How to Be a Woman

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How to be a Woman
Caitlin Moran, How to be a Woman Cover.jpg
AuthorCaitlin Moran
CountryUnited Kingdom
PublishedJune 16, 2011
PublisherEbury Press
AwardsGalaxy National Book Awards, Irish Book Award

How to Be a Woman is a 2011 non-fiction memoir by British writer Caitlin Moran. The book documents Moran's early life (from teens until mid-thirties) including her views on feminism. As of July 2014, it had sold over a million copies.[1]


Caitlin Moran wrote How To Be a Woman with the goal of making feminism more approachable for every woman by telling stories of her own life's struggles. She wants women to stop seeing feminists as radical man-haters and to start seeing them as advocates for true equality. In her book Moran calls out any woman who doesn't identify as a feminist saying that all women are inherently feminists unless they reject any notion of personal freedom. Being labeled as a feminist could be positive or negative.[2] Moran tells her own feminist stories using "forceful and self-deprecating humor" that any woman can relate to. In an interview done by NPR, Moran says that she uses humor in her writing because "it's kind of hard to argue with someone who's making you laugh".[3]

Chapter summaries[edit]

Chapter 3: I Don't Know What To Call My Breasts![edit]

In this chapter Caitlin Moran explores the concept of naming body parts in a comfortable, yet correct way once Adolescence is reached. She starts by calling adolescence "an incredible unfolding" in which she is referring to teenagers becoming overwhelmed by all of the extra sex hormones. Caitlin says that the unfolding comes from girls being taught at an early age that words like "vagina" and "breasts" are vulgar or bad words and that their parts should be nicknamed in a more appropriate way, up until the point that these girls realize that their "bot-bot" is meant for much more mature things. When speaking of vaginas, Caitlin says "No one wants one of those" because of the connotation that comes with it; periods, examinations, etc. Due to this negative connotation people began using "slang names, pet names, made-up names" as long as they're not using the word "vagina". Caitlin talks of how she even went through this struggle, first with her sister during adolescence then again when her daughter was born. They would use any word other than "vagina". The name change that comes about around the teenage years is because, according to Caitlin, "there's no way you can refer to the place that will be the epicentre of most of your decisions and thought processes for the next 40 years as your 'bot-bot'". This same connotation comes with 'breasts', as well. Moran talks about how "breasts" isn't anyone's first choice and also how 'boobs' largely refers to "white and working class" and "exist only to jiggle up and down on the chests of women between the ages of 14 and 32". Caitlin continues contemplating other breasts nicknames and how they are or are not appropriate. Ultimately she settles on this; "The English language has yet to get its head convincingly around the problem of the average woman's [breasts]" and vagina, but the use of appropriate language is an individual's personal choice.

Chapter 12: Why You Should Have Children[edit]

Deciding to have children or not tends to be a very important topic in many marriages. A woman can often hemorrhage, or could even not make it through the birth of their baby.[2] Many parents go through the child rearing phase. Child rearing is the process of promoting and supporting the physical, emotional, social, financial, and intellectual development of a child from infancy to adulthood. Moran believes not everything about having children has a bad side, there is also good that comes out of it. Many people tend to believe the worst part of child birth is having to push out the baby, but most of the time your contractions can be your worst part of labor.[3] By Caitlin Moran's second birth she felt a big difference about the concept of birth and was relieved about how much easier the process was.[4] Children shape our souls like few other things in life, conditioning us to be more other-centered and to take a longer view of life. Having children gives parents the sense of accomplishment and a whole new outlook on life.[5]

Chapter 15: Abortion[edit]

Moran recounts the pivotal time in which she discovers she is eleven weeks pregnant. In thinking that she has all the symptoms of polycystic ovaries, she consults with her general practitioner, who has an inkling that Moran is pregnant and sends her to get an ultrasound. Up until the ultrasound, Moran has been in a state of denial, convincing herself that there is no chance she is pregnant despite having had unprotected sex months prior. When she finds herself pregnant, Moran knows right away that she simply does not want to have to raise a third child.

In a society that demonizes abortion,[6] reasons for terminating a pregnancy exist on a "spectrum of wrongness" (How To Be A Woman 174), in that some reasons are deemed "good" (i.e. a teenaged rape victim aborting) and others "bad" (i.e. a mother who does not want to deal with supporting another child on top of the ones she already has by having an abortion). Oftentimes, even when the woman can expect to lose her own life, she is encouraged to carry through with her pregnancy. Moran is "vexed with...the idea that, by having an abortion, a woman is somehow being unfemale and, indeed, unmotherly" (175). In her experience in having and raising two girls, she knows firsthand the amount of work put into raising a child and feels she should not be obligated to have another when she has a choice in the matter. She brings up a point that, "...ending a pregnancy 12 weeks into gestation is incalculably more moral than bringing an unwanted child into this world" (176).

Moran, while at the abortion clinic, has an inkling that even the staff have a stigma against terminating a pregnancy. Moran is quick to say that she knows she made the rational decision in her situation.

Fifth-wave feminism[edit]

In How to Be a Woman, Moran calls for a fifth wave of feminism to rise up.[7][8] Moran states, "But if there is to be a fifth wave of feminism, I would hope that the main thing that distinguishes it from all that came before is that women counter the awkwardness, disconnect, and bullshit of being a modern woman not by shouting at it, internalizing it, or squabbling about it—but by simply pointing at it and going 'HA!' instead."[9]

Critical response[edit]

Emma Brockes of the New York Times described the work as "a book that needed to be written".[2] Miranda Sawyer of The Guardian called the book "a joy" and "a triumph".[3] Peggy Orenstein of Slate gave the book a favorable review, writing "she is, in equal measure, intellectual, rebel and goofball."[4] The Independent wrote, "it would be almost unkind to call this an important book, because what it is mostly is engaging, brave and consistently, cleverly, naughtily funny, but actually it is important that we talk about this stuff."[5] NPR spoke positively of How to Be a Woman, describing her as in the vein of the late Nora Ephron.[6]

The Telegraph, while praising the book, noted "The book has not, however, met with universal approval. Germaine Greer, whom Moran idolises as "Goddess Greer" but nonetheless disagrees with on a number of issues, has accused Moran of setting up a 'straw woman' version of herself to argue with, and of skimping on her homework."[10] Time called How to Be a Woman "hugely lovable" but "problematically narrow."[11]




  1. ^ Crocker, Lizzie (September 29, 2014). "Join Caitlin Moran's Riotous Feminist Revolution". The Daily Beast. Retrieved February 9, 2016.
  2. ^ a b c Brockes, Emma (2012-07-26). "These Stilettos Are Not Made for Walking, Nor Is the Thong". New York Times. Retrieved 2015-08-23.
  3. ^ a b c Sawyer, Miranda (2011-06-25). "How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran – review". The Guardian. Retrieved 2015-08-23.
  4. ^ a b Orenstein, Peggy (2012-07-15). "They Don't Make Feminists This Outrageous Anymore". Slate. Retrieved 2015-08-23.
  5. ^ a b "How To Be a Woman, By Caitlin Moran". The Independent. Retrieved 2015-12-02.
  6. ^ a b Corrigan, Maureen. "A Little Advice On 'How To Be A Woman'". Retrieved 2015-12-02.
  7. ^ Counter, Rosemary (17 August 2012). "Caitlin Moran forces us to ask, is it time for fifth-wave feminism?". The Globe and Mail.
  8. ^ "Dear Fifth Wave Feminists, We Need You!". The New Agenda. 2012-08-31. Retrieved 2016-09-24.
  9. ^ Moran, Caitlin (2012). How To Be a Woman. New York: Harper Perennial. pp. 13–14. ISBN 978-0-06-212429-6.
  10. ^ "Ceri Radford on Caitlin Moran". Retrieved 2015-12-02.
  11. ^ Gibson, Megan. "Review: In Her First Novel, Caitlin Moran Explains How To Build a Girl". Retrieved 2015-12-02.