process and in her analysis of how uncertain society is around women (especially ones who are already mothers) who do not weep with despair when they choose to terminate a pregnancy. There was certainly no weeping for Moran:
I can honestly say that my abortion was one of the least difficult decisions of my life. I’m not being flippant when I say it took me longer to decide what worktops to have in the kitchen than whether I was prepared to spend the rest of my life being responsible for a further human being, because I knew that to do it again – to commit my life to another person – might very possibly stretch my abilities, and conception of who I am, and who I want to be, and what I want and need to do – to breaking point. The idea that I might not – in an earlier era, or a different country – have a choice in the matter, seems both emotionally and physically barbaric.
The most attractive thing about this book is how self-aware Moran is and how good natured she is about making fun of her younger self. There is nothing so insufferable as a writer who cannot recognize how insufferable they are (or, hopefully, were). Moran handles some weighty subjects in a humourous and thoughtful way, making this book a pleasure to read.