Sunday, 18 September 2011

48/111 – How To Be A Woman – Caitlin Moran

I bought this book recently on the recommendation of a friend from Waterstone’s who said that she thought I’d probably like it. I’d already seen the book around a little, on shelves etc and I’d suspected that it might be quite trashy and full of great ‘advice’ on how to make your tits look good, or how to trick a man into marrying you, but I was quite pleasantly surprised to find that I was wrong. However, even though I really enjoyed parts of this, I still found that there were other parts where I strongly disagreed with Moran and other features that I found quite irritating.

I’ll get the annoying bits out of the way first.

The first thing I noticed which kind of pissed me off was Moran’s tendency to use all caps when she wants to emphasise something. This isn’t something she uses sparingly, either. It’s pretty much on every other page. EVERY OTHER PAGE. Like that. She uses it to sort of drive home a point she’s making while trying to also make a joke, but for me it was irritating. After a while I just started to skip the bits in all caps. I don’t know if this was her choice, or an editorial choice or what, but there were a couple of other editorial hiccups too, which makes me think it may not have been proof-read as efficiently as it should have been. For example at one point there’s a reference to two people being stitched together from mouth to butthole a la ‘Human Caterpillar’, when the reference is obviously intended to be Human Centipede. Who let that one slip through the net?

Another thing which annoyed me was the half-arsed references to her childhood. For the first half of the book Moran references incidents in her childhood quite a bit, and I found them to be kind of trite and forced, as if she was trying, really trying, to go for laughs. I just didn’t like it. There were also some views she had which I didn’t agree with, but I’m not going to go into all of them here, as they’re more just a difference of opinion.

On the whole though, she seems like a pretty cool and sassy chick, and there was a lot about the book I did like. In spite of the clumsy all caps bits, there were also bits of prose in there which I felt genuinely shone really well and were stunning. Later in the book she also tackles some more serious issues, like childbirth, motherhood and abortion, and these (particularly the section on abortion) were really touching and handled brilliantly.

What I particularly liked about the section on abortion was the way she spoke about her experience in terms of dispelling the myth that only 'slutty' girls have abortions. Her own abortion procedure took place after she already had two daughters, knowing that she and her husband didn’t have the resources or the energy to have a third child at that point. Many people would call this a selfish or wrong decision, and might put pressure on a woman in this position to ‘just have the baby’ and many women in this situation will probably do just that. However stats show that most of the women having abortions (in the West at least) are married women who can’t afford (for whatever reason) to have any more children.

She also does really well to talk about this idea of ‘good abortions’ vs. ‘bad abortions’. What I mean here is the moralistic idea that it’s only okay to have an abortion if you’ve, say, been raped. Or if yours or the baby’s life is in danger. This is a dangerous way of thinking because it puts a moral kind of judgment on who should on shouldn’t be allowed to have abortions. You can only have one if having the baby would be really really bad for you/it. In fact, having an abortion when you’re in Moran’s situation is a responsible choice. Too many families have their resources stretched to breaking point because there are too many kids and not enough to go around, and it’s not a ‘bad’ choice to acknowledge that fact. 

Another thing I really liked about her account was that there was a tone of mourning for the baby she never had, but Moran doesn’t go on and on about how ‘hard’ the decision was, or how she’s had to live forever with the consequences, or that she has any regrets. There’s this idea that if you really have to have an abortion, the very least you can do is feel terrible about it forever.

So yeah, some pretty bold stuff in there. The end of the book really turned it around for me. I kind of wish the whole book had been more like that. Not necessarily overly serious or dealing with big issues, but the tone definitely changed a lot, whilst still managing to stay relatively light-hearted (the parts about horrific childbirth are hilarious/horrifying, but I think I’ll probably always feel that way…)


Next: The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan

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