How to be a Woman Summary & Study Guide

Caitlin Moran
This Study Guide consists of approximately 62 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of How to be a Woman.
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How to be a Woman Summary & Study Guide Description

How to be a Woman Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion on How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran.

Caitlin Moran is a well-known English journalist and music critic who writes a memoir specifically dealing with her experiences on becoming a woman. Caitlin grew up in a working class family, the eldest of eight children, in the West Midlands city of Wolverhampton. She begins her story on her thirteenth birthday, the symbolic beginning of adolescence and the first step towards “womanhood.” Caitlin gets her first period and pubic hair soon after her birthday, but these rites of passage remain somewhat mysterious to her; despite her close knit family, her mother is reticent in discussing uncomfortable sexual topics, and leaves Caitlin to fend for herself. Caitlin spends her teenage years as a misfit, overweight and friendless, but learning about the world through art – books, television, and music. She teaches herself to masturbate and finds the pursuit of desire and pleasure her first true step toward understanding what a woman is, despite having to wear hand-me-down underwear and being uncomfortable with the word “vagina.”

At sixteen, Caitlin gets a job working for a music magazine called Melody Maker in London, and she interacts with adults regularly for the first time. When she uses her new freedom to explore her sexuality, Caitlin finds herself the brunt of casual sexism amongst her all male co-workers, despite their liberal views. By the time Caitlin is eighteen, she is hosting a late night television show about music and decides she needs a boyfriend as her next step toward womanhood. This boyfriend, a musician named Courtney, treats Caitlin terribly and only stays with her to make music industry connections. Caitlin struggles to make the relationship work, despite all the obvious warning signs that it is toxic, but finally, with the helpful clarity of her sister Caz, Caitlin dumps Courtney. Soon after, she realizes she is in love with her good friend and co-worker Pete, whom she eventually marries at age twenty-four.

Caitlin gives birth to two daughters after she and Pete marry. The first terrifies her so much she avoids preparing for it and ends up having a three day labor that ends in a an emergency caesarean. The pain Caitlin experiences gives her a new perspective on life, and the fact that she knows she can survive childbirth makes her second labor go much more smoothly. She is still breastfeeding her second daughter when Caitlin discovers she is pregnant again. She and Pete easily opt for an abortion. Though the procedure is painful, Caitlin never regrets it.

Meanwhile, in her career as a journalist, Caitlin is given ample opportunity to observe how women are presented in the media, and how feminism is playing out in the early twenty-first century. She escorts a fellow female journalist to a strip club and she interviews a “successful” female model entrepreneur named Katie Price whose only commodity is selling herself. Kate is self-absorbed and mean, but as her popularity wanes Caitlin is cheered to interview Lady Gaga, a talented female artist who uses her sexuality to disturb rather than titillate and has an inclusive fan base for the marginalized, as she actively advocates for gay rights.

At thirty-five, Caitlin sees women just older than her begin to face the aging process and balk in fear, injecting and tucking their bodies to appear as youthful as possible. But Caitlin wants to age gracefully. In the twenty-two years since she turned thirteen, she may have stumbled in her attempts to “be” a woman, but she arrives at the conclusion that “being” isn’t the point, it is “doing” that matters. She agitates for a world where politeness reigns, and everyone does the best they can to be honest, hardworking, and civil. Along the way Caitlin offers commentary on everything from Brazilian waxes, pornography, underwear, strip clubs, housecleaners, flirting, abortion, having children, fashion, feminist icons and role models, princesses, and plastic surgery. She is not afraid to state her bold opinions, and she hopes that by sharing her experiences other women will be encouraged to speak out as well, and everyone will be proud to proclaim themselves as feminists.

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