Read again: D for Dalrymple on How To Be A Woman

Scanning the Guardian today,  I came across this review, by Nicholas Lezard, of D for Dalrymple fave Caitlin Moran‘s How To Be A Woman.

(That’s a lot of hyperlinks for one sentence. If you clicked on all of them, you win a prize. The prize will be revealed when you’ve clicked on all of the hyperlinks.)

The review was a man’s perspective on the book. He liked it. That’s not the point. The point is, the review reminded me that friend of D for Dalrymple Neil (who is coincidentally also a man but, as far as I know, unrelated to Nicholas Lezard) a long time ago requested a transcript of my review for Carrie‘s show on NTS Live, on the basis that deaf people should have just as much access to the mind-blunting qualities of D for Dalrymple’s prose as the unfortunate hearing.

It’s with this in mind that I post below a transcript of the D for Dalrymple review of How To Be A Woman from January’s edition of Kiss My Arts. I’m afraid it’s proved impossible to provide a full transcript of the unscripted interview that followed, but if you’re unable to listen you should know that we debated the point (or lack thereof) of Lady Gaga, ‘retro chic’, Cath Kidston, cupcakes and that I sounded pretty


If you’re hearing and you’d like to listen again, you can access the link to the recording on Soundcloud at the bottom of this post, or through the original post here. If not – see below. And if you haven’t gone out and bought yourself a copy yet – why not? Get on it.

CATlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman  [inexplicable Northern accent] was published in June last year, and since then has sold over 150,000 copies and won five awards, including the Galaxy Book of the Year. A film is in development with Film4, and there’s also a sitcom in the pipeline.

Publishers Ebury promoted the book as an updated version of Germaine Greer’s famous  text, The Female Eunuch, and the blurb on the cover references the storming of the Miss World competition, and the martyrdom of suffragette Emily Davidson. It’s clear that this is a book with an a-gen-da. But does it live up to the hype? And what kind of title is that?

How To Be A Woman. Don’t worry, boys – this book isn’t advocating any radical lifestyle changes for you, and although it’s pri-ma-ri-ly aimed at women, you shouldn’t feel excluded.

In How To Be A Woman, Moran takes readers on a whistlestop tour of episodes from her life that have shaped her identity, not only as a woman but as, quote, ‘one of the guys’ – that’s to say, a grown-up human being. We learn about her impoverished childhood and awkward adolescence, her traumatic initiation to puberty, the first stirrings of her sexuality. First love, an abusive relationship, a male dom-in-ated workplace, marriage, miscarriage, kids, abortion: each has a chapter, and along the way we’re made privy to her views on a number of other pressing issues that affect women today, from strip-clubs and the glass ceiling to the much-written-about pants issue – Moran contends that they are too small nowadays – and how women who opt for fairytale weddings are letting the side down.

CATlin Moran is by no means the only woman writing about feminism today [hgurghhhhhh], but her accessible, engaging approach and broad humour set her apart from many of the other writers publishing in this area. As she says in her introduction – tongue lodged firmly in cheek – “feminism is too important to only be discussed by academics… [realises tone has become overly earnest – switches to ‘jocular’ voice] now is really the time for it to be championed by a light-hearted broadsheet columnist.”

Moran may be a broadsheet columnist, but she’s also a prolific tweeter. Her writing is joyfully anarchic, littered with internet speak and lovingly embellished with caps for things that she feels are REALLY important. This is a book that fizzes with fun. You could say that How To Be A Woman has created an entirely new genre in non-fiction: ‘feminist humour’, as the book’s cover would have it.

As a card-carrying feminist – and as Carrie said earlier, I am actually wearing the T-shirt as we speak [as if I would be talking about any other fucking time – idiot, fuck] – I was interested to know what the feminist reception to this ‘feminist humour’ book might be. Predictably, it was mixed. Online, there are seething debates around Moran’s treatment of feminism: whether she has addressed the wrong issues, or neglected to mention the right ones. Some of the criticism was even levelled at the humour itself, and whether it’s appropriate for a subject that encompasses issues like abortion, domestic abuse, and female dis-en-fran-chise-ment. [Momentary pause for pronunciatory self-congratulation.]

After all, it’s all very well advising woman to laugh in the face of sexism and to accuse misogynists of rudeness, as Moran does – but where does that leave us when it comes to the wage gap of around 15% between men and women in the UK? How will making jokes stop sex trafficking, boost the rape conviction rate, or prevent politicians from erecting legislative barriers to women’s reproductive rights?

[Insufficient pause, incongruous change of subject] But, when it comes down to it, that’s not Moran’s mandate. And, in some ways, this book is the PR exercise that mainstream feminism so desperately needs. After all, feminists aren’t supposed to be funny. They’re earnest! About issues! Big issues! And they’re also humourless, hairy man-haters – right? Well of COURSE not. [Charity laugh from studio.] I myself am only one of those things. Moran smashes that tired preconception to bits, and in doing so opens up the feminist debate to an entirely new audience.

It’s particularly interesting reading, perhaps, for  women who might think that feminism is now irrelevant, because they, personally, are allowed to vote, go to university and work to the same pay-scales as their male colleagues.

But one of Moran’s cleverest achievements with this book has been to point out the various ways in which sexism has gone underground – has been neatly rebranded and sold back to us over the years in the form of lifestyle “choices”, such as the “options” to ironically visit strip clubs, painfully remove our body hair, and squeeze into uncomfortable, un-wearable clothing.

While the book may not dwell on statistics and research relating to the most hard-hitting social issues, it does tackle, head-on, the kind of insidious, low-level misogyny that pervades our culture. If you’ve ever opened the paper and thought ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if the Daily Mail could attack Theresa May’s policies, rather than her cleavage or her choice in footwear?’ – this could be the book for you.

Of course, I disagree with Moran on a couple of points. Take burlesque, for example. While Moran concludes, a bit like me, that strip clubs are little more than, quote, “’light entertainment’ versions of the entire history of misogyny” – burlesque shows, because they are more artistic, have better props and are attended by gay men, are somehow acceptable. I felt that not enough attention was given to the very obvious contradictions in this argument, and would have liked to have seen it “fleshed out” a little more.

The other thing I fear Moran and I will never see eye-to-eye on is Lady Gaga, of whom Moran is, famously, a megafan. I, famously, don’t see the point.  But, on the whole, I AM a CATlin Moran megafan. Just listen to this fantastic quote:

“It’s difficult to see the glass ceiling because it’s made of glass. What we need is for more birds to fly above it and shit all over it, so we can see it properly.”

How To Be A Woman saw me cry with laughter, pause for thought, and yearn for a sequel.

And what next? Well, Moran has spoken publicly about her hope that How To Be A Woman will provoke a more widespread feminist debate. She’s one of a wave of female authors who write entertainingly, with humour and energy, on subjects that touch on feminism. For a comprehensive list, you can just refer to Moran’s Twitter feed. There are legions of funny, clever, angry, cool women out there just waiting to unleash their talents on this important subject. I can’t wait.

Carrie Plitt: Hurray.

DfD: Yah.

CP: Woo hoo. I feel like clapping.

[Does not clap.]

About Christina Kenny

Christina Kenny is a music journalist based in London.
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