How to Be A Woman- Caitlin Moran (And a rant about magazines from me)

It took me a while to get around to reading Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman. The reviews were a positive but seemed to focus on hilarious anecdotes about leg shaving. It promised to be a take on modern life which explained why all women should be feminists, but sounded a little bit 211 Things a Bright Girl Can Do or Nigella Lawson’s not quite ironically titled How to be a Domestic Goddess. I needn’t have worried. Having picked it up in Waterstone’s buy one get one half price summer offer (they need all the help they can get after getting into bed with the company James Daunt denies ever having called the devil…) and practically inhaled it yesterday.

Caitlin Moran has pretty much explained in book form why I’ve stopped buying Women’s Magazines. A few months ago I still bought Easy Living but gave up when I saw the “let’s make it another Cosmopolitan” direction the new editor took it in with its makeover. Pressure to whip off body hair that PRACTICALLY NO ONE is going to see most of the year around, typical media discourses about your choice of when to have children or get married which one way or another read like an apologia, the prefacing of any interview with a successful woman with a description of her hair, make-up and outfit at the time of the interview… she covers it all in a way which is sometimes hilarious, sometimes serious but always warm and frank. I couldn’t, wouldn’t put it down until I finished, and as soon as I did I stuck it in the post for my sister.

Moran shows why feminism isn’t just an esoteric interest of a few select academics, but a matter of equality. I especially liked a passage in the book when she describes being at a meeting and talking to another feminist about pornography and how shocking it would be for an eight year old girl to accidentally click on a link to hardcore anal sex. When Moran pointed out that it would be shocking for an eight year old boy as well, the feminist nearly bit off her head because the boy would feel comfortable as the man was in a position of control. What bollocks, any normal child would be freaked out by it. Regardless of gender. And surely true equality is what it’s all about?

I bought a copy of Easy Living in Tesco today, just to see if it was still heading in the direction that had annoyed me. It’s not the worst women’s magazine by a long shot. The ones my little sister reads which inform impressionable young women that the massively attractive Kim Kardashian hates her body too, or the magazines which advise you on how best to pleasure your boyfriend are up there as the worst (the most worrying thing I’ve seen in that respect being a magazine which allegedly promotes safe sex advising girls who, in the absence of decent sex education in our schools, read these things and take them as gospel to use two condoms to delay their boyfriends orgasm. No, that would increase friction between the layers and make BOTH condoms more likely to split thus increasing the chances of unwanted pregnancy or STI). But Easy Living which I used to read for the lack of this rubbish and the variety of articles they used to have has still annoyed me.

Here are some of the ways it managed this in the July 2012 issue:

  • Letters page- The star letter- typical tropes about pregnancy and motherhood. “No one would wish to return to the days when a married woman’s lie was dominated by pregnancy, but, just occasionally, I find myself wishing the decision had been taken out of my hands.” Seriously? Are you freaking kidding me?! Because you now regret not having children you wish that you had a child thrust upon you at a time when you were unable or unwilling to look after one. It’s one thing to regret the choice that you had the freedom to make, but to wish, even in retrospect, to  lose that choice and for a women’s magazine to choose your wish to lose that choice as their star letter and thereby endorse the sentiment? Bloody shocking. There are no words for how disgusted I am with that.
  • Also letters page- A nurse who will be voting for Nadine Dorries (a politician who is campaigning to reduce the legal abortion time limit in the UK as well as introducing abstinence as a form of sex education in UK schools) because “I think many women opt for the procedure without a real understanding of what happens”. I have been lucky enough never to need an abortion, but I’m pretty sure that many women who do are intelligent enough to understand the procedure, as they would with any medical procedure they were about to undertake. Because we’re not stupid. And better sex education, rather than preaching abstinence is what is needed if there is a problem with a lack of information.
  • Why Women Such an Easy Target? A frankly weak article. Samantha Brick attracted a lot of criticism from women AND men because she wrote a nonsensical article which then had a Daily Mail edit. Giselle Bundchen caused controversy because she suggested that there should be a law which dictated that women should be forced to breast feed, as in suggested that we should no longer have the right to decide how to use our own bodies. What do you think the reaction would have been if a man proposed that law? Oh yes, there’d be outcry then too. You can’t claim that everyone is ganging up on women if they are being criticized for saying something stupid just like a man would have been.
  • Charlize Theron article, opens with an article about what she looks like, what she’s wearing before going on to tell me that she sometimes feels fat. Oh yeah, the feeling fat bit has been dragged out and highlighted as an important text bite, one paragraph on her humanitarian work which I didn’t know about and would have been interested to read about before going on to tell me about her love life. Standard female celebrity discourse.
  • We then have the now regular fashion feature “The School Runway” which photographs mothers on the school run in fairly affluent areas to allow people to judge their outfits or compare themselves to the women. Unusually for this new feature, lots of the mothers are wearing high street (it was pretty much solid designer the last time I read it) and all look absolutely lovely in leafy suburbia. But seriously. Should we be encouraging people to feel that the school gate is a potential fashion shoot in which they will be judged? God save us all from the pressure to be yummy mummies unless that’s what we want. I for one don’t want to read about it every month.

I could go on indefinitely, those are some of the worst things in there for me. But this is an absolute clanger from the summer reads feature. Underlining is my own:

Park Lane by Frances Osborne (Virgo, £14.99)

Fans of upstairs-downstairs dramas will adore this pacey page-turner from the wife of Chancellor George. As Britain enters the First World War and the Suffragette movement gains momentum, lady-of-the-house Bea and her intelligent maid Grace struggle with their positions in society. In both love and politics, they find themselves not just crossing social lines but redrawing them. An entertaining reminder of how hard women fought to be heard both politically and in their private lives.

And yet, despite the subject matter and the success of her previous books, you thought the most important thing that you could say about the author was that she is married to the Chancellor? Depressing.

3 thoughts on “How to Be A Woman- Caitlin Moran (And a rant about magazines from me)

  1. annahsbooknbeer

    I’ve been much of a magazine reader period, but lately the only ones I can stomach are newsy magazines (e.g. Newsweek) and the men’s magazine Esquire. Why does a men’s magazine contain articles on politics, literature and travel while women’s magazines seem to only concern themselves with articles on weight-loss and fashion? It’s just stupid.

    I’ll be looking for this book next time I am in the bookstore!

    1. Siobhan

      I had this discussion with my Dad a while back, but at the time Easy Living used to have articles about sport, design, travel etc. as well as the fashion and food you might have expected. There was loads of cultural stuff at the front which has now been pushed back. I was quite sad when it went so down hill. Now I just read The Guardian on my phone. The life and style section is a bit more varied and the culture covers everything bookish.

  2. Pingback: How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran | Iris on Books

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