This Book is Awesome: “How to Be a Woman” by Caitlin Moran

Within the span of about a month in 2014, three different people said to me, “You have to read Caitlin Moran’s book. You would love it.” All three recommendations came from people I trusted, people who don’t say “You would love it” unless I, specifically, would actually love what they’re talking about. So I filed away the name of the book, determined to get to it eventually.

Then, when I was in Montreal on vacation, an opportunity presented itself: my travel buddy wanted to spend a whole morning in a coffee shop chillin’ out, and I hadn’t brought a book, so we stopped in Indigo to load up on entertainment. My eyes fell on How to Be a Woman and I thought, Yes. That.

I knew this was a book about feminism, but I was not prepared for how funny it is. It is laugh-out-loud, snort-coffee-through-your-nose funny. My friend must have thought I was a weirdo because I laughed so often in that Montreal café that I started to draw concerned looks from the other tables. I couldn’t help it. Caitlin Moran is fucking hilarious.

Moran – a British music journalist – has a lot to say in this book about feminism, about girlhood, about life as a woman. Her main thesis, so far as I can tell, is that society makes womanhood out to be easy and automatic, when actually a lot of work goes into performing the role of woman “correctly.” Whether it’s getting your period for the first time, or figuring out how to walk in heels, or negotiating body image struggles, there’s basically no part of being a woman that is as effortless as it’s supposed to be. And it’s incredibly comforting to have that affirmed by such a smart, funny, clever woman, so articulately and emotively.

There’s a lot of sharp contrast in this book. I cried with laughter while reading Moran’s essay on deciding what slang term for “vagina” to use around her daughters (“cunt,” she thought, was maybe not super appropriate for a toddler), and then I just plain cried when reading about Moran’s horrific childbirth experience. Every inch of this book is equal parts relatable and instructive, equal parts funny and painful. That is so hard to do and I admire Caitlin so much for her candor, her ability to open up about these difficult topics and to do it in a way that’s so engaging and keeps me nodding along, like, “Yes! I know that feeling!”

A personal sore spot for me at the moment is my relationship with food, and how it relates to body image. My heart hurt with recognition when I read Caitlin’s chapter about fatness, fitness, and food, in which she posits that the reason so many women struggle with food addiction is that it’s a way of getting “high” without inconveniencing other people. It gives you a momentary rush and release, on the same spectrum as drugs or booze, but it doesn’t require anyone to drive you home, hold back your hair while you puke, or keep your intoxicated shouting under control – since women, above all, are taught not to inconvenience others. That was a freeing and eye-opening revelation for me, and certainly gave me some food for thought (if you’ll pardon the pun).

It’s pretty rare that I read a funny, silly book like this and actually want to read it again, not only to re-experience the laughs but also to re-absorb all the wisdom contained within. But How to Be a Woman, I can already tell, will be a bible of sorts for me as I continue growing into the woman I’m going to be. Caitlin Moran has seen and done it all, has made a great number of mistakes she wants other women to be able to sidestep, and so this book feels like a cross between a Tina Fey-esque funnyfest and a concerned letter from an older sister. It’s so, so wonderful, and I think you would love it.