Our Shared Shelf April book review: “How to Be a Woman”


caitlin moran

Welcome back to my monthly coverage of Emma Watson’s Our Shared Shelf book club! Last month’s pick was “All About Love: New Visions” by bell hooks, and this month, Ms. Watson has chosen “How to Be a Woman” by Caitlin Moran.

“How to Be a Woman” official Goodreads synopsis:

“Though they have the vote and the Pill and haven’t been burned as witches since 1727, life isn’t exactly a stroll down the catwalk for modern women. They are beset by uncertainties and questions: Why are they supposed to get Brazilians? Why do bras hurt? Why the incessant talk about babies? And do men secretly hate them? Caitlin Moran interweaves provocative observations on women’s lives with laugh-out-loud funny scenes from her own, from adolescence to her development as a writer, wife and mother.”

I don’t know what to do with you, Emma. You’re picking all the wrong books.

Our Shared Shelf started out with a bang. I enjoyed January’s pick, “My Life on the Road,” despite some of its shortcomings, and I devoured February’s “The Color Purple.” Last month was a massive disappointment and I was saving up all my good-luck pennies going into April.

“Prove me wrong, Caitlin Moran,” I had a mind to whisper into the book’s jacket. I tucked in with level-headed hopes and had a mantra track looping in my head: This might be good or this might fall short, but at least I’ll take a stab at it, see if the funny brand of feminism I was promised — the cover alone touts Moran’s “heroine” status and equates her to Tina Fey — would be easily found.

That slightly hesitant optimism did not end in me sticking my proverbial knife into something substantial and wonderful. No, it was a stabbing of Cesarean proportions, with me looking toward my once guiding light with desperate eyes and face that read, “Et tu, Emma?”

how to be a womanTo those looking to “How to Be a Woman” as a kind of feminist guide, as the title hints it is, should look elsewhere. Granted, it is a guide of sorts — just not the kind I believe its author was intending it to be. This is not “how to be a woman” — which is a phrase that doesn’t sit well with me to begin with — nor is it an appropriate starting point for those wanting to be introduced to feminism and all its positive power. Like many other members of the Our Shared Shelf book club have expressed, the notion that this could serve as informational or inspiring feminist literature genuinely concerns me.

In certain respects, Moran can receive some merits. Her humor, which can be summed as “self-deprecating,” is often refreshing. She’s also aware of herself; she knows how her experiences have shaped her and how relaying them to others in a specific way can be a catalyst for change. Moran knows how to write, and she does a knock-out job of it. (Her voice is definitely her own. It’s just what she was saying that I disagreed with about 90 percent of the time.) She’s well-versed in how to weave a tale and some of her anecdotes were quite funny. What I’m trying to say is that she’s not a bad writer.

Regarding everything else, I have a single word: no. Absolutely the hell not. Moran states that women have “done fuck-all for the last 100,000 years,” and that there is no record of women being successful, intelligent and creative on a level equal to that of men. This dismissive, misogynistic statement doesn’t just counter the feminist discourse Moran’s book is stating she stands for — it erases real, valid advancements in women’s rights and silences accomplished and emerging women in all areas of history and of life. While it might not offend some, it offends me. Moran’s views are markedly noninclusive – it seems as though she has little interest in or concern for intersectional feminism. She puts down women in sex work, implies that only people with vaginas are women and uses the N-word when comparing its reclamation to that of another term. (She does a lot more, but you’re getting the point by now and it seems counterproductive to divulge into it much further.) For a book essentially marketed as “feminism for beginners,” Moran’s work is surprisingly, frustratingly and hypocritically sexist.

In all, “How to Be a Woman” isn’t what it claims to be, nor does it remotely approach it. I will not be giving this book a scaled rating as I normally do when reviewing.

If you haven’t already, you can become a member of Our Shared Shelf now! Head on over to Goodreads and click “join group.” Be sure to check back here at TYF each month to see my reviews.

Emma’s pick for May is “The Argonauts” by Maggie Nelson.

Until June, happy (hopefully happy — I’m starting to grow weary) reading!

AJ Caulfield is a 22-year-old writer, massive goofball, and quite possibly Leslie Knope's long-lost twin. She's a big fan of 80's rock music, female-directed films, and Mad Men.