I laid on the couch last week for quite some time and wondered if I should write about Caitlin Moran's How to Be a Woman here.
No fooling. Now, granted, we are in a run of somewhat craptacular February weather here in Wisconsin, and cabin fever and the blahs have set in in a big way, but normally I do have slightly more exciting things to do than lay around on the couch and think about blogging. But there you have it. You'll see why I was giving this one some thought in just a bit.
Moran's a popular columnist and critic in Great Britain, and I know I saw this book on a number of "buzz books"-type lists last year, so I picked it up. It is exactly what the title proclaims it to be--a very handy guide to womanhood punctuated by stories from Moran's own sometimes funny, mostly cringe-worthy journey to adult womanhood. Most of the early chapters ("I Start Bleeding!" "I Become Furry!" "I Don't Know What to Call My Breasts!") in particular focus on her childhood, being raised in a large, poor family. And I don't mean American 1980s poor, where you grew up without cable. I mean poor, where she had to wear her mother's hand-me-down underwear as a teenager.*
I started the book not too interested, but somewhere in the middle I started getting a real charge out of it. Perhaps it's because she seems so sensible--she'd like to see some porn where the women are actually enjoying themselves, for a change; it's ridiculous to shave off all of your pubic hair because that's the going style and because men (evidently fed by quantities of hair-free porn? I confess my knowledge of porn is not extensive) demand it; spending tens of thousands of dollars on your wedding and expecting it to be the best day of your life are both ridiculous. These are all thoughts I can get behind, and for the most part, she's funny while making these points, such as this one, about pubic hair waxing:
"I can't believe we've got to a point where it's basically costing us money to have a vagina. They're making us pay for maintenance and upkeep of our lulus, like they're a communal garden. It's a stealth tax. Muff excised. This is money we should be spending on THE ELECTRICITY BILL and CHEESE and BERETS." (p. 46.)
The line directly before that one is "Can you imagine if we asked men to put up with this shit? They'd laugh you out the window before you got halfway through the first sentence." I think she's really on to something there.
She even changed my thoughts a bit on strip clubs. Now, for most of my adult life, I have not been all that bothered by strip clubs. I have largely been of the "maybe it's actually an okay-paying job for some women" persuasion. My only really strong feeling about them has been that men should only be allowed in with five-dollar bills (or better yet, tens or twenties) and no change should be given for anything. But with paragraphs like this Moran might start winning me over to her point of view on them:
"Strip clubs let everyone down. Men and women approach their very worst here. There's no self-expression or joy in these joints--no springboard to self-discovery, or adventure, like any decent night out involving men, women, alcohol, and taking your clothes off. Why do so many people have a gut reaction against strip clubs? Because, inside them, no one's having fun.
Instead, people are expressing needs (to earn money, to see a woman's skin) in pretty much the most depressing way possible...
And the men--oh, are you any gentler or happier? You cannot put your hand on your heart and say--as the music starts up, and she moves toward you--that you have kind feelings toward these women. No man who ever cared for or anted to impress a woman made her stand in front of him and take her knickers off to earn cab fare home...Between 60 and 80 percent of strippers come from a background of sexual abuse. This place is a mess, a horrible mess. Every dance, every private booth, is a small unhappiness, an ugly impoliteness: the bastard child of misogyny and commerce." (pp. 163-164.)
By this point in the book I'm thinking, huh, this woman is actually making a lot of sense. On a lot of topics.
So why did I end up laying on the couch wondering if I had the energy to talk about this book? Well, I skipped ahead to the chapter titled "Abortion." And here's the crux of the matter--and a SPOILER. Read on only if you want to find out what happens in that chapter.
Well, Moran has an abortion, to end an unplanned third pregnancy conceived in her marriage. She's pretty matter of fact about it all, explaining that she just could not take on a third child, and then describing the procedure. She concludes the chapter by saying that, for her, it was an action with only good consequences.
And that's where I hit the ground in this book with a big thud. I can't help it. I am and always will be anti-abortion.** I'm not going to get into the whys and wherefores of this, and I'm not going to say I don't empathize with Moran's feelings. Trust me, I only have the one CRjr and I can UNDERSTAND how one or more kids saps your energy. But still. It's just a deal-breaker for me and it always will be.
So where are we left?
With an overly long blog post, I realize. But I thought, what the hell, what good is a book blog if we can't talk about every aspect of how we react to books? I'm not sorry I read this one. Did the last chapter I read ruin some of my enjoyment of the early chapters, during which I was feeling almost frighteningly simpatico with the author? Well, sure. But I'm going to take this as an important reminder about nonfiction specifically (because the author is often telling you exactly how THEY feel, without filtering it through fiction) and books in general: they are a conversation. They don't always end how you think they will. And a lot of times you will feel the shock of recognition, of love, even, with their authors, but then eventually you'll realize, sadly, that this relationship is not for you. Doesn't make either of you bad people. Doesn't mean I won't meet other people who I think will really enjoy this book, and I will tell them about it in positive terms. But it also doesn't mean I'll feel compelled to read her next book, either.
Sorry to unload all of that on you. Next time I face this dilemma of whether or not to bore you with an overlong post on a book I'm conflicted about, I'll decide against, I promise.
*I realize there are still more heinous scales of poverty, but come on. To most of us, having to wear our mother's worn-out hand-me-down underwear would be more than poor enough for us, thank you.
**You can see why I've always been conflicted about voting. Once a co-worker asked me why I don't vote, and I said, "I'm anti-war and anti-abortion. For whom should I vote?" And she said, "Huh. That IS a tough one."