My mum once asked me, in shocked tones, whether I was a feminist. "Isn't everyone?" I replied, because the notion that women should have equal rights to men is so blindingly obvious to a woman of my generation that it would never enter my head to question it. Caitlin Moran puts it perfectly: "Do you have a vagina, and do you want to be in charge of it?" If so, then congratulations! You're a feminist, and this book is for you.
Here you'll find the pure, unvarnished truth of what it's like to be a woman, the choices that are available to us and the everyday stuff we accept almost without thinking because it's just the way of the world. It's more than just a book about feminism though; it's also part autobiography and, in the main, very, very funny.
Using her 13-year old self as a starting point, Caitlin Moran takes us through her life, from her crazy family with seven younger siblings, through her first experiences with boys and then on into the world of work and grown-up responsibilities of home and family. She looks at the unrealistic role models promoted by the media and advertising and compares these with the realities of juggling a career and family while trying to appear poised, perfectly groomed and calmly efficient at all times. Being a man really is so much easier.
The thing that struck me most about How to be a Woman is its honesty. Caitlin Moran is fearless, and she says things that others just don't dare to mention. There's a chapter about the birth of her first child that is so horrific and squirm-inducing that it's enough to put anyone off having children altogether. She even talks about her own abortion, and frankly admits that she has no qualms or regrets over that decision.
This honest approach is one of the things that makes the book so funny. Moran isn't afraid of a bit of self-mockery, and the first half of the book, in particular, is frequently hilarious. She's perfectly in touch with her younger self, and a lot of the humour is in being reminded how it feels to be going through the confusing maelstrom of puberty and of the ridiculous ideas we all had at that age. I'm about the same age, and there's a touch of warm and fuzzy nostalgia in a lot of her anecdotes which also helps. Things get a little more serious in later chapters, but there always enough of the funny stuff to stop the book ever turning into too much of a grumpy rant (not that it doesn't have its ranty moments - it does!)
Times have changed since the militant days of the 60s and 70s when women were still fighting for basics like equality in law and equal pay, and it's easy sometimes to think that we don't need feminism any more. Sexism still exists though, albeit in a butter-wouldn't-melt 21st century disguise that often makes it hard to spot. Caitlin Moran has no such difficulty, and this book made me think about so many things I'd always taken for granted before. Women may now at last be free to achieve whatever their heart desires, but we've got some serious catching up to do after so many millennia as an invisible underclass.
I'm so glad I finally read How to be a Woman and that now I know why so many of my favourite bloggers love it so much. Five stars.