Nathan reviews HOW TO BE A WOMAN by Caitlin Moran, Harper Perennial, 2011, 305 pages

I will admit, I received puzzled looks and confused questions while reading How to Be a Woman. Some think they are being clever as they joke about it, but they do not understand why I, a cisgender man, would read such a book. I read this book not for novelty but for better understanding. I have not had to endure hardships that every woman has, so how would I know what it is like? Exactly, I have no clue.

If I had to sum up what I learned from reading this book as simply as possible, it would be this: Being a woman is difficult and complicated. I assure you I am not saying this to be sarcastic or funny in any way. From the financial and emotional cost to maintain perceived societal appearances to the constant pressures and lack of credit, being a woman can be exhausting and scary at times, further advocating the need for legitimate feminism.

Moran’s chapters could be perceived as rants in some ways, yet they are not just to complain or make her side of the situation seem more admirable. Yes, she takes on societal norms and structures, but she does pull heavily from her own experiences, too, and the points she makes are wonderful if a bit crudely worded at times. She is able to write her (occasionally) scattered thoughts smoothly in the form of short, connected essays for each chapter. Moran is also quite funny; I may have got a few of those weird looks from laughing out loud, too.

Because I am so far outside the actual topic of this book, I hold back on making evaluations of the content itself. Rather, I try to summarize what I have been able to explicitly learn from reading. Representation of women in different forms of media and entertainment have repercussions that impact every woman in some way. Unfortunately, not many of those repercussions are positive or helpful. Being a woman is a swinging pendulum, back and forth on what is actually expected, appropriate, or even allowable. Unfortunately, women are not the ones who get to decide the parameters for a great majority of those ideals. Sexuality, for example, varies widely even within ideological camps. If a woman is too sexual, that is perceived negatively; however, if a woman is not sexual enough, she is also criticized. Individual women lose the ability to truly choose for themselves in many cases due to expectations and pressures forced upon them.

In a world where sexism is not always the easiest to spot and those who are accused of it are fiercely defensive, Moran simply suggests that one asks, “Is this polite, or not?” Being sexist, somehow, can be up for debate at times, and the accused will try to find a way to avoid that label. Being called rude, however, is not so easily defended. In this way, Moran points out–throughout the book–that being a woman can be about adapting to the world and continuing to make progress however one can.

In the end, this is definitely one of those books that I am glad to have read.