What does it mean to be feminine? Do you call yourself a feminist? Are high heels liberating or are they foot binding’s less aggressive cousin? These questions fill our society, producing uncomfortable answers or — all too often — silence.
Gender relations haven’t always been on my radar. Growing up, I would have never believed that men and women — or boys and girls as it were — were treated differently. Sure, I knew that once — a long time ago in a galaxy moderately far away — girls were pushed into arranged marriages and expected to do as they were told, but I couldn’t see how it would impact my universe. Now, however, I understand that there is still an equality chasm between men and women. I feel lucky enough to have grown up without thinking that there was some big difference between us and that lack of recognition definitely sticks with me still today.
How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran is part memoir, part humor and part cutting social commentary. Each chapter takes a different issue that faces women today, encompassing things as light as high heels and as weighty as abortion. She manages to turn the seemingly-trivial issues into deep discussions and mitigates the heavy ones. These switches make the book relatable for all types of women.
The tone is intelligent and sarcastic chick-lit author with a twist of political commentator. Moran wants to woo her audience with funny stories and turns herself into the typical, quirky and awkward girl heroine in order to do so. While this no doubt makes her more appealing to a certain audience, it may alienate other readers at the same time. Intersperesed among the funnier moments are serious period of reflection of being a woman in today’s society. The line between comedy and commentary is walked tightly, at times it’s deft and at times a bit sloppy.
While I enjoyed how she navigated issues such as women’s fashion and hair removal, I could see how it might be difficult for her to win over an older or more traditional set. What makes this book so great is Moran’s awareness about her audience, but the audience to whom she writes is perioulously small.
My mother teaches a class about the body and there were so many times when I thought this book would be fantastic for her class to discuss. There was, however, a doubt in my mind. Would Moran’s acerbic tone and appreciation of pop culture mitigate the message to someone like my mother? Perhaps it would and perhaps it wouldn’t. Moran isn’t afraid to be polemical, she isn’t afraid to get us talking.
Ultimately, How to be a Woman is a great read because it strongly gets us to consider our culture from a strong point of view. Moran is a character and is not afraid to get her ideas across as to what it means to be a woman. That sounds about right to me.
Did you grow up with a favorable opinion of feminism? What do you think of the word today?