Review: How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran.

Caitlin Moran is funny. No question about that. How To Be A Woman is worth reading for the laughs. But unfortunately, despite all her shouting about being a feminist, she is male-identified

She states chategorically that Greer is “crackers” on the trans issue. How on earth a woman can still believe trans women are female after writing a book entitled “How To be a Woman” with a first chapter on ” I start bleeding” I don’t know. But it just goes to show how far cognitive dissonance can take you when you want a lot of people to read your writing, with minimum fuss all round.

It consists of quite a long explanation of why porn is good, persistently repeating the words “porn is not the problem” and offering the suggestion that the industry is. She does not put forward the idea that this is because of its rampant misogyny and exploitation of women and girls, but chooses to focus on the way it portrays sex as inauthentic, which in turn affects young girls’ perception of their sexuality. She’s not wrong about that. But the “monoculture” of boring porn is the main jist of her critique, and I am very confused by the shallowness of this analysis! For such an intelligent woman it is obtuse. In her words:

“So no. Pornography isn’t the problem. Strident feminists are fine with pornography. It’s the porn industry that’s the problem. The whole thing is as offensive, sclerotic, depressing, emotionally bankrupt and desultory as you would expect a widely unregulated industry worth, at an extremely conservative estimate, $30 billion to be.”

Actually, this statement is wrong. It’s not as offensive as any other industry. Because it depicts women as sub-human creatures who enjoy pain, because of its unapologetic racism, because of the way it targets and exploits a vulnerable class of people (women) for the benefit and profit of the dominant class (men), because of the way women are groomed into accepting painful intercourse such as double anal, which they previously would have turned down,  no, Ms Moran, it is not as offensive as any other industry. To a woman-identified feminist it is more offensive.

One question she did not ask herself, was why porn should be allowed to continue when the industry has already proven itself to be inimical to women’s rights? If Moran is correct in saying that, ultimately, porn is good FOR WOMEN (because lets not forget what being a feminist is all about), then why should it deserve third fourth fifth fifth chances to prove it? Perhaps she means that men should be allowed to get their rocks of in a way that’s not as quite damaging to women as it currently is? Heaven forbid we ever tell men that no, their right to orgasm does not supercede the rights of women to have better economic options in life than sex in exchange for money.

But, why, given this context, should porn be given “another chance”, so to speak? Given all the damage  this exploitative misogynistic industry has done to women, why isn’t every woman, including Moran, banging down the doors of the porn-lords demanding justice? HOW MUCH DAMAGE DOES AN INDUSTRY HAVE TO DO TO WOMEN BEFORE YOU CAN GET WOMEN TO SAY, “ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, PERHAPS PORN ISN’T SUCH A GOOD IDEA AFTER ALL”?

Women are much more understanding and aware of their true purpose in life than ever before. That purpose, of course, is to be receptacles of love; in other words, fuck dolls.

(Max Hardcore quoted by Dines 2010, p. 99).

What’s in it for women?

Orgasms? But even Moran goes into lengthy detail about how racy novels can be used as sex aides. In fact, most women have probably had the experience of coming on the spot when reading. Doubt many women have come on the spot from watching another woman acting and pretending to have an orgasm though. WRITING and READING hurt fully NOBODY*.

Whereas pornography happens to women, as Dworkin pointed out.

This, is what Moran has missed. She pulls out the same old tatty card that the pornographers do: that porn is ancient, that it was painted on cave walls, that you will find it in the most sophisticated of museums around the world… but somehow manages to forget that a cave painting, or a work of art, is not a flesh and blood woman . They’re just DEPICTIONS of a sex act. Same goes for the Karma Sutra, or a racy novel. It is not happening to women. Over and over again.

According to Moran,

“This is why museums are so wonderful: walking around, observing mankind’s joyride from slime to WiFi, you see incredible ironwork, inspirational pottery, fabulous vellums and exquisite paintings and–across these disciplines–tones of fruity historical humping. Men fucking men, men fucking women, men going down on women, women pleasuring themselves–it’s all there. Every conceivable manifestation of human sexuality in clay, and stone and occhre and gold”

But pornography happens to women.. So if women can confuse the action of painting a picture, or carving on a pottery, with a woman being paid for sex, we’re still not even at first base.

It’s going to take us radfems a long time to help women such as Moran to tease the two apart: a depiction of a sex act, and a REAL WOMAN having porn happening to her are not the same thing. at. all. The porn industry has done a great job of convincing women otherwize.

“There is no such thing as good porn – I don’t care what label it gives itself.

But if you choose to view those inside porn as sub-humans – then you can pretend your porn is fine.” (rmott, exited prostitute and campaigner against prostitution and porn)

 At best, if women orgasm from watching porn, it’s an accident, an unintended fluke. Porn is made for and catered to the sexuality of men.

Moran even manages to drag out a charicature of an anti-porn feminist, at which point anything else she had to say lost its credibility:

“‘NO! NO!’ a very angry woman shouted.

I regret to say that she looked like everyone’s cliched idea of a post-Dworkin feminist. She was wearing one of those little velvet smoking caps, covered in embroidery and mirrors”

Does Moran even like women? Because that sentence is laced with misogyny.

Finally, how retrograde can you get? How utterly Victorian to defend the concept of women having sex for any other reason than sexual pleasure? “Lie back and think of the money” is what women have been told by society for at least two thousand years. Isn’t it time we feminists at least, began arguing for a world where not a single woman has to have sex in exchange for money. After all, if they liked it that much they wouldn’t need to GET PAID, would they?

Ultimately, the concept of pornography buys into the belief that women are the “gatekeepers” of sex, that they do not have a vast, expansive sexuality of their own; that it is normal to chop down women’s sexuality into shapes that cater to male sexuality (seen in porn). I believe the dominant idea that is created in the mind of the public by the existence of porn is that women are acting in their private lives, and so why not get them to act in porn too, so they can at least get paid for the effort.

I’ve no doubt that for many women , this is most certainly the case, which is a testament as to how damaged authentic female sexuality is in a patriarchy. But we have to ask ourselves the questions: Is this right? and Don’t women, by now, deserve better?

When Caitlin Moran gets it right, she gets it SO right. And I would still recommend this book. But only for the writing, not the politics!

* Actually writing, just like porn images, can be used as propaganda to dehumanize women, which influences society. But at least writing is not actually being done to women, the way pornography is.

A poem by Robin Morgan–perfect for women who make money on novels that defend porn. [the last three lines are metaphor. It is a poem, after all!]

The One That GOt Away
The Woman Who Made It

We all know who I mean, even me.
She is the one who slid like an eel
from knowing any truth larger than herself.
She wheezed orgasms through all her rapes,
married well and joined clubs
and married average and glowed in the perfect home and kids,
and didn’t marry but “kept her freedom,”
fucked around in a Virginia Slims imitation of men,
never felt oppressed, of course,
made it into the Senate or,
the Weather Underground,
impressed even corporation execs and cookiepattern Che’s.
And she took up Zen,
went back to the earth, wore ankle-length dresses
and madonna mystical smiles,
baked natural bread, did astrology
and good works,
got elected to the Board of United Fruit
and the National Welfare Rights Organization Committee,
became a famous artist/engineer/pilot/architect/doctor–
“anyone can, I did; pull yourself up by your own G-string.”
She played: matriarch with a sense of humour,
tough broad, fragile flower, spiritual seeker
Jewish princess, a real pal, earth mother goddess,
tripper, capable unhysterical real woman friend,
juicy cunt, boyish gamin, lyrical lover, chic swinger and
“your equal”
–and anything else the boys dug in a female
at any given moment.
She even “expanded” her straight consciousness into being gay,
then bloomed into a macho copy of what is easier
to confront in men than in a sister
of what women in love never meant, not at all.

And yes, we know why.
We can pity the terror and comprehend the threat
to her of a women’s revolution.
We can understand that, until yesterday,
there were no other options.
We can even envy the heart-deadening rewards she seems to reap
for placing women last, after everything, anything else.
How she hates us in herself!
How we detest her in our mirror!

And she got herself killed, of course,
trying to shout Black Liberation Now
while her black brother’s foot was planted on her throat,
and then too one too many middleclass pills, committing suicide,
and after that had a heart attack at the
Fashion Industry Convention Annual Awards,
subsequently breaking her neck in a ditch, while stoned,
at the free farm in Vermont,
only to get her head blown off in a townhouse explosion,
two days later hemorrhaging out from a safe, expensive abortion,
afterward drinking herself to death or overdosing on smack,
and gave up the ghost forty years later, children all married,
while the other old ladies at the home,
or the entire congregation, or commune, or college, or congress, or movement, or family, or firm
Felt Her Loss Sincerely.

She refused to understand she was doomed from the start,
and she still doesn’t like being reminded.
Too bad, sister.
And there’s less and less time for her
to find her own way at her own speed.
She will hide behind our sisterhood, not hers.
She will say this is an anti-woman poem.
She will be the ultimate weapon in the hands of the boys,
And I’ve just begun to realize
that I must not only destroy what she is,
but if I have to, kill her.

And then cradle her skull in my arms
and kiss its triumphant grin
and not even cry for us both.

16 thoughts on “Review: How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran.

  1. Great post. I hate when people go, porn now sucks, but it’s going to get better. Which is weird since porn started out being terrible for women, got worse, got much worse, and continues to get SO much worse and SO expansive that any “good porn” out there has to be just a statistical fluke. Churn out enough of it, statistically some of it has to be not horrifying. Porn does not deserve any more chances. The trend has just been from bad to horrific to the most horrifying depictions of violence that I can imagine.

    I love this quote, I may have to steal it for my next prostitution is awesome for women debate. “Lie back and think of the money.” Just brilliant.

    • and SO expansive that any “good porn” out there has to be just a statistical fluke. Churn out enough of it, statistically some of it has to be not horrifying. Porn does not deserve any more chances.

      Yeah, you would *think* eh?

      I am totally sick of any female, prattling on any platform, thinks that they are automatically “a feminist” and their ideas are “feminist”. Caitlan Moron, yep, looking at you and your porny viewpoint. Because it sounds as if the greatest shame in the porny view is that prostitutes and pornstars that get murdered ‘doing their job’, the greatest injustice seems to be that they didn’t get paid. jeezus.


    Yes to this. Yes to this.

  3. Slavery has existed for thousands of years; slavery has been depicted in paintings thousands of years old; slavery has been written about for thousands of years and yet and yet – white men claim slavery is wrong. Why? Is it because slavery affects men and hence this means slavery is indeed slavery meaning the enslavement of another male human being. But pornography now that is different – why? Is it because it was men and continues to be men who are the ones producing images of other men committing sadistic sexual torture on women and hence no human is harmed because the ones being subordinated and tortured are not men and hence not human. Answer is yes that is why.

    Wealthy men wanted paintings showing images of other men sexually torturing women and raping women because these images were ‘erotic’ to the male viewer and they reinforced his view that because he is male he could do whatever he wished to those dehumanised beings women because they aren’t human. Equally importantly those wealthy men didn’t want lesser men and those dehumanised beings women to know about the existence of wealthy men’s obsession with viewing images of men sexually torturing women. Nevertheless less powerful men swiftly obtained access to pornographic writing and images because these men too wanted the same rights as those wealthy men and that is to view images of men committing sexual violence against women. The ones who were not allowed to see such images were women because it was essential women did not learn just how men view women.

    Now of course porn has become malestream and men are constantly claiming ‘it is my right to view porn because no human is harmed’ (meaning men are not commonly subjected to double anal/triple anal/penises being thrust down their throats or even being subjected to worse sexualised torture). Women such as Caitlin Moran think they can be awarded a tiny piece of male power by pandering to the pornographers but I doubt very much Moran or other female porn apologists would want themselves to be subjected to the sadistic sexual violence men routinely inflict on women and then call it ‘harmless fun’ or ‘porn is just fantasy because the women weren’t harmed’ were they?

    Back to slavery – slavery is viewed as a violation of men’s rights by leftwing neoliberals and their apologists because any male who is enslaved has his human rights violated but women – well we apparently just exist to be men’s disposable sexual service stations and men’s slaves.

    Yes porn has existed for thousands of years and that is because we live in a male supremacist system and that is why radical feminists have long struggled for women’s liberation – the right for all women not to be dehumanised by men because we happen to be female not male. By the way murder has existed for thousands of years but no one suggests we abolish criminalising the innumerable men who murder other males but male supremacy certainly minimalises/excuses/denies fact men continue to murder women they know.

    Lastly there is the fact men have for centuries had the temerity and continue to claim the lie that what supposedly passes for human sexual expression is in fact male sexual expression because women for centuries and still are defined as not owning their sexuality or bodies because both exist supposedly for men’s sexual pleasure and men’s right of sexual access. That is why so many men are sexually obsessed with penetration and the belief their sexual pleasure and orgasm is what supposedly passes for ‘real sex!’ In your dreams boys.

    Keep claiming porn is ‘harmless’ and within a short time as has happened the lies becomes real and keep repeating women aren’t human but just men’s disposable sexualised objects and within a short time these misogynistic lies become truths. That is how propaganda works – it worked for the Nazis, it worked for the great (sic) white men who invaded other countries such as Australia; The Americas and proclaimed the inhabitants to be ‘savages’ – yes that is how the dehumanisation of certain groups by white men operates and the one group which has been consistently dehumanised are women – because despite women being the majority of human race we are not human according to men.

    But Moran is not concerned with this instead she wrote this book because she knew it would be published and secondly the great and good white men would not be challenged about their pseudo rights. Protecting men’s sensibilities is vital if a woman is to have her work published and that is why Moran has been published because she is parrotting male hatred and male contempt for women. Pity she can’t recognise that she too is a member of that dehumanised group – women – but then there are always some individuals who will pander to the dominant group in a futile attempt at being given crumbs from the men’s table.

    Yes Robin Morgan’s poem succinctly states the truth but remember we don’t want to hear the truth because that means ‘upsetting men and their fragile egos and we women must never do that must we?’ So instead let’s continue churning out anti-women trash and having the male publishers claim ‘this is real feminism’ because it is essential male supremacist system is never challenged or finally eliminated.

    • Protecting men’s sensibilities is vital if a woman is to have her work published and that is why Moran has been published because she is parrotting male hatred and male contempt for women.

      In wartime, these are known as collaborators.
      Nor do I consider ourselves to be at a time of peace, in the war against women.

      Porn apologists are collaborators. They do it purely for personal gain, getting cookies from teh menz. They are traitors to their sex.

      • yes Hecuba it’s scarily similar to the way Hitler used propaganda to dehumanize Jews. Get women to look like they enjoy being hurt, and the process of dehumanization is complete.
        Men seem to be able to “feel” your average garden variety cold about sixty times more than women, because that’s how tuned in they are to their discomfort. They get their wives running around catering to their “man-colds” (the kind of colds that women don’t have time for). And yet excruciating sexual or physical torture (of women) is all fun and games to men.
        The appocolypse is now upon us.

        Someone once told me that pornogragphy is a way of creating despondency and despair in populations. It is used as a weapon of war to create disillusionment among the populace.
        Men *are* at war with women, and as we have seen, the only way women such as Moran can function in this perpetual state of war, is through DENIAL

  4. Thanks for quoting me.
    Personally I think Caitlain Moran is very dangerous – for she makes porn looks hip, rebellious and a must-do for anyone who want to be in with the in-crowd.It just has to less boring, and gives women tons of orgasms.
    I think she is an idiot – but many idiots are highly dangerous.

    I think that images such as paintings and writing is not always not about real violence done to women.
    Most porn before the camera was depictions of what really mainly to the prostituted, to slaves and to women who had no voices or rights. If look at the porn of ancient times, porn in medieval, Georgian and Victorian eras – it was not just fantasy – there were women and girls in temples, in brothels, on the streets, in homes – being sexually tortured as those images portrayed.
    The written form is not always harm-free – think de Sade, Story of O and Lolita – these idea feed that sexual violence is not only ok, but is acceptable in high culture.
    It is posh porn – but it still same old hate and violence about women,

    All this is about dismissing that women inside all aspects of porn are human. That is why Moran can just worry about whether porn bores her or not – that becomes the major issue. It is of no importance that a whole class of women and girls are thrown away – as long as privileged women get wet.

  5. thanks for all your interesting replies!

    Yes, rmott. The pro-trans and pro-porn crowd of women have one thing in common: their words smack of desperately wanting to be part of the “cool gang”, of desperately wanting to fit in. Men are the cool gang, women are not. Radical feminists, or anyone speaking out against porn, are definitely not “cool”.

    • Oooh, thank you KatieS.
      Caitlin Moran. You are a pornsplainer.

      I’ve also been thinking about the charicature she painted of the feminist who was, apparently, shouting “NO, NO!”.
      First of all, wHat a lie. Radfems are extremely articulate when they put forward their anti-porn arguments, thanks to having lots of opportunity to practice honing them.

      But lets imagine this woman in a “little velvet smoking caps, covered in embroidery and mirrors” does in fact exist, then there is still something a little off about judging other women by their appearance. It’s classic “handmaiden of the patriarchy” behaviour. Not feminine enough? Not wearing enough make-up? Not *cool* enough? Get thee back in line where you belong.

      It’s all part of the same preoccupation with appearance that you get with trans activists. Judging people by their appearance defines their politics.

      This book just screams “like me, men, like me”

    • I’m onboard with ‘pornsplainer’.
      Adds to the collection, and fits in nicely with the others – mansplaining and transplaining… very often all the same people (majority male, with a few of their handmaidens thrown in as the ladies auxiliary).

      • Scrap what I said about there being good bits in this book. I’m over giving her the benefit of the doubt. As the book progresses she becomes INCOHERENT. Take page 133, for example,

        ” …Seeing the whole world as ‘The Guys’ is important. The idea that we’re all, at the end of the day, just a bunch of well-meaning schlumps, trying to get along, is the basic alpha and omega of my world view. I’m neither ‘pro-women’ nor ‘anti-men’. I’m just ‘Thumbs up for the six billion.’
        Because I don’T think that ‘men’/maleness/male sexuality is the problem here. I don’t think sexism is a ‘man vs woman’ thing. The Man is not The Man simply because he’s a man. Sometimes, THe Man is a woman–particularly if you go to the kind of late-night clubs I do…”

        ANd about here I give up. So there you have it. Apparently, British society is not run by the 80% of males in parliament, there is no male domination in business, the media, the publishing companies (!) or in all other areas of society, there is no sexualized violence, no murder of women by men at the rate of twice a week, no HISTORY (this one is important) of what men have done to women over the millenia….

        And she’s entitled to her opinion, of course. BUt I hardly think the book cover merits this blurb:

        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.

  6. So true about the appearance. I can’t think of a time when I heard a dissenting man demeaned for his appearance to bolster an argument against something. The exception might be with trans. This is kind of like an ad hominem attack, but is used only when the person on the other side of a debate is a woman. Perhaps that’s an “ad femininem” attack?

    The book also screams, “$ellout.” And dangerous, as Rebecca Mott says.

    • yes exactly, she takes the piss out of the woman’s appearance as if that somehow proves her point, “I’m telling you, this coat she had on with mirrors PROVES she’s wrong on the porn issue.ANy decent woman with something to say would at least cater to basic patriarchal fashion dictates” 😯

  7. Well, CBL, it’s good to have some reviews of these kinds of books, so we can see what we are dealing with. Your review saves other women some bad reading. Sorry it turned out to be such a bummer. They accuse radfems of being unfunny, but one of the least funny things I can imagine is to have someone preaching to me about how we’re “all the same, just well-meaning schlumps.” No. we. are. not.

  8. Thanks for this. Almost picked her book up from the library because I heard she was pretty funny, but now I won’t waste my time now that I know about her politics. I inadvertenly read enough fun feminist crap in a day as is. Its most certainly is about fitting in with teh menz. They are afraid of being seen as prudes or uptight. They dont want to be “those kind of feminists.”

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