How to be a woman, p.1
How to Be a Woman, p.1Caitlin Moran
About the Book
About the Author
Prologue: The Worst Birthday Ever
Chapter 1: I Start Bleeding!
Chapter 2: I Become Furry!
Chapter 3: I Don’t Know What To Call My Breasts!
Chapter 4: I Am A Feminist!
Chapter 5: I Need A Bra!
Chapter 6: I Am Fat!
Chapter 7: I Encounter Some Sexism!
Chapter 8: I Am In Love!
Chapter 9: I Go Lap-dancing!
Chapter 10: I Get Married!
Chapter 11: I Get Into Fashion!
Chapter 12: Why You Should Have Children
Chapter 13: Why You Shouldn’t Have Children
Chapter 14: Role Models And What We Do With Them
Chapter 15: Abortion
Chapter 16: Intervention
ABOUT THE BOOK
1913: Suffragette throws herself under the King's horse
1970: Feminists storm Miss World
Now: Caitlin Moran rewrites The Female Eunuch from a bar stool and demands to know why pants are getting smaller
There’s never been a better time to be a woman: we have the vote and the Pill, and we haven’t been burnt as witches since 1727. However, a few nagging questions do remain ...
Why are we supposed to get Brazilians? Should you get Botox? Do men secretly hate us? What should you call your vagina? Why does your bra hurt? And why does everyone ask you when you’re going to have a baby?
Part memoir, part rant, Caitlin Moran answers these questions and more in How To Be a Woman – following her from her terrible 13th birthday (‘I am 13 stone, have no friends, and boys throw gravel at me when they see me’) through adolescence, the workplace, strip clubs, love, fat, abortion, Topshop, motherhood and beyond.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Caitlin Moran had literally no friends in 1990, and so had plenty of time to write her first novel, The Chronicles of Narmo, at the age of fifteen. At sixteen she joined music weekly Melody Maker, and at eighteen briefly presented the pop show ‘Naked City’ on Channel 4. Following this precocious start she then put in eighteen solid years as a columnist on The Times – both as a TV critic and also in the most-read part of the paper, the satirical celebrity column ‘Celebrity Watch’ – winning the British Press Awards’ Columnist of The Year award in 2010.
The eldest of eight children, home-educated in a council house in Wolverhampton, Caitlin read lots of books about feminism – mainly in an attempt to be able to prove to her brother, Eddie, that she was scientifically better than him.
Caitlin isn’t really her name. She was christened ‘Catherine’. But she saw ‘Caitlin’ in a Jilly Cooper novel when she was 13 and thought it looked exciting. That’s why she pronounces it incorrectly: ‘Catlin’. It causes trouble for everyone.
The Worst Birthday Ever
WOLVERHAMPTON, 5 APRIL 1988
Here I am, on my 13th birthday. I am running. I’m running from The Yobs.
I’m running from The Yobs in the playground by our house. It is a typical playground of Britain in the late eighties. There’s no such thing as safety surfaces, ergonomic design or, indeed, slats on the benches. Everything’s made of concrete, broken Corona pop bottles and weeds.
As I run, I’m totally alone. I can feel the breath in my throat catching, like sick. I’ve seen nature documentaries like this before. I can see what’s happening here. My role is, clearly, that of ‘weak antelope, separated from the pack’. The Yobs are ‘the lions’. I know this never really ends well for the antelope. Soon, my role will turn into a new one: that of ‘lunch’.
I’m wearing Wellington boots, NHS glasses that make me look like Alan Bennett, and my dad’s Withnail-style army coat. I do not, I admit, look very feminine. Diana, Princess of Wales is feminine. Kylie Minogue is feminine. I am … femi-none. So I understand The Yobs’ confusion. They do not look as if they have dabbled much in either a) the iconography of the counter-culture or b) the inspirational imagery of radical gender-benders. I imagine they were confused by both Annie Lennox and Boy George when they appeared on Top of the Pops.
If they weren’t so busy chasing me, I would probably say something to this effect. Maybe I would tell them that I have read The Well of Loneliness, by famous, trouser-wearing lesbian Radclyffe Hall, and that they need to open their minds to alternative modes of dress. Perhaps I would mention Chrissie Hynde, too. She wears masculine tailoring. And Caryn Franklin on The Clothes Show – and she seems lovely!
The Yobs stop for a moment, and appear to confer. I slow to a trot, lean against a tree and hyperventilate wildly. I am knackered. At 13 stone, I am not really built for hot pursuit. I am less Zola Budd – more Elmer Fudd. As I catch my breath, I reflect on my situation.
It would be amazing, I think, if I had a pet dog. A well-trained German Shepherd, who would attack these boys – almost brutally. An animal really in tune with the fear and apprehension of its owner.
I observe my pet German Shepherd, Saffron, 200 yards away. She is joyfully rolling in a slick of fox shit, and waving her legs in the air with joy. The dog looks so happy. Today is working out really well for it. This is a much longer, and faster, walk than usual.
Although today is obviously not working out very well for me, I am none the less surprised when – having finished their tête-à-tête – The Yobs pause for a minute, and then start throwing stones at me. That seems a bit extreme, I think. I start running again.
You don’t have to go to this bother to oppress me! I think, indignantly. I was already pretty subjugated! Honestly – you had me at ‘Pikey’.
Only a few of the stones actually hit me and, obviously, they don’t hurt: this coat has been through a war, possibly two. Pebbles are nothing. It’s built for grenades.
But it’s the thought that counts. All this time spent on me, when they could be engaging in other, more worthwhile pursuits – like abusing solvents, and fingering girls who are actually dressed as girls.
As if reading my mind, after a minute or so The Yobs begin to lose interest in me. It looks like I’m yesterday’s antelope now. I’m still running, but they’re just standing still – throwing the occasional rock in my direction, in an almost leisurely way, until I’m out of range. They don’t stop shouting, however.
‘You bloke!’ the biggest Yob shouts, as a final thought at my departing back. ‘You … bummer!’
I get home, and cry on the doorstep. It’s honestly too crowded to cry in the house. I’ve tried crying in the house before – you explain why you’re crying to one person between the sobs, and then you’re only halfway through before someone else comes in, and needs to hear the story from the top again, and before you know it, you’ve told the worst bit six times, and wound yourself up into such an hysterical state you have hiccups for the rest of the afternoon.
When you live in a small house with five younger siblings, it’s actually far more sensible – and much quicker – to cry alone.
I look at the dog.
If you were a good and faithful hound, you’d drink the tears off my face, I think.
Saffron noisily licks her vagina instead.
Saffron is our new dog – ‘the stupid new dog’. She is also a ‘dodgy dog’ – my dad ‘procured’ her in one of the deals he periodically conducts at the Hollybush pub, which involve us sitting outside in the van for two hours, while he occasionally brings us crisps, or a bottle of Coke. At so
‘It’s gone a bit serious in there,’ he would say, before gunning off at top speed, pissed.
On one occasion, the incongruous thing he came out carrying was Saffron – a one-year-old German Shepherd.
‘Used to be a police dog,’ he said, proudly, putting her in the back of the van with us, where she promptly shat all over everything. Further investigation revealed that, whilst she had been a police dog, it was only a week before the police dog trainers realised she was profoundly psychologically disturbed, and scared of:
1) loud noises
2) the dark
3) all people
4) all other dogs
5) and suffers stress incontinence.
Still, she is my dog and, technically, the only friend I have who isn’t a blood relation.
‘Stay near, old friend!’ I say to her, blowing my nose on my sleeve, and resolving to become cheerful again. ‘Today will be truly notable!’
Having finished crying, I climb over the side fence and let myself in through the back door. Mum is in the kitchen, ‘getting the party ready’.
‘Go into the front room!’ she says. ‘Wait in there! And DON’T LOOK AT THE CAKE! It’s a surprise!’
The front room is packed with my siblings. They have materialised from every nook and cranny in the house. In 1988, there are six of us – there are eight by the time the decade is out. My mother is like some Ford car production line, producing a small, gobby baby every two years, as regular as clockwork, until our house is full to bursting point.
Caz – two years younger than me, ginger, nihilistic – is lying across the sofa. She doesn’t move when I come in. There is nowhere else for me to sit.
‘AHEM!’ I say, pointing at the badge on my lapel. It says, ‘It’s my BIRTHDAY!!!!’ I am forgetting all about crying now. I have moved on.
‘It’ll be over in six hours,’ she says, flatly, immobile. ‘Why don’t we just stop the charade now?’
‘Only six hours of FUN left!’ I say. ‘Six hours of BIRTHDAY FUN. Who KNOWS what could happen! This place is a MAD HOUSE, after all!’
I am, by and large, boundlessly positive. I have all the joyful ebullience of an idiot. My diary entry for yesterday was ‘moved the deep fat fryer onto the other worktop – it looks BRILLIANT!’
My favourite place in the world – the south beach at Aberystwyth – has a sewage outfall pipe on it.
I truly believe the new, stupid dog is our old dog, reincarnated – even though our new dog was born two years before the old dog died.
‘But you can see Sparky’s eyes in there!’ I will say, looking at the stupid new dog. ‘Sparky NEVER LEFT US!’
Rolling her eyes in disdain, Caz gives me her card. It is a picture of me, in which she has drawn my nose so that it takes up approximately three-quarters of my head.
‘Remember: you promised you’d move out on your 18th birthday, so I can have your room,’ it says inside. ‘Only five years to go now! Unless you die before then! Love Caz.’
Weena is nine – her card is also based around me moving out and giving her my bedroom: although she has robots saying it, which makes it less ‘personal’.
Space really is at a premium in our house, as evidenced by the fact I still have nowhere to sit. I am just about to sit on my brother Eddie when Mum comes in, holding a plate of burning candles.
‘Happy Birthday TO YOU!’ everyone sings to me. ‘I went to THE ZOO. I saw a FAT MONKEY – and I THOUGHT IT WAS YOU!’
Mum crouches down to where I am on the floor, and holds the plate out in front of me.
‘Blow them out and make a wish!’ she says, brightly.
‘It’s not a cake,’ I say. ‘It’s a baguette.’
‘Filled with Philadelphia!’ mum says, cheerfully.
‘It’s a baguette,’ I repeat. ‘And there’s only seven candles.’
‘You’re too old for a cake any more,’ Mum says, blowing out the candles herself. ‘And the candles count for two years each!’
‘That would be 14.’
‘Stop being so fussy!’
I eat my birthday baguette. It’s lovely. I love Philadelphia. Lovely Philadelphia! So cool! So creamy!
That night – in the bed I share with my three-year-old sister, Prinnie – I write up my diary.
‘My 13th birthday!!!!’ I write. ‘Porridge for brekkie, sausage and chips for dinner, baguette for tea. Got £20 all in all. 4 cards and 2 letters. Get green (teenage) ticket from library tomorrow!!!!! Man next door asked us if we wanted some chairs he was throwing out. We said YES!!!!’
I stare at the entry for a minute. I should put everything in, I think. I can’t leave out the bad stuff.
‘Some boys were shouting rude thinks [sic] in the field,’ I write, slowly. ‘It’s because their willies are getting big.’
I have read enough about puberty to know that burgeoning sexual desires can often make teenage boys act cruelly towards girls.
I also know that, in this case, it really was not suppressed desire that made those boys throw gravel at me while I ran up a hill – but I don’t want my diary to pity me. As far as my diary will know, I had the philosophical upper hand there. This diary is for glory only.
I stare at the entry for my 13th birthday. A moment of unwelcome clarity washes over me. Here I am, I think, sharing my bed with a toddler, and wearing my dad’s old thermal underwear as pyjamas. I am 13 years old, I am 13 stone, I have no money, no friends, and boys throw gravel at me when they see me. It’s my birthday, and I went to bed at 7.15pm.
I turn to the back page of my diary. This is where I have my ‘long-term’ projects. For instance, ‘My Bad Points’.
My Bad Points
1) I eat too much
2) I don’t take any exercise
3) Quick bursts of rage
4) Loseing [sic] everything
‘My Bad Points’ were written down on New Year’s Eve. A month later, I have written my progress report:
1) I no longer eat gingernuts
2) Take dog for a walk every day
Underneath all these, I draw a line, and write my new list.
By The Time I’m 18
1) Loose weight [sic]
2) Have good clothes
3) Have freinds [sic]
4) Train dog properly
5) Ears pierced?
Oh God. I just don’t have a clue. I don’t have a clue how I will ever be a woman.
When Simone de Beauvoir said, ‘One is not born a woman – one becomes one,’ she didn’t know the half of it.
In the 22 years that have passed since my 13th birthday, I have become far more positive about being a woman – indeed to be honest, it all picked up considerably when I got some fake ID, a laptop and a nice blouse – but in many ways, there is no crueller or more inappropriate present to give a child than oestrogen and a big pair of tits. Had anyone asked me in advance of my birthday, I think I would have requested a book token or maybe a voucher for C&A, instead.
At the time, I was – as you can see – far too busy fighting with my siblings, training my dog and watching the classic musicals of MGM to ever have made space in my schedule for becoming a woman until my hand was forced, eventually, by my pituitary gland.
Becoming a woman felt a bit like becoming famous. For, from being benevolently generally ignored – the base-line existence of most children – a teenage girl is suddenly fascinating to others, and gets bombarded with questions: What size are you? Have you done it yet? Will you have sex with me? Have you got ID? Do you want to try a puff of this? Are you seeing anyone? Have you got protection? What’s your signature style? Can you walk in heels? Who are your heroes? Are you getting a Brazilian? What porn do you like? Do you want to get married? When are you going to have kids? Are you a feminist? Were you just flirting wi
All ridiculous questions to ask of a 13-year-old simply because she now needs a bra. They might as well have been asking my dog. I had absolutely no idea.
But – like a soldier dropped into a war zone – you have to get some ideas, and fast. You need reconnaissance. You have to plan. You have to single out your objectives, and then move. Because once those hormones kick in, there’s no way to stop them. As I rapidly discovered, you are a monkey strapped inside a rocket; an element in a bomb-timer. There isn’t an exit plan. You can’t call the whole thing off – however often you may wish you could. This shit is going to happen, whether you like it or not.
There are those who try to stop it, of course: the teenage girls who try to buy themselves time by aggressively regressing back to their five-year-old selves, and becoming obsessed with ‘girliness’, and pink. Filling their beds with teddies, to make it clear there’s no room for sex. Talking in baby language, so they aren’t asked adult questions. At school, I could see some of my contemporaries were choosing not to be active women – out there, making their own fate – but to be princesses, just waiting to be ‘found’, and married, instead. Although obviously I didn’t analyse it like that at the time. I just noticed Katie Parkes spent every maths lesson drawing hearts on her knuckles in Biro and showing them to David Morley – who, by rights, should have been experiencing his first stirrings of sexual excitement when looking at my exemplary long division instead.
And at the most dysfunctional end, of course, there are the kamikaze girls who wade into war with their pituitary – trying to starve it, or confuse it into defeat, with anorexia, or bulimia.
But the problem with battling yourself is that even if you win, you lose. At some point – scarred, and exhausted – you either accept that you must become a woman – that you are a woman – or you die. This is the brutal, root truth of adolescence – that it is often a long, painful campaign of attrition. Those self-harming girls, with the latticework of razor-cuts on their arms and thighs, are just reminding themselves that their body is a battlefield. If you don’t have the stomach for razors, a tattoo will do; or even just the lightning snap of the earring gun in Claire’s Accessories. There. There you are. You have dropped a marker-pin on your body, to reclaim yourself, to remind you where you are: inside yourself. Somewhere. Somewhere in there.
How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran / History & Fiction / Humor have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes