How to be a Woman: An accessible and funny discussion of the F-word

“You can tell whether some misogynistic societal pressure
is being exerted on women by calmly inquiring, ‘And are
the men doing this, as well?’ If they aren’t, chances are
you’re dealing with what we strident feminists refer to as
some total f*&^ing bullshit.” –Caitlin Moran

She tossed the article down on my desk with a disgusted expression, picking up another with the explanation, “I don’t like feminists.”

I’m sure my face was screwed up in muted horror… A female university senior in a female professor’s classroom with an outspoken distaste for feminists? What does that even mean? I wondered. Does she realize that would include hating me, too? Why wasn’t she willing to even read an article with the word “feminist” in the title?

And so I got to thinking about the flippant way we talk politics–I hate this, I hate that–and more specifically, how much baggage surrounds the F-word, feminism. And I get it, it’s a loaded term with a complex history that folks wield like a weapon whether for or against. But it perplexes me how many people avoid learning even the basic tenets.

In fact, in another course last semester, as a warm up for our discussion of feminist rhetorical criticism, I asked everyone to write answers to the questions: Would you consider yourself a feminist? What does feminism mean to you?

I was floored by the responses and how many people, even those who had professed support for gender equity at other points in the semester, had judged the word/idea of feminism negatively. In particular, I was surprised at how many students, seniors, mind you, linked feminism with man-hating, or thought feminism was just for women.

With all that in mind, I think Caitlin Moran’s “How to be a Woman” should be required reading. Why? It’s a funny, outrageous and accessible discussion of feminism which she defines as follows: “What is feminism? Simply the belief that women should be as free as men, however nuts, dim, deluded, badly dressed, fat, receding, lazy and smug they might be.”

The book, arranged around “womanly” topics like periods, body hair, sex and babies, tells Moran’s story of growing up as the eldest of eight children and how she learned about feminism as a teenager in Britain. She talks about work and romance and abortion, linking her personal life to key insights on gender politics, informed somewhat by feminist scholarship. What I like best is that she talks about heady issues with humor and in ways that are fair to women as well as men. A man-hating text this is not.

To give you an idea of style and tone, here’s a quote that hooked me:

“We need to reclaim the word ‘feminism’. We need the word ‘feminism’ back real bad. When statistics come in saying that only 29% of American women would describe themselves as feminist – and only 42% 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?” 

She goes on to demonstrate ways in which women (and to a lesser degree, men) can implement feminist ideals in their day-to-day and hopefully make a more equitable place for future generations.

Bottom line: Although really crass in places and riddled with profanity (be warned), Moran’s book is also laugh-out-loud funny but more importantly, thought-provoking. 


More bookish posts:
Memoirs of an Addicted Brain: On drugs, emotions and “corrupted learning”
The Circle: Because 1984 wasn’t scary enough
The Chosen: A story of friendship and faiths
The Witch’s Daughter: Because who doesn’t love a time traveling witch?
How not to go broke with an e-reader, aka why I heart the public library
If I should die tomorrow
Applying “The Power of Habit”

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