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English department

How to Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran

How to Be a Woman makes no apologies. It is not, as the title suggests, a manual to proper femininity. Rather, it is a raw and comedic memoir that catches the reader off-guard and keeps her there. Through crude recounts of her fat and rebellious British childhood, Moran paints “femininity” as a construct and “proper” as a bore. But most of all, How to Be a Woman is Caitlin Moran’s daring and dazzling protest against what it means to be a woman in today’s society.

A product of the grunge era, Moran is outraged at the impracticalities of female fashion. She spends several chapters ranting about the ridiculous expectations for feminine dress, calling stilettos and pencil skirts costumes perpetuating civilization’s limitations on women. “When a woman says, ‘I have nothing to wear!’ what she really means is, ‘There’s nothing here for who I’m supposed to be today.’” From bikini waxing to lacy thongs, excessive wedding costs to poorly-constructed bras, Moran brilliantly attacks societal norms in a clear and belligerent voice, proclaiming: “Strident feminism needs big undies.”

As Moran goes on to fully detail her journey through puberty, however, her frank and humorous observations take on a more somber undertone. In her chapter “I AM FAT!” Moran describes being overweight as “an accusation, a dismissal, a rejection.” She characteristically manages to handle her painful memories with wisecracks and verve, but it is clear to the reader that not even Moran escapes the pressures of being a woman, pressures that, when unmet, leave scars.

In Moran’s case, these scars manifest themselves in an aggressive promotion of feminism. In aptly named chapter “I AM A FEMINIST!” Moran explains: “Here is a quick way of working out if you’re a feminist. Put your hands in your underpants. a) Do you have a vagina? and b) Do you want to be in control of it? If you said ‘yes’ to both, then congratulations! You’re a feminist.” Throughout the book, Moran fights to reclaim the word “feminism,” defining it simply as “the belief that women should be as free as men, however nuts, dim, deluded, badly dressed, fat, receding, lazy and smug they might be.”

This book is not for the fainthearted. Moran has no qualms over describing the joys of masturbation or advocating for an increase of pornography featuring “some chick in an outfit I halfway respect, having the time of her life.” She dedicates an entire chapter to her decision to have an abortion, calling it “one of the least difficult decisions of my life.” Though controversial, Moran details the events up to and during her procedure with refreshing candor that leaves the reader with no doubt of Moran’s opinion.

Part memoir, part dizzying rants against subtle manifestations of patriarchy, Moran manages to get her (graphic) point across while keeping her audience hooked through her wry sense of humor and startling remarks. At times both quirky and catastrophic, Moran has done what feminists have fought for for centuries: critiqued the expectations on women in today’s society, “grown a pair” (of fallopian tubes, obviously) and fought against them.

Although her sporadic sentence capitalizations and extraneous exclamation points are at times exhausting, with a strong cup of coffee, or better yet, an IV of caffeine, the reader finds Moran’s prose refreshing and her arguments fierce. This is a book that screams for attention, and this is a book that deserves it.