16 Nov

When I’m not at work, (supposedly) working, or in my kitchen, (definitely) baking, I tend to do a lot of reading and, I reassure myself, at least *some* thinking. I read all sorts, depending for direction on reviews, recommendations, paper trails, gifts and what I can get for free on my Kindle. Recently I met up with a very good friend from university who mentioned that she was reading ‘How to be a Woman’ by Caitlin Moran. I knew I wanted to read this book because I remembered the Twitterstorm about it when it came out, and I also knew that if said very good friend was enjoying it then I would, too, and I would probably find it educating and enlightening. So, off I went and bought it – an actual physical copy, too, because I suspected that I would want to be able to lend it to people and say ‘this is a brilliant book and you must read it IMMEDIATELY kthxbai’.

Which is exactly what happened, as it turns out; after devouring it I handed it straight to my sister, meanwhile telling any friend who struck up a conversation with me that they must read it too. It led me, as I believe its author strongly intended, to consider feminism and feminist literature and how I might go about educating myself with regard to its contents. I feel as though my generation is rather lacking in impetus in the area of feminism; it has become rather a dirty word or even a joke in the eyes of many. It’s not really considered a ‘live’ issue because the problems raised in what is now referred to in feminist circles as ‘the 3rd Wave’ have apparently been addressed; laws have been changed, it is true, but attitudes have not. Feminism is sneered at because few people under the age of 25 understand what it means.

But, as Moran puts it, ‘what part of ‘liberation for women’ is not for you?’ Women are afraid to label themselves as feminists because of the strong cultural reaction to the bold feminism advocated by Germaine Greer and her like. Moran read Greer in her teenage years. I thought, at 22 years of age, I have not read this seminal book. This must change. Especially if I am to formulate a thorough and effective reply to my boss next time I challenge him about some of his ideas.

So. I am reading ‘The Female Eunuch’. It is outdated, now, but unfortunately, nowhere near as outdated as it should be. Take out the statistics about university attendance (although you can keep the truths about many girls seeing it as a stop-gap in between leaving school and finding a husband). Take out the figures about household income (no shillings around these days, dear). Take out the assumption that women with jobs only work in low-paid, menial tasks (although it’s still true in an alarming number of cases, there *are* more women in boardrooms, in Parliament and in GP surgeries than there were in the 60s). Take out the idea that no woman except, apparently, for Greer herself is capable of recognising society is culpable and therefore refusing to comply with it (the attitudes of many women have changed, and even of some men too). But what is left – and that’s still, I would say, around 80% of the book – is horrifyingly, terrifyingly still the case. I know it’s still the case because reading these sections is like looking at a psychoanalytic evaluation of my own brain.

It can be alarmingly reductive to read an attack so ferocious on one’s whole existence and I suspect this is the big problem many women have with feminism. If you accept Greer’s arguments, you are basically admitting you have been hypnotised all your life into believing you are a child-producing drone who yearns for a romantic male who does not exist and probably wouldn’t understand you anyway. You are holding up your hands and saying ‘oh my goodness, I only wear lipstick and care about my hair because I, too, believe in a paradigm of feminine beauty which we all know in our heart of hearts is unattainable’. That is quite a big ask. Result? Many found and still find it easier to assume that Greer was trying to compensate for something, or that she was a madwoman or that she was one of a tiny minority of people who could actually believe such tripe.

This is all heartbreaking stuff, of course, because as Caitlin Moran points out, there are some very simple tenets to feminism which are actually extremely accessible to both sexes and do not require deep rethinking of one’s id. If men are worrying about the same thing you’re worrying about, if men are under the same stress, if men are facing the same problems – it’s fine. It’s not sexism, it’s just life.

BUT – if someone in your office asks you if you left the house in a hurry this morning because you aren’t wearing makeup, you can legitimately say to them ‘what are you implying here, and would you like me to get legal on your ass?’. If a bunch of your married/partnered/coupled friends start talking about how they need to get you ‘paired off’, ask them if they’ve considered your views on the matter. If your boyfriend doesn’t know how to cook or use a washing machine and displays no interest in educating himself, stop and think about whether you are his mother or his girlfriend. If you and your lady friends take great and vicious delight in following the waistlines, bustlines and stretch-lines of a bunch of overpaid, underachieving celebrities, ask yourself why, and maybe, y’know, don’t be so mean. We don’t all have to be angels, of course, and some people are truly deserving of derision – but that’s no reason to be cruel.

After all, who are you really hurting? Kristen Stewart is never going to know that you think she’s an unfaithful slag who doesn’t deserve the attentions lavished on her by a man to whom a considerable chunk of the female teenage population is attracted. But if you persist in holding that opinion of her, you’re only reinforcing in your own mind the strictures of society which insists upon monogamous relationships. (That’s what Greer would say). And you’re projecting your own faults onto her, because, in most cases anyway, you haven’t got a clue what she’s actually like. And, hey, is the Other Man in this situation in as much shit as she is? No? WHY NOT? And why isn’t his wife being treated like Pattinson? Anyway. There you have it. Moran says a cheeky gossip is part of being human; part of being a woman – but it never has to descend to the vicious mudslinging that it often becomes. All human interactions can be governed by the instruction ‘be polite!’. If politeness is lacking in a circumstance, call the perpetrator up on it.

If we’re going to achieve a society in which women aren’t leered at any more than men, can make a decision to remain single or childless without having to justify it to their peers and aren’t continually being asked what their husband does for a living, we need more people to read books like these. Greer is not for the faint-hearted, but I wonder how many opinions she could actually change given the deep-seated fear of bra-burners. Moran, however, is highly accessible, very readable, thoroughly up-to-date and considerably less daunting in her demands. You may think I’ve basically summarised them and my exhortation to you to read the damn books is now pointless. It isn’t! They have so much more to say than I can explain here! They are fascinating women and they have written fascinating books! READ THEM! DO IT!

When I started writing this post my intention was to turn it into an analysis of ‘The Marriage Plot’, a novel by Geoffrey Eugenides, according to Greer’s views on the dangers of female literary fantasy. As you can see, I got distracted. Maybe I’ll have something for you on this tasty topic soon. In the meantime, you can use the lull to go and educate yourselves.

Be the change! Stand on that chair and shout ‘I am a FEMINIST!’


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