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Goat Heads and Sand Burrs, P. Kirby's Reading Blog

The good, bad, and fugly books I've read.
How To Be a Woman - Caitlin Moran Even though I know damn well that "fag" in British-ese for cigarette, every time Moran writes of lighting up a fag, my obstinate (and admittedly offensive) American brain conjures up an image of a woman picking up a Lilliputian version of Jack from the TV show Will & Grace, setting his feet on fire and shoving his teeny screaming head into her mouth. (And Moran fires up so many fags in this book that one wonders if her lungs look like a coal mine.)

Other readers have covered this book and Moran’s approach to womanhood far more thoroughly than I will. In short, I found How to Be a Woman amusing and sometimes LOL funny. I especially appreciated her discussion of abortion, particularly her own choice to abort. Other aspects of the book, like the naming of her vagina and boobs, didn’t resonate much. I mean, why would I name ‘em? Do I need to summon them or give them commands? Like a dog? “Tits. Sit. Stay. Perky.”

I’m going to address the one chapter that probably isn't that controversial to other readers: Moran’s stance on cosmetic “interventions” to fend off the signs of aging. Her plan, supposedly, is to go into old age eschewing any and all attempts to ward off the outward signs of aging. And here, she includes everything from surgery (face lifts) to tooth whitening. (Seriously? Going into middle age with dingy yellow teeth is a good thing? Ugh.)

My thesis: Refusing to have Botox or other cosmetic procedures, or abstaining from *dyeing your hair or whitening your teeth really isn’t necessarily some great feminist statement. A small blow to ageism, maybe (however futile). But a sword through the chest of misogyny? Meh. Not so much.

Moran asserts, correctly, that women’s preoccupation with staving off time’s wear and tear is a function of patriarchal forces. Basically, a woman’s value is still largely bound up in how she looks, and that look should preferable be young and nubile. Her argument, however, falls apart when she asserts that because the men she sees haven’t resurfaced, stretched and paralyzed their faces, men in general go blithely into old age.

In my experience, it’s men, not women who ultimately take aging poorly, often with tremendous acrimony and bitterness. Probably because they’ve been conditioned to think of themselves as the stronger gender, they see their failing virility, declining strength and enlarged prostates as the universe’s personal betrayal. Some get downright nasty about it, hence, “grumpy old men.”

The difference is that instead of a new face, men go out and purchase a sports car or a motorcycle. Some comfort their floppy libidos with Viagra and a twenty-year-old coed with Daddy issues. And for the most part, the male version of mid-life crisis, with its expensive and dangerous toys, and borderline pedophilia, is seen as amusing, and almost cute. Sure, there are some who wag their fingers at Bob, his Ducati bike and shiny, new BFF, Tiffany (with a happy face over the “i”). But by and large, Bob’s attempts to prove he is still young, – Dagnammit! – are met with fond smiles and maybe some envy.

I think you could argue that both genders would be better off spending their time and resources on something else - travel, learning a new language, etc. But when it comes the management of mid-life angst, once again it’s men that get a pass. Both sexes are wallowing in the same neurosis (fear of getting old, dying), and are expressing their pain in admittedly stereotypical gender-defined ways. Men, nonetheless, are just “going through a phase,” “boys will be boys” and all that. The female version of the **Ducati – Botox, the nip ‘n tuck, – however, is “vain” and somehow “immoral.” Other women sneer and say, “Why can’t she just grow old gracefully?” (I dunno? Maybe because aging ain’t all that “graceful?”)

Anyway, I’m not making a case for cosmetic surgery and other procedures. My point is that Moran, in her scorn for any anti-aging measures [for women], is engaging in a bit of sexism herself. I don’t see her telling the lads to step away from the young blond with perky tits or to put that $70K into a IRA rather than a high performance engine. (Yeah, I get it. Because then the title of the book would be How to Be a Man.)

Besides, as I understand it, men represent a small but growing part of the cosmetic procedure market (at this point, usually hair replacement). Given that anti-aging drugs, creams, and procedures are a product of Big Pharma, the ultimate marketing machine, the years to come will see more and more men having cosmetic procedures. My guess is that as more guys start getting an injection here, and a stretch there, the practice of cosmetic surgery will become normalized. Because if men do it, it automatically becomes acceptable, because their involvement removes the dreaded taint of “girl.”

Anyway, in some ways, Moran is my soul sister, most notably in her opinion regarding expensive weddings. (30K for a party to celebrate the signing of a contract that will possibly be dissolved in divorce seven years hence? Stupid.) Ditto, money spent on high heels and handbags.

The point of How to Be a Woman is obviously to be provocative and in that Moran succeeds. It’s crass, and hardly an exhaustive and complex piece of feminist literature. But I didn’t find it to be as angry-making as I expected, either.


*You will have to pry my bottle of hair dye out of my cold dead hands. I’ve been dyeing my hair since I was a teen. Someday, when it turns snow white, I will dye it a brilliant shade of purple or deepest burgundy, something I can’t currently do with dark hair.

**Personally, I want both. The speedy crotch rocket and, a decade or so from now, the surgical removal of turkey neck flaps that run in my family. Because wrinkles are no problem, but looking like a Thanksgiving entre? Ick.