Caitlin Moran’s ‘How to be a Woman’ a Hilarious Defense of Feminism

The new feminist looks like what? Caitlin Moran has some ideas.

Feminism has taken a bit of a hit in recent years. In 2009, foodie guru Michael Pollan notoriously blamed feminism, among other reasons, for American obesity and convenience-store culture; women working outside the home raised a generation that expects to spend no more than 27 minutes a day preparing food (with another four minutes for clean-up).

The new domesticity, with its emphasis on hobbies like canning and knitting, venerates figures like the Pioneer Woman for their handsome husbands and homemade cinnamon rolls. Glorifying domesticity perpetuates the idea that a woman’s place is married and in the kitchen, while glossing over the fact that Ree Drummond is also an ambitious career woman who carved a booming business out of the Oklahoma plains.

Our feminist role models are dwindling, replaced by a bevy of reality TV stars, pop singers in candy-colored underwear and hipster homemakers. No wonder Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman has been embraced, first in Britain and earlier this summer in the United States. Along with Tina Fey’s Bossypants, its frank, hilarious discussions seem unusually timely — at least, for women who are getting tired of trying to figure out how to simultaneously puree baby food out of homegrown carrots, hold down a successful career and keep their “minge” trimmed (or, as Moran would put it, “your lovely big Hair Bear Bunch-style ‘minge'”).

Part of the  book’s delight, at least for this American reader, is the constant, joyous stream of jokes and British slang. However, most of the book’s appeal lies in Moran’s unabashed feminist call to arms. Moran cites Germaine Greer as one of her heroes and uses a quick, handy formulaic for determining if you’re a feminist — “Do you have a vagina? Do you want to be in charge of it? Then congratulations! You’re a feminist.”

With chapter titles like “I Am Fat!” and “I Go Lap-dancing!” Moran covers topics as innocent as what kind of shoes to wear (flat ones, preferably yellow), and the horrifying, gory details of giving birth: “[I] was nobly resigned to my own poignant gravestone in a churchyard: ‘Died in childbirth. 2001. Like Miss Melly in Gone with the Wind.'”

If we can’t talk about a topic, we let its basic assumptions go unquestioned, and so Moran leaves no stone unturned. Some of her stances seem problematic — I, for example, don’t really think that holding a large wedding is necessarily a sign of female oppression. But overall, Moran’s writing sounds like the honest, funny and possibly drunken conversations that you might have with your best friends at 3 am.

At a time when so much feminist literature seems to be screeds pitting one woman against another, it’s refreshing and arguably necessary to see an insightful and enthusiastic, if occasionally messy and unfocused, embrace of what it means to value women’s equal rights, in both personal and professional arenas. Says Moran, “I don’t think the word ‘feminist’ on its own is enough. I want to bring it back in conjunction with the word ‘strident’…It’s been so wrong for so long that it’s back to being right again.”