I won’t pretend I wasn’t curious when Caitlin Moran’s book, ‘How to be a Woman’ was released. I watched at her appearances on Newsnight and various other TV and Radio shows, where she talked about ‘branded’ feminism, abortion and what kind of shoes we choose wear. Of course, I hadn’t read her book then.
I should also mention that I’ve never had a Brazilian, I have no interest in porn, I already wear flat shoes and cardigans, I’m too old to conceive naturally and I go to the pub whenever I want to; many of the ‘difficult choices’ included in the book didn’t apply to me. Initially, it made me wonder if I was actually a woman, or if I had, somehow by completing the menopause or being poor, have slipped off the end of the ‘how to be a woman’ scale? Which is exactly the same way patriarchy views the older woman. Anyway.
It’s really difficult the bridge the gap between academic theory and real life. Although I have, for many years, researched feminism and women’s studies, I despair when I step outside the paper based worlds of academia and into the homeless and domestic violence groups I volunteer for. There seems to be only a slight overlap in the ways the two interact. In this Venn diagram middle intersection live the women Moran seeks and succeeds to address.
The understanding of feminism by those (including me) who are privileged enough to be able to go to University on a PhD course (not financially privileged in my case because I did work two jobs to self-fund mine) are based on objective research and all its confounding dilemma’s. The feminism lived every day by women all over the world, both explicit and implicit, is raw lived experience, informed by a wide range of subjective situations, many of them so shocking that they remain taboo subjects in today’s society.
The middle way here is, surely, a subjective story about how someone lives feminism, including the horrible, violent situations endured by some women that might not appeal to a mass market, best selling publication, made popular through the media so that everyone’s awareness is raised? This is what Moran’s book, and several before such as Living Dolls by Natasha Walter and The Equality Illusion by Kat Banyard aim for. It works to an extent, particularly for Walter and Banyard, as they both tackle subjects that don’t just apply to middle class women.
Moran’s book is a great awareness-raising experience for those who need guidance on what feminism means in general. I was a little bit concerned that there was nothing new in it, no new directives, and no one credited for the origins of the work she re-presented. However, I expect lots of women will smile as they make their daily choices and go about their business having read about Moran’s journey. It’s the one’s who still don’t have the choice to go out to work or the money to buy a book that I worry for.
I thought, because of all the media hype, she was going to tell us how to solve the financial crisis in domestic violence provision, or maybe how to help women with no recourse to funding. The reality of living as a woman today includes all kinds of horrors. Two women per week are killed by their ex partners. One in four women in the UK will experience domestic violence at some point in their lives. That’s a lot of women living outside the centre of the Venn overlap. I guess it wasn’t ‘that’ kind of feminism that this book was about, the hidden unfairness and discrimination that is far, far worse than if we can go to the pub or wear flat shoes?
Doesn’t feminism extend to helping everyone, male or female, achieve respect, and not just personal choice? Whilst she makes some good points, particularly about abortion, I found myself wondering how useful the instruction of ‘How to be a Woman’ would extend to a woman who is, ‘through no fault of their own, living in a Women’s Refuge’?
All in all, it’s a well written, entertaining and very funny book, and on a personal level I loved reading it, because it did make me laugh. But I’m sorry if I can’t see anything funny about feminism, maybe I’m just jaded by working with women and men who experience domestic violence, and those who feel that they ‘disappear’ because they are older and no longer fertile or youthful. How will they be women? I’m still waiting for that book.