First things first: There is no such thing anymore as not being a feminist. Young women, if you vote; if your wages are paid into your own bank account; if you use birth control; if you drive a car; if you think you have the right not to be raped – you're reaping the rewards of all those icky, strident, unfeminine women who did the work for you. Don't want to be called the F-word? Find yourself a time machine (but don't go too far back; you'll probably be burned as a witch!).
British journalist Caitlin Moran, actually, has a simpler test. "Here is a quick way of working out if you're a feminist. Put your hand in your pants. Do you have a vagina? And do you want to be in charge of it? If you said 'yes' to both, then congratulations! You're a feminist." I would add that even if you don't have one, if you think women should be in charge of theirs, you too are a feminist. This seems like a pretty wide swath of the population, leaving out only obvious head cases and total jerks.
Moran's How to Be a Woman, just released in the United States, is touted by her publisher as an updated version of Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch, "rewritten from a bar stool." The Female Eunuch is a ground-zero text of the women's movement – brilliant, inflammatory, even poetic at times – but it's rough going in the laffs department. No light read, that. Moran's book is really more of a comedic memoir, à la Tina Fey's Bossypants. Arranged into chapters addressing various rites of passage (breasts, marriage, childbirth) and things that bum her out (Brazilians, strip clubs, high heels) it simply, lightheartedly points out the illogical and impolite nature of sexism, with a minimum of academic jargon and an emphasis, always, on the punchline.
How to Be a Woman falls in the same place on the spectrum of feminism as Nora Ephron's body of work – it works in a few sharp observations, but it's not didactic, nor does it hew to the politically correct feminist party line. It can be read simply for the entertainment factor, but even readers just looking for LOLs will eventually begin to think, "Well, yeah. It isn't fair that women spend so much money on hair removal and Tampax, yet earn 30 percent less. Down the patriarchy!" Feminism, as Moran preaches it, is more of a sort of OMG RLY all-caps point-and-laugh at hypocrisy.
There are some disappointments: How to Be a Woman really only reflects the experience of women in so-called "first world" nations – clearly women in many countries are still burned with acid, cut with razors or stoned to death for having the temerity to want to be in charge of their bodies. (Or drive.) And even those of us in more enlightened nations might not want to get complacent – there are a few states in our own country where it's getting harder and harder for a woman to be in charge of what goes in or comes out of her vagina. More than a few, in fact: According to the Guttmacher Institute, 26 states, encompassing 55 percent of American women of childbearing age, can be classed as "hostile" to women's reproductive rights – that is, states that have passed more than four provisions restricting access to contraception or abortion. That's the kind of "patriarchal BS" that can't be cured by pointing and laughing.
"Fat people are slowly self-destructing in a way that doesn't inconvenience anyone. And that's why [overeating]'s so often a woman's addiction of choice."
"Why can't I see some actual fucking from people who want to fuck each other? Some chick in an outfit I halfway respect, having the time of her life? … I JUST WANT A MULTIBILLION-DOLLAR INTERNATIONAL PORN INDUSTRY WHERE I CAN SEE A WOMAN COME."
by Caitlin Moran
(320 pages, Harper Perennial)
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