Two books on feminism: How To Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran & Men Explain Things to Me and Other Essays by Rebecca Solnit

Feminism, what does it mean? For most of my adult years I’ve considered myself a feminist, but I’ve never really dived deeper into the world that that one word represents. My idea of feminism has always been unclear and evolving, and it seems that instead of one set definition of feminism there are, in fact, several different perspectives. To study this ideology and its arguments, I decided to go with modern writers – in the hopes they would be more relatable – instead of jumping straight into the daunting classics, such as The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir. I chose two non-fiction books, How To Be a Woman and Men Explain Things To Me, which I read close to each other. In the end, I gained more insight to the current issues in feminism as well as perspective to some of the older arguments, but I’m not yet finished with my reading of the topic.

PAPERBACK; 312 P.
EBURY PRESS, 2011
SOURCE: FROM THE LIBRARY

Though they have the vote and the Pill and haven’t been burned as witches since 1727, life isn’t exactly a stroll down the catwalk for modern women. They are beset by uncertainties and questions: Why are they supposed to get Brazilians? Why do bras hurt? Why the incessant talk about babies? And do men secretly hate them?

Caitlin Moran interweaves provocative observations on women’s lives with laugh-out-loud funny scenes from her own, from the riot of adolescence to her development as a writer, wife, and mother. With rapier wit, Moran slices right to the truth—whether it’s about the workplace, strip clubs, love, fat, abortion, popular entertainment, or children—to jump-start a new conversation about feminism. With humor, insight, and verve, How To Be a Woman lays bare the reasons female rights and empowerment are essential issues not only for women today but also for society itself.

Caitlin Moran’s second book How To Be a Woman is a part-memoir and part-discussion on feminism. Caitlin Moran is a British columnist, music journalist and comedienne/speaker who has been writing a column for The Times since she was 18 – wow! My introduction to Caitlin Moran came when her third book, How to Build a Girl was published in 2014, but it wasn’t until I had read We Should All Be Feminists that I really started to look up articles and interviews of Moran. She is an amazingly outspoken and funny person, so it took me no time to get myself on the waiting list for the library’s copy of How To Be a Woman.

The book narrates Moran’s own experiences growing up and is presented almost like a set of chronicles from her teen years to moving to London, getting her first job, dating, marrying and having children. Alongside her memories and the funny incidents of those years she weaves in topics such as female sexuality, inequality, sexism and abortion. Moran approaches feminism through humour which is why even the worst moments have laughter-lines. In her thinking, the next wave of feminism should come through laughter and ridicule! She is unabashedly honest and almost crude about some of the topics which I think is part of her charisma that shines through also in her speaking. Having read a lot of her interviews before How To Be a Woman, the book did repeat a ton of things that I had already read. Nevertheless, I found the book to be a very enjoyable read as well as in parts educational. There were some parts with which I had a slight problem with (such as her flippant approach to the drug use in her youth) but in general I think the book might work well with women who do not already consider themselves feminists. Also recommendable to people who want to learn more about Caitlin Moran’s life.

 3/5

HARDCOVER; 144 P.
GRANTA BOOKS, 2014
SOURCE: FROM THE LIBRARY

Rebecca Solnit’s essay ‘Men Explain Things to Me’ has become a touchstone of the feminist movement, inspired the term ‘mansplaining’, and established Solnit as one of the leading feminist thinkers of our time – one who has inspired everyone from radical activists to Beyoncé Knowles. Collected here in print for the first time is the essay itself, along with the best of Solnit’s feminist writings.

From rape culture to mansplaining, from French sex scandals to marriage and the nuclear family, from Virginia Woolf to colonialism, these essays are a fierce and incisive exploration of the issues that a patriarchal culture will not necessarily acknowledge as ‘issues’ at all. With grace and energy, and in the most exquisite and inviting of prose, Rebecca Solnit proves herself a vital leading figure of the feminist movement and a radical, humane thinker.

In 2012 Rebecca Solnit published an essay titled Men Explain Things to Me and it quickly went viral. The title essay calls out the trend of men explaining things to women in a way that assumes that the listener doesn’t already know about it. The prime example in Solnit’s essay is the case where an older gentleman began talking to her about this highly acclaimed and very important book mentioned in the New York Times and continued his explanation even after he was told that the book in question was actually Solnit’s. There is much more to the essay, so if you’re interested, you can read it from Huffington Post‘s website.

Men Explain Things to Me and Other Essays is bound in this beautiful edition with seven essays and Ana Teresa Fernandez’s art included in between them. At the back the book is said to “hum with power and wit” and that Solnit’s essays are great “because they make you angry”. And that is true. Especially the first two to three essays present injustices that are hard to swallow, touching on topics such as mansplaining, IMF, Strauss-Kahn, equal marriages, and world bank. From the start it is clear that Solnit’s essays take a completely different approach to Moran’s funny tone. However, in her later  essays about Virginia Woolf, inspiration and art the tone is a lot more calmer, but the magic is still there. These were really the essays that got me thinking and wondering – that gave me something new to work with. Solnit beautifully ties Fernandez’s paintings into the discussion of how we interpret art and whether it is possible to “read” art in a certain way. Her style of writing is serious, but witty, and invites the reader to participate in the discussion. Because the book is tiny, I read some of the essays several times to appreciate the overall style and craft with which they were written. The anger of the beginning did put me off for a while because it was so different from Moran, but as I read on, I warmed up to Solnit. I’d highly recommend Men Explain Things To Me to both women and men, as it has the potential to open eyes and give new perspective to the society that we live in. Moreover, it is not just a book about feminism – it is a book about us and them, about injustice and acceptance.

4/5

How can I tell a story we already know too well? Her name was Africa. His was France. He colonized her, exploited her, silenced her, and even decades after it was supposed to have ended, still acted high hand in resolving her affairs in places like Cóte d’Ivoire, a name she had been given because of her export products, not her own identity.

Her name was Asia. His was Europe. His was wealth. Her name was Her, but what was hers? His name was His, and he presumed everything was his, including her, and he though he could take her without asking and without consequences.

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7 thoughts on “Two books on feminism: How To Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran & Men Explain Things to Me and Other Essays by Rebecca Solnit

  1. Glad you enjoyed Caitlin Moran. She didn’t speak to me at all and in fact I couldn’t get further than the second chapter. Maybe because I had Germaine Greer’s voice ringing in my head all the time

    • To my understanding, Caitlin Moran divides a lot of opinions and I can see why many would not like her. She also quotes Greer throughout the book, so it’s really an over-arching thing. I didn’t catch up on it because I’ve never read or heard any Greer, but maybe I should?

  2. I’m not interested in the Moran because some of the excerpts I’ve seen have been rather questionable (and even a bit offensive), but I’m dying to read Men Explain Things To Me!

  3. No earlier than yesterday I was talking about feminist with a friend of mine.We were expressing our disgust at what happened to Sir Tim Hunt,a Nobel Prize Winner.He was forced to resigned because of his ‘sexist’ joke.

    For me,feminists are real hypocrites.For years,women have been posing naked for magazines,giving men the opportunity to treat them as sexual objects and nothing else,but feminists’ voices were never heard.Why don’t they go and urge Vogue to stop objectifying women? The funny thing is there are some women out there who buy such magazines,dress in a way that almost reveals their breasts or butt,and go all crazy about Fifty Shades of Grey,but who become outraged at any little thing a man does.

    Instead they’re happy to lead a witch hunt against any man who dares to make a sexist comment/joke.Eugenie Bouchard once wore a pink outfit for a tennis match,and when the commentator asked her to turn around ”so we can have a look”,feminists were all over the place! I tend to see feminists as Nazis who think men are enemies who should be taken down at all costs.

    I despise feminism and see myself as an anti-feminist.I treat women with respect,idolize people like Nellie Bly,Elizabeth Fry and Eleanor Roosevelt since I was a kid,and am repulsed when I read cases about rape or domestic abuse on a woman.I just think that the western world seems to favour women over men; female teachers who have sex with their pupils are never jailed,for instance.

    Just expressing my thoughts….

    • First of all, thank you for your thoughts. Although I do find myself disagreeing with you on the subject, I welcome the conversation.

      Yes, there has been and still is a debate or a battle or a witch hunt of men vs. women going on in the feminist circles, but there are also those (who I think nowadays are the majority) that are shifting the discussion from opposing teams to one team of equality. In the past, women were considered as property instead of individuals and the process of gaining independence hasn’t been as peaceful and harmonious as one would hope. However, sexism as it is, is oddly ingrained in our society in the form of gender roles. For example, there are less women at the top of businesses than men because women are expected to care and foster a family. This is naturally not the only reason why men find themselves at the top, but it is a contributing factor. Women are expected to choose between a successful career and a family, whereas men can have both. However, this is not only pressuring the women to stay at home but also men who are by their defined gender roles expected to be the bread-winner and to provide for the said family. The idea behind feminism is that instead of these gendered roles, everyone should be treated as individuals and that responsibilities should be given and shared based on the individual’s capabilities.

      The issue with magazines is a bit trickier. Especially in the past, the publishers and the editors were men and thus many of the magazines were aimed for men. This created a culture and format to the following publications. The models do have the right to decline from the pictures, but in many cases it is an either-or situations in which you don’t get the job (or any of the following) if you say no. Even today, sex sells and many of the advertisers use that as a way to sell products both to men and women. I often find myself repulsed by this objectification, whether it is of women or of men. I think pieces such as the BuzzFeed article on YA author Pierce Brown (http://www.buzzfeed.com/laraparker/pierce-brown-is-a-babe#.kypYYLMOB1) are downright awful and it makes me sad that this is considered appropriate.

      Whether or not someone should be forced to resign based on something that they say is a difficult question, but I do find myself siding with you on that the treatment of Tim Hunt went overboard. Setting one person as an example of the social issue is not practical criticism and, moreover, serves only to shun the real conversation. I’m sorry that your idea of feminism is so aggressive and I hope that you do not find my answer offensive.

      • I like this response.I agree with you completely.I just wish other ”feminists” would share such views as yours.Unfortunately some still see men as their enemies and erroneously believe that the point of feminism is to bring them down so as to prove women’s power.

        As Emma Watson said last year,feminism has become a word that many persons dread because of its perceived aggressive nature.Hopefully that will change in the future….

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