A Memoir of Masturbation, Menstruation and Music
How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
I used to think Caitlin Moran was cool. This was because she worked for Melody Maker and, although that wasn’t as hip as working for the NME, it sounded more fun than, say, working in insurance.
How to be a Woman is part memoir, part feminist rant. Alarm bells should have rung when I saw the word ‘feminist’ (although, being female, I’m a feminist by default; I’m just not one of those feminists. Caitlin Moran most definitely is – or, at least, aspires to be – one of those feminists. You know, the really annoying ones).
The first three chapters concentrate on Moran’s fascination with masturbation and menstruation. Because her hero, Germaine Greer, says in The Female Eunuch that everyone should taste their own menstrual blood, Moran says, ‘I have, of course, tasted my own’. I’ll pass, thanks.
A discussion around masturbation and what she calls her vagina takes up an entire chapter. She also uses an impressive nine different names for it in two pages (including ‘lulu’, ‘moof’, Chihuahua’ and ‘toot’) and recounts a two-hour conversation with her sister where they suggest ‘Rolf’, as they decide it looks like Rolf Harris’ beard. Despite her vast vagina-based vocabulary, she can’t conjure up anything more creative to call masturbation than ‘it’ (‘“Masturbation” sounds too much like “perturbation”, “Wank … sounds like cranking a handle”’, she says).
Moran’s vagina monologue doesn’t stop there. We are treated to graphic descriptions of childbirth (‘my waters are unbroken – they break them with a crochet hook’) and abortion (‘The doctor then uses a vacurette to hoover my womb out’), and my own womb starts to spasm in sympathy. How her editor resisted reaching for the biggest red marker pen to scrawl TOO MUCH INFORMATION all over the manuscript, I don’t know.
A quarter of the way through the book, she starts getting SHOUTY and TYPING IN CAPITALS. This, as well as being unnecessary, is annoying. Fortunately, towards the end of the book she stops being shouty and turns off the caps lock.
Moran’s credibility shrinks when she writes about her time at Melody Maker in 1993. She whinges there weren’t any female singers to write about, making do with putting Echobelly on the cover. She asks where were the female rock bands to rival Led Zeppelin or Guns ‘n’ Roses. She obviously didn’t look very far. Come in L7 and Hole. And if they weren’t good enough for her, just how much more of an example of feminism did she need in 1993 than Anjali – the overweight Asian female singer of Voodoo Queens – screaming ‘Just get your shallow diets out of my face / Your thigh-rendering body-toning schemes’ in ‘Supermodel Superficial’? Remind me, where was Moran working that stopped her from hearing about these bands? An insurance office? No, Melody Maker. The music paper.
There are times, though, when I’m laughing and nodding my head in agreement (I too have neither a capsule wardrobe or a £600 investment handbag). She has an undeniable warmth to her writing, being funny without trying too hard. It’s just that at times she writes – to be blunt – rubbish, like she’s having an argument but with no one in particular. When Andrew Marr wrote in The Guardian that blogging is ‘the spewings and rantings of very drunk people late at night’, given her outpourings in How to be a Woman, he could have been talking about Moran, except Moran doesn’t need a blog. She already has one. It’s called ‘a column in The Times’.