Friday, August 16, 2013

Notes From the Nightstand: How to Be a Woman

I was introduced to Caitlin Moran through The Bloggess, one of my favorite bloggers. Moran is British and has been a  music journalist and TV presenter since she was in her teens. I can't believe I'm just now hearing about her. The Bloggess (AKA Jenny Lawson) raved about her, so I picked up her book How to Be a Woman. If you like funny women ranting humorously and telling vulgar jokes and talking about their UTIs, you'll like it. And if you don't, yeah. Don't.

The blurb on my copy calls it "The British version of Tina Fey's Bossypants.", but I wouldn't really compare the two women. The only similarities are that they both are funny, both are women, and both talk about feminism. So, totally the same, of course! Caitlin Moran reminds me more of the Sedarises - more profane than Fey, more eccentric, and less of an overachiever. The one thing about Fey that makes me cringe is the sense I get that she does everything better and more efficiently than I do. Moran gives me the comfy feeling that she's even more of a wackadoo than I am. I love that quality in other women.

That is also exactly why her vision of 21st century feminism as outlined in this book is appealing to me as well. Her premise is that feminism doesn't need to be merely the domain of academics and self-serious activists. In order to revive modern feminism, feminists should feel free to easily, conversationally, tackle issues like Brazilian waxes and thong underwear and plastic surgery, in addition to pay equality and family/parenting leave and domestic abuse. Feminists could just be people who support women who also like to have a laugh and drink a beer.

I fully agree with her that all feminists need not be all things to all people - wonder women who save the world from all evils simultaneously with superhuman strength and focus. And when they don't succeed at this overburdened perfection, we shouldn't have to dismiss them as misguided failures. Ironically, even as she argues this in the book, online commenters and Goodreads reviewers criticize her for not addressing women of color, GLBTQetc.etc.etc. women, class issues, global women's issues, and so on, ad infinitum.

It's a humor piece, people. And a memoir more than a women's studies class term paper.

Really the best praise I could give this book is that I laughed and laughed and I could quote you whole passages gleefully, except that this blog is kind of a family show. Still, there are plenty of paragraphs that made me want to scrawl "Amen!" in the margins in red ink, like this one:

To be frank, childbirth gives a woman a gigantic set of balls. The high you get as you realize it's all over, and that you didn't actually die, can last the rest of your life. Off their faces with euphoria and bucked by how brave they were, new mothers finally tell the in-laws to back off, dye their hair red, get driving lessons, become self-employed, learn to use a drill, experiment with Thai condiments, make cheerful jokes about incontinence, and stop being scared of the dark. (pg. 218)

Or this:

Women who, in a sexist world, pander to sexism to make their fortune are Vichy France with tits. Are you 34GG, waxed to within an inch of your life and faking orgasms? Then you're doing business with a decadent and corrupt regime. Calling that a feminist icon is like giving an arms dealer the Nobel Peace Prize. (pg. 247)

Or this:

(On women who get plastic surgery) To be as privileged and safe as they are - but to still go through such painful, expensive procedures - gives the impression of a room full of fear. Female fear.

...I don't want that... I want a face that drawls - possibly in the voice of James Cagney, although Cagney from Cagney & Lacey will do - "I've seen more recalcitrant toddlers/devious line managers/steep mountain passes/complicated dance routines on Parappa the Rapper/bigger sums than you'll ever see in your life, sunshine. So get out of my special chair and bring me a cheese sandwich."

...Because there is an unspoken announcement commensurate with that look. Women who've had the needle, or the knife, look like they're saying: "My friends are not my friends, my men are unreliable and fainthearted, my lifetime's work counts for nothing, I am 59 and empty-handed. I'm still as defenseless as the day I was born. PLUS, I've now spunked all my yacht money on my arse. By any sane index, I have failed at my life." (pg. 282 , 286)

And yet, there are places where she and I diverge, just as Tina Fey and I aren't twinsies, just as Moran herself argues that all feminist icons can't be all things to all people. While I cheered her chapter on pornography, I had to shrug my shoulders at her chapter on strip clubs. And while I entirely defend her right to her position on abortion, I must admit that I could not relate to her experience or her conclusions at all. Plus, I suspect that her taste in music is not as good as mine. Ahem. This is the reality of women - we are not all the same. Our cause is not a monolith and one size feminist does not fit all.

I'm still putting Caitlin Moran on my short-list of women that I would like to have one too many bourbons with. On my imaginary crazy-lady-date, we would have a long, overwrought convo about UTIs and childbirth, taunt some college-aged boys about their jukebox selections, stagger arm-in-arm down the street cackling over tasteless jokes, share an ill-advised late-night burrito, and then someone would lose a shoe.

That's highly unlikely to happen, but a girl can dream. In the meantime, I'll just put another of her books, Moranthology, on my book store shopping list. Cheers!

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