First published on 26 Aug 2011. Updated on 26 Aug 2011.
It pains me to say it, but comedians are about the only philosophers we have these days. As less and less people seem prepared to think – especially about, god forbid, something that they might not already agree with! – those who cast an eye over the world and find it wanting, or at least worthy of critique, are more marginalised now than ever.
Thankfully we seem to have funny, entertaining people around who can wrap a spoonful of comedy sugar around the apparently-bitter pill of education, whether that’s politics (Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert), current events (The Onion, the Chaser), critical thinking (Lawrence Leung, James Randi) or – and don’t be scared off now – feminism. Caitlin Moran is not a comedian per se, but she’s a UK columnist, novelist, former Melody Maker journo and one-time music television host, and she’s funny as hell. She’s also damned smart and How To Be A Woman neatly slips a how-to guide to contemporary feminism into what the unwary might just think was a minor-celebrity memoir.
In this book Moran puts forward some astonishingly clear-headed thinking about where society could do with a tune up, how to spot hidden sexism (short version: “are the blokes doing it?”), and a shit-tonne of hilarious anecdotes about various ways she’s made a fool of herself – but each goofy story is just to get you to drop your guard long enough to slip the shiv of political awareness between your ribs, even as she’s tickling them.
And this is joyful writing, even at its saddest or most angry: Moran doesn’t hate on anything so much as get frustrated at how little would be needed to make things significantly better, whether that’s the enshrining of equal pay legislation, unencumbered access to health services (including, obviously, abortions) or spending so damn much on weddings. The big and the small get equal shrift in this tome, leaving the heavier material for down the track (where there’s also an awesome Lady Gaga story, by the way – it’s worth getting to).
She also writes brilliantly – I laughed aloud at her postscript admission that her decision to take up smoking again while writing the book meant that her lungs were now “two socks filled with black sand”. It’s a shame that we only pay attention to smart people when they’re funny. Thankfully, we’ve got people like Moran on the planet.