4 stars,  autobiography,  non-fiction

Review: ‘How To Be A Woman’ by Caitlin Moran

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


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 the riot of adolescence to her development as a writer, wife, and mother. With rapier wit, Moran slices right to the truth—whether it’s about the workplace, strip clubs, love, fat, abortion, popular entertainment, or children—to jump-start a new conversation about feminism. With humor, insight, and verve, How To Be a Woman lays bare the reasons female rights and empowerment are essential issues not only for women today but also for society itself.


We need the word ‘feminism’ back real bad. When statistics come in saying that only 29 per cent of American women would describe themselves as feminist – and only 42 per cent of British women – I used to think, What do you think feminism IS, ladies? What part of ‘liberation for women’ is not for you? Is it freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? The campaign for equal pay? ‘Vogue’, by Madonna? Jeans? Did all that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES? Or were you just DRUNK AT THE TIME OF THE SURVEY? [Page 80]

Between the ages of 11 and 15, I went to an all girls’ comprehensive school. Just before I started, the headteacher gave a wonderful speech (that I under-appreciated at the time) about how the point our whole secondary education was to help us to achieve whatever we wanted to achieve. Not to enable us all to be scientists or world leaders or doctors but to be whatever we wanted. I’ve never once been told that I couldn’t (or shouldn’t) be a lawyer. I’ve never been given a reason to believe that my gender would in any way hold me back. Maybe I take that for granted. I suppose that what I mean is that I’ve never really been given a reason to jump and shout about BEING A FEMINIST. How To Be A Woman reminded me that I am, without a shadow of a doubt a feminist.

Now you might have read that paragraph and thought, “Ugh – what do I want with a feminist manifesto?”. Hang on for just a couple more paragraphs. Because what really does need emphasising is that How To Be A Woman is bloody funny. Genuinely, giggle-inducingly funny as opposed to wry-grin-inducingly funny. Caitlin Moran takes everything that is unglamorous and undignified about being a teenage girl and a woman and makes it hilarious. It isn’t always pretty (because what is?) but Moran just has this unflinching way of looking at and talking about…well, life, that I could read all day. Would read all day, if she didn’t write for The Times, that is.

I don’t read a lot of autobiographies because there are very few people that I want to read an entire book about (and also because, as it turns out, they are HARD to write about). In a few ways, How To Be A Woman is a bit like the autobiographies I tend to stay away from. There were some chapters that were consistently brilliant but there were some where I was less engaged. Mostly, though, they were of the brilliant variety. Want proof that you aren’t the only person that doesn’t think smaller underwear is better? You got it. Want to show your beloved that you will always need just ONE MORE designer handbag? Wave a copy of this book under his nose. Most importantly, though, if you want to remind yourself about why having two of those super lovely and attractive X chromosomes is terrific, get yourself to a bookshop right away.

For all that the anecdotes about the traumas of living with a large family and the excitement of getting hold of the elusive teenage library card were so much fun, it was the look at feminism that I took more from. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to head out there and start demonstrating or anything but it’s nice to know that just because I may *sometimes* say slightly mean things about other ladies, I don’t have to hand in my feminist card at the door:

When people suggest that what, all along, has been holding women back is other women, bitching about each other, I think they’re severely overestimating the power of a catty zinger during a fag break. We have to remember that snidely saying “Her hair’s a bit limp on top” isn’t what’s keeping womankind from closing the 30 per cent pay gap and a place on the board of directors. I think that’s more likely to be down to tens of thousands of years of ingrained social, political and economic misogyny and the patriarchy, tbh. That’s just got slightly more leverage than a gag about someone’s bad trousers” [Page 86]

So that’s it: you’ll get a Message and you’ll get some laughs. Win-win, I say!


About half way through reading How To Be A Woman, I very high proportion of my girlfriends to tell them to stop what they were doing and go out and buy it for themselves. You might not be a better woman for it but you will be a much more amused one. Do I recommend it for men? I’m not sure. Probably only the less…squeamish ones.


Date finished: 13 April 2013
Format: Paperback
Source: Sent to me by the EVER TERRIFIC Hanna – THANK YOU!!
Genre: Non-fiction; autobiography
Pictured Edition Published: by Ebury Press in June 2011