Monday, May 14, 2012

how to be a woman

If ever faced with a situation, in which I needed to refer to myself as a 'woman', I would always mentally stutter on the word - as if it were an untruth. Of course, physically I fit into that category just fine, but emotionally.. mentally - I've never really been sure.  I don't know if it's because I feel 'woman' is a descriptor saved for strong, self assured females; mothers or mature types that have grown into themselves? As for me, I don't feel strong or sure about anything - mostly I'm just trying to keep myself relatively sane and alive on a day to day basis.

So, when I heard about the book by Caitlin Moran, entitled "How to be a Woman" - the category of which it belongs is 'Humour/Feminism' I was intrigued.

'Feminism' is another one of those uncomfortable terms for me.  I suppose that's because in my head I thought that feminists are the kind of folk to burn their bras in giant bonfires, yell at men, be generally dissatisfied and kind of argumentative. The sort of women who might cause me to blush with a controversial comment, and challenge me to think - have my own opinions and be bold with them. However, this is all beside the point, because this book is not really like that at all!

In her book, Moran isn't trying to turn us into bitter and twisted man haters - instead it is a humorous look at things from her point of view - littered with truths, life experiences, and the stuff of things to make you think - to make me think.

At its beginning, Moran talks about the logistics of being a woman - she states " many ways, there is no crueler or more inappropriate present to give a child than oestrogen and a big pair of tits". Well, she's preaching to the choir here with that one - it was the long hot summer of 1994 that saw me eternally condemned to sports-days in my baggy school jumper. God, that was shitty, and inevitably futile - just as Moran observes "the problem with battling yourself is that even if you win, you lose.  At some point - scarred, and exhausted - you either accept that you must become a woman - that you are a woman - or you die.." (of heat exhaustion perhaps?)

It interests me when she likens the fight of feminism to an analogy of broken windows.  "In the 'Broken Windows' theory, if a single broken window on an empty building is ignored, and not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows.  Eventually, they may break into the building, and light fires, or become squatters." In her mind, perhaps if we don't sweat the small feminist stuff - which in this case, are the broken windows, then women won't have a chance with the big stuff because our whole house is going to be burnt down by squatters! (I promise she explains it far better than I do!)

Later, Moran addresses the question on all our lips: am I a feminist? To which she provides a brief but effective assessment: "Put your hands in your pants. a) Do you have a vagina? and b) Do you want to be in charge of it? If you said 'yes' to both, then congratulations! You're a feminist." Simple really. Yes, and hell yes - for the record. She convinces me further with: "what do you think feminism IS, ladies? What part of 'liberation for women' is not for you? Is it freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? The campaign for equal pay? 'Vogue', by Madonna? Jeans? Did all that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES?" And then, to cement it all, she later affirms "'s not as if strident feminists want to take over from men. We're not arguing for the whole world. Just our share."

Other note able quotes that had me giggling in delight, or thinking... or both:

"When did feminism become confused with Buddhism? Why on earth have I, because I'm a woman, got to be nice to everyone?...I don't build in a 20 per cent 'Genital Similarity Regard-Bonus' if I meet someone else wearing a bra.  If someones an arsehole, someones an arsehole - regardless of whether we're both standing in the longer toilet queue..."

"What is feminism? Simply the belief that women should be as free as men, however nuts, dim, deluded, badly dressed, fat, receding, lazy and smug they might be.  Are you a feminist?  Hahaha. Of course you are."

"Because at the moment, I can't help but notice that in a society obsessed with fat - so eager in the appellation, so vocal in its disapproval - the only people who aren't talking about it are the only people whose business it really is."

"Based on my own personal experiences, 100,000 years of male superiority has its origins in the simple basis that men don't get cystitis."

"When we discuss the great tragedies that can possible befall a woman, once we have discounted war and injury, it is the idea of being unloved, and therefore unwanted that we wince over the most. Elizabeth I may have laid the groundworks of the British Empire, but she could never marry - poor, pale, mercury-caked queen." Now this, I relate to, because I am one of those silly women who thinks this way.

On shoes: "Women wear heels because they think they make their legs look thinner..they think that by effectively walking on tip-toes, they're slimming their legs down from  size 14 to a size 10.  But they aren't, of course. There is a precedent for a big fat leg dwindling away to a point - and it's on a pig."

"If I'm going to spend £500 on a pair of designer shoes, it's going to be a pair that I can a) dance to 'Bad Romance' in, and b) will allow me to run away from a murderer, should one suddenly decide to give chase."

On kids: "To be frank, childbirth gives a woman a gigantic set of balls. The high you get as you realise it's all over, and that you didn't actually die, can last the rest of your life. Off their faces with mothers finally tell the in-laws to back off, dye their hair red, get driving lessons, go self-employed, learn to use a drill, experiment with Thai condiments, make cheerful jokes about incontinence, and stop being scared of the dark."

"Every parent has their particular moment where they realised that, since they'd had a child, nothing really fazed them anymore. For me, it was the day that potty-training Lizzie went wrong, and I had to kick a poo, across a falconry display, in a marquee, at Regent's Park Zoo."

"Feminism needs zero tolerance over baby angst. In the 21st century, it can't be about who we might make, and what they might do, any more. It has to be about who we are, and what we're going to do." Well said Caitlin Moran!

On the ugly machine that is gossip magazines: "I've read more about Oprah Winfrey's arse than I have about the rise of China as an economic superpower. I fear this is no exaggeration. Perhaps China is rising as an economic superpower because its women aren't spending all their time reading about Oprah Winfrey's arse."

On how to know: " the same way you can tell if some sexism is happening to you by asking the question 'Is this polite, or not?', you can tell whether some misogynistic societal pressure is being exerted on women by calmly enquiring, 'And are the men doing this, as well?'"

On ageing and plastic surgery: "I want a face full of frown lines and weariness and cream-coloured teeth that, frankly, tells stupid and venal people to FUCK OFF... Lines and greyness are nature's way of telling you not to fuck with someone - the equivalent of the yellow and black banding on a wasp..." I really like her theory.

On the reality of not being a princess: "Accepting you're just some perfectly ordinary woman who is going to have to crack on, work hard and be polite in order to get anything done is - once you've got over the crippling disappointment of your thundering ordinariness - incredibly liberating."

"Simply being honest about who we really are is half the battle...there's so much stuff -in every respect - that we can't afford and yet we sighingly resign ourselves to, in order to join in, and feel 'normal'. But, of course, if everyone is, somehow, too anxious to say what their real situation is, then there is a new, communal, median experience which is being kept secret by everyone being too embarrassed to say, 'Don't think I'm a freak, but..."

Upon finishing this clever read - I'm not entirely sure that I'm ready to accept I will never be a princess; I'm not even sure what kind of woman I'm trying to be, but like Caitlin Moran: "what I really want to be, all told, is a human. Just a productive, honest, courteously treated human. One of 'The Guys'. But with really amazing hair." Yep, that about covers it.