How to Be a Womanby Caitlin Moran
The New York Times bestseller, now available in paperback—“Half memoir, half polemic, and entirely necessary,” (Elle UK) Caitlin Moran’s debut—an instant runaway bestseller in the UK—puts a new face on feminism, cutting to the heart of issues with an irreverent, transcendent, and hilarious/b>/b>/b>
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The New York Times bestseller, now available in paperback—“Half memoir, half polemic, and entirely necessary,” (Elle UK) Caitlin Moran’s debut—an instant runaway bestseller in the UK—puts a new face on feminism, cutting to the heart of issues with an irreverent, transcendent, and hilarious touch.
“Caitlin Moran is the profane, witty and wonky best friend I wish I had. She’s the feminist rock star we need right now.”
—Ayelet Waldman, author of Bad Mother
“Caitlin Moran is so fabulous, so funny, so freshly feminist. I don’t want to be like her—I want to be her.”
—Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter
Caitlin Moran puts a new face on feminism, cutting to the heart of women’s issues today with her irreverent, transcendent, and hilarious How to Be a Woman. “Half memoir, half polemic, and entirely necessary,” (Elle UK), Moran’s debut was an instant runaway bestseller in England as well as an Amazon UK Top Ten book of the year; still riding high on bestseller lists months after publication, it is a bona fide cultural phenomenon. Now poised to take American womanhood by storm, here is a book that Vanity Fair calls “the U.K. version of Tina Fey’s Bossypants….You will laugh out loud, wince, and—in my case—feel proud to be the same gender as the author.”
“Scathingly funny….Moran makes us think about femininity and feminism, and whether you agree or not, she’s fascinating.”
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Read an Excerpt
How to Be a Woman
By Caitlin Moran
HarperCollins PublishersCopyright © 2012 Caitlin Moran
All rights reserved.
I Start Bleeding!
So, I had assumed it was optional. I know that women bleed every month, but I didn't think it was going to happen to me. I'd presumed I would be able to opt out of it - perhaps from sheer unwillingness. It honestly doesn't look that much use or fun, and I can't see any way I can fit it into my schedule.
I'm just not going to bother! I think to myself, cheerfully, as I do my ten sit ups a night. Captain Moran is opting out! I am taking my "By the Time I'm 18" list very seriously. My "Loose [sic] Weight" campaign has stepped up a gear - not only am I still not eating ginger nuts, but I'm also doing ten sit ups and ten push ups a night. We don't have any full length mirrors in the house, so I've no idea how I'm doing, but I imagine that, at this rate, my boot camp regime will have me as slender as Winona Ryder by Christmas.
I'd only found out about periods four months ago, anyway. My mother never told us about them - "I thought you'd picked it all up from Moonlighting," she said vaguely, when, years later, I asked her about it - and it's only when I came across a Tampax leaflet, stuffed in the hedge outside our house by a passing schoolgirl, that I'd discovered what the whole menstrual deal was.
"I don't want to talk about this," Caz says, when I come into the bedroom with the leaflet and try to show it to her. "But have you seen?" I ask her, sitting on the end of her bed. She moves to the other end of the bed. Caz doesn't like "nearness:" It makes her extremely irascible. In a three bedroom council [subsidized] house with seven people in it, she is almost perpetually furious.
"Look - this is the womb, and this is the vagina, and the Tampax expands width ways, to fill the ... burrow," I say.
I've only skim read the leaflet. To be honest, it has blown my mind quite badly. The cross section of the female reproductive system looks complicated, and impractical - like one of those very expensive Rotastak hamster cages, with tunnels going everywhere. Again, I'm not really sure I want in on all of this. I think I thought I was just made of solid meat - from my pelvis to my neck - with the kidneys wedged in there somewhere. Like a sausage. I dunno. Anatomy isn't my strong point. I like romantic 19th century novels, where girls faint in the rain, and Spike Milligan's war memoirs. There isn't much menstruation in either. This all seems a bit.... unnecessary.
"And it happens every month," I say to Caz. Caz is now actually lying, fully dressed, under her duvet, wearing Wellington boots. "I want you to go away," her voice says from under the duvet. "I'm pretending you're dead. I can't think of anything I want to do less than talk about menstruation with you."
I trail away.
"Nil desperandum!" I say to myself. "There's always someone I can go to for a sympathetic ear and a bowlful of cheery chat!" The stupid new dog is under my bed. She has gotten pregnant by the small dog, Oscar, who lives across the road. None of us can quite work out how this has happened, as Oscar is one of those small yappy type dogs, only slightly bigger than a family size tin of baked beans, and the stupid new dog is a fully grown German shepherd.
"She must have actually dug a hole in the ground, to squat in," Caz says in disgust. "She must have been gagging for it. Your dog is a whore."
"I'm going to become a woman soon, dog," I say. The dog licks her vagina. I have noticed the dog always does this when I talk to her. I have not yet worked out what I think about this, but I think I might be a bit sad about it.
"I found a leaflet, and it says I'll be starting my period soon," I continue. "I'll be honest, dog - I'm a bit worried. I think it's going to hurt."
I look into the dog's eyes. She is as stupid as a barrel of toes. Galaxies of nothing are going on in her eyes.
I get up.
"I'm going to talk to Mum," I explain. The dog remains under my bed, looking, as always, deeply nervous about being a dog. I track Mum down on the toilet. She's now eight months pregnant, and holding the sleeping one-year old Cheryl while trying to do a wee.
I sit on the edge of the bath.
"Mum?" I say.
For some reason, I think I am allowed only one question about this. One shot at the "menstrual cycle conversation."
"Yes?" she answers. Even though she is doing a wee and holding a sleeping baby, she is also sorting out a whites wash from the washing basket.
"You know - my period?" I whisper.
"Yes?" she says.
"Will it hurt?" I ask.
Mum thinks for a minute.
"Yeah," she says, in the end. "But it's okay."
The baby then starts crying, so she never explains why it's okay. It remains unexplained.
Three weeks later, my period starts. I find it to be a deeply cheerful event. It starts in the car on the way to Central Library in town, and I have to walk all around the nonfiction section for half an hour, desperately hoping it won't show, before Dad takes us all home again.
"My first period started: yuk," I write in my diary.
"I don't think Judy Garland ever had a period," I tell the dog, unhappily, later that night. I am watching myself cry in a small hand mirror. "Or Cd Charisma. Or Gene Kelly."
The bag of Pennywise sanitary napkins my mum keeps on the back of the bathroom door has become my business now, too. I feel a sad jealousy of all my younger siblings who are still "outside the bag." The napkins are thick and cheap - stuck into my knickers, they feel like a mattress between my legs.
"It feels like a mattress between my legs," I tell Caz.
We're playing one of our Sindy games. Four hours in and Caz's Sindy, Bonnie, is secretly murdering everyone on a luxury cruise ship.
My Sindy, Layla, is trying to solve the mystery. The one-legged Action Man, Bernard, is dating both of them simultaneously.
We argue constantly over the ownership of Bernard, even though he actually belongs to Eddie. Neither of us want our Sindy to be single.
"A horrible, thick mattress," I continue. "Like in The Princess and the Pea."
"How long are they?" Caz asks.
Ten minutes later, and six Pennywise sanitary napkins are laid out, like a dormitory, with Sindys sleeping on them.
"Well, this is lucky!" I say. "Like when we found out that a Brussels sprout looks exactly like a Sindy cabbage. See, Caz - this is the bright side of menstruation!"
Because the sanitary napkins are cheap, they shred between my thighs when I walk, and become ineffective and leaky. I give up walking for the duration of my period. My first period lasts three months. I think this is perfectly normal. I faint quite regularly. I become so anemic my finger and toenails become very pale blue. I don't tell Mum, because I've asked my question about periods. Now I just have to get on with them.
The blood on the sheets is depressing - not dramatic and red, like a murder, but brown and tedious, like an accident. It looks like I am rusty inside and am now breaking. In an effort to avoid hand washing stains out every morning, I take to stuffing huge bundles of toilet paper in my knickers, along with the useless sanitary napkins, and lying very, very still all night. Sometimes there are huge blood clots, which look like raw liver. I presume this is the lining of my womb, coming off in inch-thick slices, and that this is just how visceral menstruation is. It all adds to a dreary sense that something terribly wrong is going on, but that it is against the rules of the game to ever mention it. Frequently, I think about all the women through history who've had to deal with this ferocious bullshit with just rags and cold water.
No wonder women have been oppressed by men for so long, I think, scouring my knickers with a nail brush and coal-tar soap in the bathroom. Getting dried blood out of cotton is a bitch. We were all too busy scrubbing to agitate for the vote until the twin sink was invented.
Even though she's two years younger than me, Caz starts her period six months after me - just as I'm starting my second one. She comes crying into my bedroom when everyone else is asleep and whispers the awful words, "My period's started."
I show her the bag of sanitary napkins on the back of the bath bathroom door and tell her what to do.
"Put them in your knickers, and don't walk for three months," I say. "It's easy."
"Will it hurt?" she asks, eyes wide.
"Yes," I say in an adult and noble manner. "But it's okay."
"Why is it okay?" she asks.
"I don't know," I say.
"Well, why are you saying it, then?" she asks.
"I don't know."
"Jesus. Why do you bother talking? The stuff that comes out of your mouth."
Caz gets horrific cramps - she spends her periods in the bedroom with the curtains drawn, covered in hot water bottles, shouting "Fuck off" at anyone who tries to come into the room. As part of being a hippie, my mother doesn't "believe" in painkillers and urges us to research herbal remedies. We read that sage is supposed to help and sitting in bed eating handfuls of sage and onion stuffing, crying. Neither of us can believe that we're going to have to put up with this for the next 30 years.
"I don't want children anyway," Caz says. "So I am getting nothing out of this whatsoever. I want my entire reproductive system taken out and replaced with spare lungs, for when I start smoking. I want that option. This is pointless."
At this juncture, it seems there is absolutely nothing to recommend being a woman. Sex hormones are a bitch that have turned me from a blithe child into a bleeding, weeping, fainting washer-woman. These hormones do not make me feel feminine: every night, I lie in bed feeling wretched, and the bulge of my sanitary napkin in my knickers looks like a cock.
I take everything off, sadly, while I get my nightie out of the drawer. When I turn around again, the dog has slunk out from under the bed and started to eat my bloody sanitary napkin. There are bits of shredded, red cotton all over the floor, and my knickers are hanging out of her mouth. She stares at me, desperately.
"Oh, God - your dog's a lesbian vampire," Caz says from her bed, turning over to sleep.
I go to retrieve my knickers, and faint.
In the midst of this hormonal gloom, however, the cavalry finally arrives, over the hill, jangling its spurs, with epaulettes shining in the sun: my green library card. Now I'm 13, I can get adult books out of the library, without having to borrow my parents' cards. And that means I can get secret books out. Dirty books. Books with sex in them.
"I've been having these dreams," I tell the dog as we walk to the library. The library is on the other side of the Green - a gigantic, desolate stretch of grass, where one must be constantly on the lookout for the Yobs. It doesn't do to boldly walk in the middle of it - this leaves one exposed. You must stick to the outer edges, near the houses, so that if you get attacked the people who live in the houses can get a good view of you getting your head kicked in without having to fetch their binoculars.
"Dreams about ... men," I continue. I look at the dog. The dog looks back at me. I think the dog deserves to know the whole truth of what is going on here. I owe her that much, at least. "I'm in love with Chevy Chase," I tell the dog, in a sudden, joyful burst. "I saw him in the video to Paul Simon's 'You Can Call Me Al,' from the 1986 Graceland album, on Warner Bros., and I just can't stop thinking about him. I had this dream where he kissed me, and his mouth felt exciting. I'm going to ask Dad if we can get The Three Amigos out of the video shop on Friday."
Requesting The Three Amigos from the video shop will be a bold move - the next video for rental has already been earmarked as Howard the Duck. I will have to pull a lot of fancy footwork but it will be worth it. I have not told the dog yet but the thought of kissing Chevy Chase has made me so excited that yesterday I listened to "You Can Call Me Al" 16 times on repeat, imagining him touching my face while Paul Simon plays the bass solo. I am so hot for Chevy. I have even imagined what my first line to him will be - the one that will capture his heart.
"Chevy Chase?" I will say, at a party very closely modeled on the ones I've seen on Dynasty. "Any relation to Cannock Chase?" Cannock Chase is just off the A5 to Stafford. LA born movie star and comedian Chevy is going to both get, and love, this joke. Of course, I have had crushes before. Well, one. It didn't go very well. When I was seven, I saw an episode of Buck Rogers and fell in love with that dumb American space cowboy, so obviously based on Han Solo they might as well have called him San Holo and had him ride around in the Fillennium Malcon with Bewchacca. As the new love chemicals rushed through me - Bucknesium and Rogerstonin - I discovered what love is and found that it's just feeling very ... interested. More interested than I had been about anything before.
Excerpted from How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran. Copyright © 2012 by Caitlin Moran. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
“Caitlin Moran is a feminist heroine for our times. I can’t wait to give this book to my daughters.”
“As funny and careerist as Tina Fey’s Bossypants, as divulging as Ayelet Waldman’s Bad Mother and as earthy as Cheryl Strayed’s Wild.”
“Caitlin Moran taught me more about being a woman than being a woman did. I’m pretty sure I had testicles before I read this book.”
“How funny is Caitlin Moran’s neo-feminist manifesto and memoir, How to Be a Woman? Don’t read it with a full bladder….You could spend a whole book group session flagging favorite lines…..There’s some comfort in Moran’s book coming out so soon after Nora Ephron’s death.”
“Caitlin Moran is the profane, witty and wonky best friend I wish I had. She’s the feminist rock star we need right now; How to Be a Woman is an hilarious delight.”
“There is a good reason for [its success]: it is pretty phenomenal….[Moran] wrote the book in just 5 months….Chances are you’ll read it in far less time than that, turning down the corners of extra-resonating pages to come back to later.”
“Her arguments are hilarious and spot on….This isn’t a self-help guide, and Moran’s not really telling you how to be a woman. Instead, she’s giving you permission to laugh: at ourselves, at her, and at anyone who think there’s only one way to be a woman.”
“It is bracing in this season of losing [Nora] Ephron to discover a younger feminist writer who scrimmages with the patriarchy and drop kicks zingers with comic flair….A must-read for anyone curious to find out just how very funny a self-proclaimed ‘strident feminist’ can be.”
“Caitlin Moran is so fabulous, so funny, so freshly feminist. I don’t want to be like her—I want to be her. But if I can’t, at least I can relish her book. You will, too.”
Meet the Author
Caitlin Moran's debut book, How to Be a Woman, was an instant New York Times bestseller. How to Build a Girl is her first novel since the one she wrote at fourteen, which doesn't count.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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This is a terrific, provocative and thought provoking book on feminisim and all things, "woman," in general; however, it is not for everyone's tastes. ***If you are easily offended by four letter words on a broad, or body-specific basis--you'll probably want to stay away. Moran is an intelligent, articulate writer, but she gleefully embraces her vulgarities, even defending her use of one particularly offensive word. While the language can be blunt, it simply comes across as being HER, her personality and her view of womanhood; for me, it did not come across as a blatant attempt to be shocking--it's just who she is, her experience. I found it alternately appropriate, funny and question-raising; I had no problem with it--but some readers might. ***As Moran is English, based in London and the book was originally published there--there are many references to British personalities, pop culture and every day life that some readers will not be familiar with. If it's bothersome, be prepared to do some Googling. ***A feminist-treatise, this is also a memoir; Moran is "no holds barred" on her personal revelations. At times, this reads as "TMI" with raw, humiliating, cringe-worthy recounts of her coming of age: as one of 8 kids she relates, with brutal honesty, the traumas of being welfare-poor to the point her hand-me-downs included her mother's old underpants and the stifling lack of privacy. ***Her sister, Caz, emerges as a prize scene-stealing supporting character--some of the best lines are from her ***Moran is a wickedly funny, highly intelligent writer and thinker; don't assume because this book is funny, it's not serious. It tackles everything from body image/hair/functions, to sex, marriage, kids and abortion. It is a perfect read for discussion with your closest friends as Moran talks about these subjects in intimate ways that many of us wish we could emmulate. I find her views refreshing and bold--and comforting: it reminds us that being a woman--struggling to come into our womanhood--is traumatic, often gross, humilating and heartbreaking. Yet Moran reminds us we are not alone in our "female" struggles and ultimately, to find joy, in who and what we are. Not for everyone's taste, but for those who jump in--I think you will enjoy the ride--this is a worthwhile read that absolutely needs to be discussed, laughed over, and debated.
Caitlin Moran's How To Be a Woman is wildly funny and at the same time a great introduction to a modern idea of what it means to be a feminist. To quote the author, "a. Do you have a vagina? and b. Do you want to be in charge of it? If you said "yes" to both, then congratulations! You're a feminist." Moran tackles everything from menstruation to masturbation, hair removal, underwear size, and abortion in a very honest and hilarious fashion. As a side note, I learned about this book when Caitlin and Jenny Lawson aka The Blogess (who is also ridiculously funny and the author of Let's Pretend This Never Happened) interviewed each other.
This book is an unapologetic feminist rant, wrapped in an entertaining autobiography. It treats some very important issues with thought-provoking comments, but also is peppered with a good deal of humor. There are some really important take-away messages that nicely summarize the situation for women and our place in society. I really liked how she suggested that asking simple questions could help assess important problems like harassment and oppression/inequality: "is that polite?" and "are the men doing this?" There is a lot of strong language that may be off-putting to some readers, and as the author is from the U.K. there is some usage that may be unfamiliar to US readers. In addition, there is quite a bit of slang that may be unfamiliar to readers who are not as steeped in popular culture, but it does not interfere with the reading of the book (and can be entertaining to look up). This is the sort of book that our daughters should read and consider, but it might be better (depending on the daughter's age) if we didn't know they were reading it!
For me, this book was a revelation. It didn't move anyone out of my "top ten" list, but I hope my daughters read it when they are 18ish. they are strident feminists at age 6 and 9. ya know....because that's how all kids are born.....as strident feminists. which is the exact thing about this book that causes me to call it a revelation. feminism isn't something you aspire too, or want. being a feminist isn't something you become. it's the opposite of feminism that's unnatural and enforced on us by people that don't have our best interests at heart. we are all born with the tools. they get taken away. this book helped me realize that I don't want those tools taken away from my kids. for that reason, I think *you* should read it.
Everyone, male or female, should read this book. Funny, fierce, and relevant as hell. The cover says it's a British Bossypants, but its much funnier, and more important, than that. Mixes memoir, humor, and polemic in a wonderfully readable way. Yeah, if you're squeamish and too precious for profanity it probably won't be your cup of tea. But women's bodies and lives are messy and real, and the way women's bodies and lives are cheapened and commodified, especially by the pronography industry, deserves to be called the bull**** that it is. Caitlin Moran comes across as someone you'd love to have a pint or two with down at the pub.
No, it's not Jenny Lawson - she's a different kind of funny. This has some similar moments BUT is more of memoir/polemic. Happy to see feminism is alive and well in the world. Definitely worth reading!
Hilarious, she hits the nail on the head with her witty and somtimes sobering insights!!
Moran is hilarious and accurate about the journey to being a woman. I find myself giggling at her childhood stories as i think back to my own experiences when growing up. Love love love!
I very much enjoyed this book. It was funny and smart, and I wish I'd read it when I was 18, and still wondering what it meant to be a woman. This isn't a how-to guide; it's an honest memoir and a hard look at what society tells us being a woman is all about.
As a young woman who is just starting to make her way in the world and figure out what it really MEANS to be a woman, this book made a perfect gift for me. While it is definitely not for everyone,and not an feminist manifesto like most people had hopes for, it';s a very honest, anecdotal memoir that taught me a lot about things no woman in my life ever really bothered to teach me. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
Gee I wonder if i can learn Something from this book guess ill have to read an d find out
One woman's funny and honest (sometimes painfully so) account of her experience as a woman. If you are on the prudish side this book is not for you.
Funny, intelligent and relate-able.
I'm not sure what I expected when I bought this book, but it wasn't what I got. Throughout most of this book, I was either shaking my head sadly, giggling madly or sighing in relief because I wasn't the only one who has gone through that situation.
I had the misfortune of reading the first chapter, then deleted this book from my Nook. Although 'How to Be a Woman' had good reviews, and categorized as humorous woman's biography, it's certainly not humorous. To summarize what I read: It is about growing up in a clinically dysfunctional family; and young child's bazaar, obsessive compulsive, non-typical sexual behavior which began at age 13. There should be a label on the cover of this book noting that it is x-rated.
This book is more-or-less an autobiographical account of how Caitlin Moran discovered what going through adolescence and into married, childbearing years has meant to her as a woman. She gives plenty of funny anecdotes about her youth and young adult life. Ms. Moran uses these anecdotes to discuss her views of feminism covering a variety of topics from sexuality, personal hygiene, institutionalized sexism, the extra costs of women's clothes, shoes, haircuts, hygiene products, etc., being expected to have kids, parental duty sharing, abortion, etc. There is a fair amount of crude language. Furthermore, American readers may not be aware of who some of her pop-cultural references are or know that "fags" are cigarettes in Britain or some of the other vernacular. Also, I think that younger women are more likely to relate to Ms. Moran's musician references and personal grooming topics.