How to write an excellent feminist book

How To Be A Woman

By Caitlin Moran

Caitlin Moran keeps it real – that’s a trite phrase these days, but I can’t think of more apt praise for Moran’s writing. Having never read any of her columns or articles, I went into this book cold, albeit receptive to what its marketers described as an irreverent take on feminism. For once, the marketers were right. Eschewing academic discourse and sociological analysis, Moran has nevertheless managed to write a book that penetrates and subverts patriarchy.

Her style is personal and direct. Many would describe her as shouty or ranty. Indeed, several female friends of mine have criticised Moran’s approach for these reasons. But I don’t have such a problem. On the contrary, I think that in 2011, Moran’s style works really well – maybe I say this because I generally agree with her, or maybe because I think she retains her reason despite being so personal about things. The fact is that however shouty she may be, she always brings her argument back to biscuits or Time Team. She has the passion one needs to challenge patriarchy, but the humility and good humour to not be a dick about it. She’s Richard Dawkins in a Teletubby suit. How much more persuasive would his arguments against God be if he didn’t sound like such a spoilt git? If he didn’t take himself so seriously? I think it’s brilliant – a major achievement – that Moran doesn’t have to take herself so seriously as a feminist in 2011. The movement must march onward with as much vigour as yesterday, but Moran shows that today it’s possible to march with a spring in your step.

But the fact that a number of female friends have rejected Moran’s style worries me. And it makes me wonder whether there is such a thing as female feminist writing for men. I know that Moran wins praise from many women, too, but if writing could be gendered, could her writing be more at the male of the spectrum? I wouldn’t use crude or sexist tools for locating it on that spectrum (it’s not just about how many times she mentions sex and booze versus handbags and shoes). I just wonder whether male feminists might be more open to Moran’s style than that of other writers?

I wouldn’t want to leave you with the impression that this book is all polemic. It is also a memoir, a supremely funny comedy and an astute insight into society in Britain. It is not at all stuffy; that is not to say it is not heavy; it is accessible and relatable. For that, Moran deserves great praise.

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