I doubt I’ll ever have the chutzpah to write a how-to book on anything, even if peddling myself as an expert on something might earn me better sales. Clearly, the all-knowing title How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran is meant to grab people’s attention, and sure enough, it worked. But if it were honest, it would have been called “How to be Caitlin Moran, Who Also Happens to be a Woman.”
It’s a book I’m glad I read, but can’t say I’d ever want to read again. I’m glad I read it because I occasionally like to buy books from authors I already know I’ll disagree with on a number of issues. Regardless of your views on abortion, too many people form their opinion without personally experiencing it for themselves or talking to anyone who has, so the chapter about Moran’s abortion was eye-opening (though it did grieve me that it was easier for her to decide on having an abortion than how to remodel her kitchen. Maybe I was wrong in assuming that most women don’t decide on abortion lightly? Hey – I learned something).
But it also occurred to me just how un-feminist it is to tell other women how to be feminist, which is not an easy thing for me to admit. I wish more women saw pornography as degrading and unhealthy; I wish more women would stop using their looks as a means to get ahead. But that’s me assuming that women who think differently didn’t come to those viewpoints using their own free agency. I’ve been prone to thinking, She must have been abused – that’s why she thinks she can find worth in porn. She must have had shallow parents – that’s why she thinks her body is her greatest asset. What a shock it was to me that some people can disagree simply because they disagree.
So it was with some annoyance that I plodded through Moran’s book, feeling forced to swallow the notions that being feminist = being pro pornography (as long as no one is being coerced or trafficked), having strict guidelines on maintaining pubic hair, tasting my own menstrual blood (full-on judging for that one: who does that?!), eschewing high heels, naming your vagina, believing that stripping is bad, but somehow burlesque dancing is the Pinnacle of Empowerment. That doesn’t make her much different than The Patriarchy telling women they were designed for certain roles. A little more emphasis on a woman’s right to free agency over her own life choices would have been nice.
I get that, for posterity’s sake, feminism has to have some kind of definition that is more or less stagnant; mine is “believing in the inherent worth and dignity of all women, and that they should have the same rights and privileges afforded to men.” But even as general and non-specific as I think that answer is, it’s going to sound like preaching to somebody, which puts me in an awkward place between making the label my own and saying “screw it” to anyone who doesn’t like it, or calling myself something else altogether, because the original label has become too tainted.