The book that launched a feminist revolution—the hilarious memoir/manifesto from Caitlin Moran, "the UK's answer to Tina Fey, Chelsea Handler, and Lena Dunham all rolled into one" (Marie Claire).
Though they have the vote and the Pill and haven't been burned as witches since 1727, life isn't exactly a stroll down the catwalk for modern women. They are beset by uncertainties and questions: Why are they supposed to get Brazilians? Why do bras hurt? Why the incessant talk about babies? And do men secretly hate them?
Caitlin Moran interweaves provocative observations on women's lives with laugh-out-loud funny scenes from her own, from the riot of adolescence to her development as a writer, wife, and mother. With rapier wit, Moran slices right to the truth—whether it's about the workplace, strip clubs, love, fat, abortion, popular entertainment, or children—to jump-start a new conversation about feminism. With humor, insight, and verve, How to Be a Woman lays bare the reasons why female rights and empowerment are essential issues not only for women today but also for society itself.
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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.
Table of Contents
Prologue: The Worst Birthday Ever 1
Chapter 1 I Start Bleeding! 15
Chapter 2 I Become Furry! 41
Chapter 3 I Don't Know What To Call My Breasts! 57
Chapter 4 I Am A Feminist! 71
Chapter 5 I Need A Bra! 89
Chapter 6 I Am Fat! 103
Chapter 7 I Encounter Some Sexism! 119
Chapter 8 I Am In Love! 143
Chapter 9 I Go Lap-dancing! 165
Chapter 10 I Get Married! 177
Chapter 11 I Get Into Fashion! 195
Chapter 12 Why You Should Have Children 217
Chapter 13 Why You Shouldn't Have Children 235
Chapter 14 Role Models And What We Do With Them 247
Chapter 15 Abortion 269
Chapter 16 Intervention 285
What People are Saying About This
“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 is a feminist heroine for our times. I can’t wait to give this book to my daughters.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
Jenny Lawson, author of Let's Pretend This Never Happened,
Caitlin Moran, author of How To Be a Woman
Jenny Lawson: In the first chapter of your book you use the words “irascible,” “subjugated,” “portentously,” and “nil desperandum.” Do you think you're smarter than me?
Caitlin Moran: There's no WAY I'm smarter than you, because you have never smoked so much marijuana you tried to get a stoned wasp and a worm to fight by putting them in a jar together.
Lawson: Up until two days ago I thought that Germaine Greer and Greer Garson were the same people. Am I going to have my feminist card revoked?
Moran: It's okay! NO AMERICANS KNOW WHO GERMAINE GREER IS! NEITHER DO EUROPEANS! She appears to be a "Britain only" femnomenon (I hope you've seen what I've done there. Made a very ugly portmanteau word.) I've found out that in Europe, you have to translate "Germaine Greer" as "Simone de Beauvoir." They get it then. And THEN you tell them about how Greer appeared on the cover of Oz magazine with her marmoset on full display, and their minds get blown all over again.
Lawson: Is there anything you've written that you wish you could go back and change?
Moran: I honestly wish I'd put more shagging in. I REALLY want to write pornography. Beautiful filthy hot porn in which chicks get their rocks off in beautifully decorated rooms and/or a hayrick during the Harvest.
Lawson: If you could be anything in the world, what would you be?
Moran: I would be THE PERSON IN A BAR BUYING YOU A JUG OF MARGARITAS, JENNY LAWSON. Stop living in another country! I want to take you to a certain club in East London where they have a pool on the roof, and we jump in, pissed. When it's only 6pm.
Lawson: What part of your book are you most proud of?
CM: LITERALLY all of it - I tried to write it with such good heart, as a love-letter to all the ladies in the world wondering if it's just THEM thinking this is all bullshit. IT NEVER IS! WE'RE ALL THINKING IT! But, aside from that, remembering that my sister called my dog "a lesbian vampire" when it ate my sanitary pad. The whole thing was just WRONG.
Caitlin Moran, author of How To Be a Woman,
Jenny Lawson, author of Let's Pretend This Never Happened
Caitlin Moran: Do you feel you've ever actually gone too far? Is there something you wouldn't write about?
Jenny Lawson: Surprisingly, I do have a lot of boundaries, even considering how filter-less I am about myself. I don't write other people's stories and I don't write things that I think will hurt anyone in the long run.
Caitlin Moran: Would you actually like it if the world changed so much you were considered normal?
Jenny Lawson: If the world changed enough that I would be considered normal then that would mean that everyone else in the world was dysfunctionally weird and vaguely dangerous. Even my gynecologist. Um…no. I don't think I'd like that at all.
Caitlin Moran: Which writers did you read and go "I could steal/use/love what they're doing there"?
Jenny Lawson: Dorothy Parker. I want to go back in time and kidnap her and feed her martinis while I take credit for all of her work. That's not crazy. Probably.
Caitlin Moran: If you could have a stuffed animal doing anything, what would it be? Would you be freaked out if someone made you a Jenny Lawson Squirrel, or Raccoon?
Jenny Lawson: I want a tiny (died of old age) mouse with curlers in her hair and a blowdryer in her hand. Or maybe a small raccoon in jams just to remind me of my childhood.
Caitlin Moran: If the internet didn't exist, what would you do with your time?
Jenny Lawson: I'd probably invent the internet. Starting with twitter.