SMC Review: How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran

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I’ve been reading this book on and off for the last month or so, alongside Vagenda and Everyday Sexism. 

It is this book which made the biggest impact on me. For two reasons.

1) It gave me a definition of feminism that I am happy, proud even, to proclaim myself as. I am in possession of a vagina and I wish to be in sole charge of any decision related to how I care for it, what goes into it and what may come out of it. 

2) …this one’s actually more important to me personally, but harder to explain. It’s all about these three paragraphs:

“But, of course, on being freed, people who’ve been psychologically crushed don’t immediately start being glorious, confident, ostentatious things. Instead, they sit around for a while, going ‘What the fuck was that?’, trying to work out why it happened, trying – often – to see if it was their fault.

They have to work out their relationship with their former aggressors, and come up with new command structures… There’s a need to share experiences, and work out what normal is and if you want to be it. And above all, it takes time to work out what you actually believe in – to think for yourself. If everything you have been taught is the history, mores and reasoning of your victors, it takes a long, long time to work out what bits you want to keep, which bits you want to throw away: which bits are poisonous to you, and which parts are salvageable.

In short, there is a long period of gently patting yourself going ‘Am I OK? Am I alright?’, often followed by a long, long, thoughtful silence before any action gets under way.”

p253-254

In three paragraphs, Caitlin Moran summed up everything I have learned in Therapy during the last 5 months. 

I am a survivor of abuse. There are people who might quibble my definition of it, but actually, a significant number of them are the people responsible for it – so their opinions are not really worth shit. 

I am a survivor of abuse and I emerged from that process as a chewed up and spat out wreck of a human being. 

I am a survivor of abuse, and I held myself responsible for not being able to pick up, carry on and not look back. I blamed myself every time my thoughts crossed those well worn paths where I found myself lacking and glorified the people responsible for my abuse. 

I am a survivor abuse. For a significant time in my life I felt unsafe in my own home. I felt unwelcome. I felt threatened. I am now dealing with the after effects of that. 

Why didn’t I deal with it at the time?

Those three paragraphs explain why. When you come out of a situation which is, as Caitlin quite rightly says, ‘poisonous’ – you need time to clear your head. To actually think about what happened to you. To go through everything and find a new point of view, a new perspective, one which doesn’t place you at the bottom of every heap.

You need time to reflect, to discuss and yes – to dwell. And it might be frustrating for everyone around you that you want to talk about it and retalk about it and go over it, but you know what? They didn’t live it. I’m sorry if any of the people I spoke to repeatedly were bored by me talking through and coming to terms with some horrific abuse which nearly resulted in my death, but I had to live it and I had to deal with it in my own way. Why? Because that was the first declaration of independence I had made in years. 

I am dealing with it now. I am putting it aside, putting it behind and moving on, and there are things I can look at now and now cower from in terror in my own head. I don’t think the vast majority of people will ever understand what that feels like. 

Aside from being my own personal revelation let’s talk about this book.

Caitlin Moran’s book is wildly funny, incredibly touching and almost poignant in its honest. Here is someone who makes no apologies for any decision she has ever made in her life and it is as refreshing as a long pint after a dusty walk to read this, because women authors, and female characters, spend a lot of their time apologizing and justifying their actions. 

This book looks at some of the things we feel compelled to do, and say, and be, and yes apologize for, in the process of becoming ‘Women’ and it brings into clear vision a lot of the ridiculous nonsense that we are conditioned to put up with. 

I would recommend this book to any woman who has ever looked at herself in a mirror and found herself asking ‘What the fuck am I DOING this for?’. Because this book might have the answers. You might not like them, but it does give you the opportunity to reflect on that and decide what to do next.

Even if that takes a long time, and a long think and a long silence. During which you pat yourself down and figure out if you actually are OK.

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