Review: How to be a Woman, by Caitlin Moran

Eeeehh I’m late to this one! As per.

How to be a womanCaitlin Moran, blowing the power of the princess out of the water and leaving it firmly agitating the heads of those who would rather ‘be’ than ‘do’. What a book. Although, I still stand by one princess. She-ra. She had it going on.

As someone who grew up dis-interested in the idea of the princess (my mum might have put me in a dress but I spent my spare time doing impressions of John McEnroe and racing Stuart Fleming on his BMX) it was a shame that it became my sole ambition to be one in my early twenties.

For some reason, I left my love of volcanoes, angsty music and drinking pints of Smooth behind and found myself heading to the RnB dance floors, complete with fake tan, brazilian and a bottle of Smirnoff Ice with one sole ambition. To not be single.

I can only cringe now when I look back. I spent most of my travels to Australia, New York and New Zealand trying to ‘be’ rather than ‘do’. Be first, do second. No wonder I didn’t take in the wonders of road-side koalas and thermal villages when I was so worried about the size of my jaw and keeping the old landing strip in check. Oh Caitlin, where were you when I needed you!

The book takes you through all the ridiculous notions we soak up as the truth when our self-esteem is low. The ideas that we think make us a woman. The ideas that seep in when you swap Courtney Love for Carrie Bradshaw as your hero. What!? Why did I ever do that.

We need to wear heels, buy designer handbags, be subservient. Be, be, be. While the men are out there having fun doing the doing. Doing us. Shit. That really is shit.

I’m not pretending for a moment that prior to my early twenties I was some kind of kick ass Courtney Love. But as a child I loved Spider Woman, the power and unpredictability of tectonic plates and jumping on my life-size dolly to see how far its head would fly across the garage floor. I was shy and quiet and really not great with the boys. I didn’t have much self-esteem, but I was moving in the right direction, with the right interests and idols.

Caitlin talks about encountering some sexism. I did too! Same place as she did – in the office. 17 years old, on work experience, and the guy in his 30s with newborn child and loving wife says to me ‘don’t tell anyone, but I might take you out one night‘. I reported it and was moved to another department.

So why, when I hit my twenties, did I delight in sexist attention (not married man attention, just ‘you’re nothing without a man’ kind of attention).

It wasn’t about things around me changing. It was about what I chose to have around me. It was about changing my expectations and my ambitions. About wanting to be more Cinderella than She-Ra. More Rapunzel than Spiderwoman. I wasn’t going to save me, some bloke with a terrible chat up line was as we danced to *shudders* Nelly or N-Sync in a bad, bad nightclub (I used to go to Spiders and dance to the Violent Femmes for fuck’s sake. What happened?)

Caitlin teaches us about doing and not simply being. About embracing the fact that we will get older everyday, and inch that bit closer to death. Because that makes today seriously special. She teaches us that princesses are boring as arse. Just being – wearing pretty dresses and tiaras and waiting for Prince Charming. Just waiting for something to happen to them. Sleeping Beauty was asleep – unconscious – until saved by the Prince. I guess I was unconscious in my twenties too. Waiting for someone to save me.

It’s all bullshit. I don’t want to proclaim that Caitlin Moran saved me. That I was just sitting here unconscious waiting to be kissed by Moran and propelled into reality. But she kind of does open your eyes to life.

Luckily, my brain started to wake up and realise its potential a few years ago now – but we continue to learn every single day (something that Caitlin also reminds us – it’s never over. And to be honest, it would be boring if it was).

I met a real man. A proper one. He’s not the perfect fairytale prince (he deep fries my halloumi!). But he’s aces. We can spend hours playing our own version of Mallett’s Mallett, we are addicted to watching Police Camera Action and Monkey Life together and find both enjoyment and fury debating today’s terrifying politics. As Caitlin Moran says in the book: “Compared to that, Prince Charming looks like a total donk.”

My counsellor has recently encouraged me to ‘liberate’ myself. And funnily enough, I’ve had some pretty instant reactions from my other half when he’s seen me dancing around the kitchen to Get Off My Cloud by the Stones, in my pyjamas belting out a terrible Mick Jagger impersonation that could only be described as strangled cat crossed with Katie Price live. He bloody wanted me in that moment. Me – doing, liberating, enjoying the moment, dancing with life rather than trying to grind it to a halt with plastic surgery and hold-your-stomach-in pants.

Over the years, my main influences went from Spiderwoman to Madonna to Courtney Love to Carrie Bradshaw to Caitlin Moran. I’d do it all over again – minus Carrie Bradshaw. You’re really not a liberal woman just because you’re having sex in the city (I know it’s ‘and’ but it doesn’t quite work here). You might be having sex in the city but if you’re holding in your farts, wanking over pricey Blahniks (that’s also inspired by a great line from Ms Moran) and making a career out of being unable to help wondering about why men think what they think about you, you’re not really very liberated are you?

Ditch your Mulberry handbag and SATC love affair ladies. Instead, pick up How to be a Woman. You’ll not regret it. Not one bit.

 

 

 

 

Book Review: If They Could See Me Now Author: Denise Welch

Denise bookI read this within 24 hours. As the first sentence in a review of a 350+ page book, that says quite a lot. I barely put it down – in fact, I think my copy will have my breakfast crumbs firmly embedded in the pages now…

This is Denise’s first novel – and I admit I am a little behind as it was published in early 2016. Late to the party – again! But I’m glad I turned up eventually.

The story focuses on Harper, a 53 year old with a rich husband living the high life in Cheshire with the ladies that lunch. So I wasn’t convinced I would relate, but I thought I’d give it a whirl…

Thing is, this isn’t so much about the superficial bits of Harper’s life – other than showing how truly superficial they are. It’s a study of relationships, love, abuse, bullying, self-esteem, mental health and independence. It explores how the family dynamic impacts on each member and reinforces a particularly important lesson in life – that you should never lose sight of who you really are.

Harper makes a huge sacrifice for love. Or at least, for what she wants to believe is love. And this story shows that abuse doesn’t have to have physical signs. That bullying doesn’t have to involve fighting. In fact, what’s important in this story is that the person experiencing the bullying and abuse may not even realise it. And when you paint a smile on your face, nobody else need realise either.

How many of us have sacrificed parts of ourselves for somebody else? I know I have many years ago. I look back and think, perhaps it was because I was young? Perhaps I was naive. But it’s not just about being young and naive, it’s far more complicated. It’s often impossible to see it when you’re on the inside. When you believe that this is the best that love has to offer. When your self-esteem has hit an all time low. Sometimes, you can’t even see that, either.

I don’t want to give too much away, but I think what is also incredibly thought-provoking in this book is the impact that relationships can have on the wider family. And how within a family, it isn’t simply a series of individual relationships, but a bigger, whole relationship with individual parts and bonds that all react to one another – both positively and negatively.

It’s about love. Who you truly are, who you love, and allowing a little love for yourself, too. It’s not about neutralising one for the sake of the other. It’s about combining and accepting all the best, and worst, bits of each other, of a family, and making something really special. It’s the only way to thrive. Compromising who you are is a strong indicator of something toxic creeping in…

But can Harper see that? Give it a read and find out.

If they could see me now which is published by Little Brown is available to buy online – click here to order.