Wednesday, 8 January 2014

How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran

I finished this book over a week ago, but then promptly packed up to go visit my grandmother, and was nowhere near a computer. My grandmother turned 95 on Friday. She's a pretty remarkable woman. There's a story that is told in women's history circles, about the classic assignment to go interview your grandmother, and how everyone comes back, convinced that their grandmother was a "feminist," whether or not their grandmother would have agreed with that assessment. Everyone's grandmother seems to be more opinionated, stronger, and more capable than they were expecting, and that translates in their heads, into "feminist."

I get to actually do that, because my grandmother would call herself a feminist. She rails every time someone tries to restrict access to birth control. And her life was very directly affected by societal expectations for women. She wanted to be a doctor, but her father wouldn't pay for that education. She became a nurse instead. She married an engineer, and very unexpectedly, became a minister's wife. She liked cities, and ended up living in small towns most of her adult life, as my grandfather's work, first as an engineer and later as a minister, took them up north to New Liskeard, and then later, to manses in small town Harrowsmith and Brownsville. She loved my grandfather, but I'm not entirely sure how much she liked being a minster's wife.

A lot of her life was out of her own control, and I'm very sure that frustrating.

Sorry, that's mostly a digression. I just wanted to tell you a little bit about my wonderful grandmother, who makes quilts that are more beautiful and vivid than any quilts I've ever seen, who has been studying colour her whole life. Who taught me how to swear (or maybe it was my mother. This is still up for debate.) Who, at 95, spends most of her downtime doing sudoku puzzles. Who ends every phone conversation with me with "don't forget I love you."

I was thinking about that in the context of this book, how very culture specific this book is, and yet how much of it she might still have identified with. She's seen a lot of changes in women's lives, the struggles that have passed and the struggles that are still here.

Moran is trying to write a new manifesto, which I'm not entirely convinced she does, but the book is entertaining, and as consciousness-raising groups in the sixties well knew, sometimes the place to start is by sharing our own personal stories, and beginning to realize how some difficulties are both shared, and have deeper roots than we had previously perceived.

How To Be A Woman is fun. It's fairly light. It is unapologetically feminist. I don't agree with all of her assertions, but I enjoyed reading it, and had fun with her takedowns of some of the experiences women have in common that are a pain in the ass, and yet unavoidable. We need these pop culture explorations of feminism to accompany all those works of theory.

It's mostly a memoir, really, focused around parts of her life that have most to do with being a woman, and what that means in a society that still lays a lot of contradictory expectations on women. It also makes me thankful for what feminism has achieved so far. Heck, in my life, it's likely going to be me who moves for a job, and my husband who gets dragged along.

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