HOW TO BE A WOMAN by Caitlin Moran (2011)
HOW TO BE A WOMAN by Caitlin Moran (2011)
I’ve always found it befuddling to be a woman. So I am grateful British writer Caitlin Moran has finally explained it in How to Be A Woman. She is also a feminist, and even though she gives in to the request for a sound byte definition on television (see BBC, 5 Minutes with Caitlin Moran, May 4, 2012) she takes her time to fully illuminate the possibilities of living feminism in her memoir-manifesto.
There was a time when I blamed the patriarchy for everything –the economy, sexism, racism, gender rules and the incredible lack of imagination we have about how we act (being gendered, sexually oriented, and racialized.) Then my son arrived. I loved and adored this new male in the house. I was determined to raise my boy and my girl to change the world, and define their own selves rather than be defined by patriarchy. Or as author and activist bell hooks says all in one exhale, “the white-supremacist-capitalist-patriarchy.”
As I see it, the burst of women’s rights activism in the Seventies and the legal efforts of the Eighties led many women to think all was well for womanhood. Feminism has had a hard time gaining any momentum over the last few decades. Rush Limbaugh, the epitome of archaic patriarchy, condemns women who ask for justice as “FemiNazis.” His extremism, and the media misconstruing the efforts of a few zealous women using “hegemony” in every other sentence, turned off a lot of girls. The academy lassoed feminism into aloof theory, which only further alienated women on the ground.
In the US the extreme right males who dare to assume their authority in these matters have the topic of reproductive rights locked down. Sandra Fluke brought this to our attention when she tried to testify before the all male House Oversight and Government Reform Committee about the need for insurance coverage for birth control. Limbaugh rushed to defile her (February 2012). Despite even these very immediate issues, few young women will embrace the F-ism word.
Moran wants a kick-ass Feminism for all humans. Her experiences of childhood poverty provide the foundation for this desire. She found her way out of deprivation through writing and pop culture. Her absolute chutzpa landed her a career as TV celebrity, music critic and columnist. I don’t know how she has time for so much sex and drinking (Reviewing Moran’s book in Slate in July 2012, Peggy Orenstein offered the subtitle: “The drunken, furious, delightful life of Caitlin Moran…”) but she sustains a loving marriage, motherhood, career, and much popularity.
Moran is at her most savvy and daring in the memoir entering the discourse on reproduction. She offers three chapters “Why You Should Have Children,” “Why You Shouldn’t Have Children” followed by “Role Models and What We Do with Them” before she presents “Abortion.” Moran’s party girl antics and the espresso martinis evaporate as she pulls her craft and insight together to write that chapter, which snaps every synapse discussing this complex, divisive, private, hot button topic. She offers her denial, her realization that she may indeed be pregnant, takes us to the doctor’s office, through the ultrasound, through the abortion procedure and through her clarity and precision regarding her decisions. Most of us have been on this journey with relatives, friends, or alone. “Abortion” offers a very refreshing mindset of a woman profoundly knowing what is best for her and her family.
As a reminder, in Why Have Kids? (see the 9/14 post in this blog) Jessica Valenti tells us that only a third of U.S. children are planned, and that the abuse of children in our country is higher than any industrialized nation. Why? Moran writes, “And the most important thing of all, of course, is to be wanted, desired, and cared for by a reasonably sane, stable mother.” This to me is the most clear and profound response to any antiabortion argument, and an answer to why so many children are abused.
Moran goes on,
“I cannot understand antiabortion arguments that center on the sanctity of life. As a species, we’ve fairly comprehensively demonstrated that we don’t believe in the sanctity of life. The shrugging acceptance of war, famine, epidemic, pain, and lifelong grinding poverty show us that, whatever we tell ourselves, we’ve made only the most feeble of efforts to really treat human life as sacred. I don’t understand, then, why, in the midst of all this, pregnant women—women trying to make rational decisions about their futures and, usually, those of their families, too—should be subject to more pressure about preserving life, than, say, Vladimir Putin, the World Bank, or the Catholic Church” (268-269).
This is a life-saving moral standard. Health care and the widest assortment of options for pregnant women would bring us a planet full of children who are wanted, who can be cared for by parents, and grow up to be creative and contribute rather than destructively unemployed and angry. This has got to become a global effort global effort in the face of the hate we see streamed across the Internet. That hate has no borders, and the consequences are dire. The energy that gets put into antiabortion efforts distracts from the real work at hand.
Moran, this luscious heterosexual, takes this on. She describes the details of birthing (sex, birth, breastfeeding, exhaustion and joy) two bouncing baby girls, and then deciding to have an abortion. It is a decision she and her husband make with utter respect and love for one another and their family.
I do have a confession to make here. Some women love being pregnant and they love the birth experience. I actually bless my blocked fallopian tube and have such gratitude for the birth giver of my children. I am so grateful she decided as she did, for the infants, for her and her future. I have learned more than I even know as a Mom. I wanted these kids, oh I wanted them so. I send her over a zillion thanks regularly. I thought I had to be pregnant to be a real woman. I’ve come to know that birthing a child doesn’t make you more of a woman or even a mother. Women having choices does.
From what I see in my undergraduate classrooms, most young women and men agree, and they wonder what the fuss is all about. Gay Marriage. Reproductive Rights. Interracial Couples. Women Executives. Most of the young people I meet think old people and old ways of thinking are just in the way. I want them to be right. Move over patriarchy, the next generation has you dismantled already.