Thursday, 21 August 2014

Book Review - How To Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

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"Part memoir, part rant"

Given that this is a spanking romance blog, I have so far kept all my books reviews spanking and romance related. Caitlin Moran’s How To Be a Woman however is neither of those things.

I know what you’re going to say. You’re all “What gives, Etta? Are you just going to start reviewing every book you happen to read here now? Is that how it is? Can we look forward to your scintillating insights into SQL Database Programming next?”

I hear what you’re saying. Though frankly that attitude of yours could do with a little work. But, you see, in one particular important respect How To Be a Woman ties in very neatly with the aims and objectives of this website: There’s a surprisingly large amount about masturbation in it.

My business model is all about masturbation. In fact if Etta Stark Enterprises had a Mission Statement (and now that I think about it, it really should) it would be this:

Delivering first-class masturbation-based solutions to all our customers via the medium of spanky romance.

Caitlin Moran’s initial introduction to self-love came as a teenager when she first acquired her adult library card. This allowed her to check out from the previously forbidden shelves of the public library. She borrows Jilly Cooper’s Riders and reading it has a profound effect on her life.

Three hours later and I cannot believe what I am reading. My first day of getting adult books out and I have struck filth gold. Absolute filth gold. Riders by Jilly Cooper is more than I could ever have dreamed of – there’s cocks, tits and shagging everywhere. Clits falling from the sky. Arses two feet deep. A hurricane of nipples, blowjobs and muff-diving.

Cocks, tits and shagging everywhere

Moran’s discovery of the racier side of the public library is a turning point. It is, she says, “the key text that will translate ‘new and unusual feelings’ that I have into ‘masturbating furiously and compulsively for the next four years’... This new hobby is amazing. It doesn’t cost anything. I don’t have to leave the house and it isn’t making me fat.”

It is a joyful account of the awkward amazingness that comes with one’s adolescent discovery of wanking.
Not that Moran approves of the term ‘wank’ – “it sounds like cranking a handle, or some difficult handling of chunky machinery.” No it doesn’t! It sounds both charming and pleasingly Middle English. I refuse to let you bad mouth my favourite word. Not just my favourite word for masturbation, you understand. My favourite word ever.

Moran’s fond reminiscences about self-pleasuring lead her to consider the role of pornography. As a member of the pre-internet porn generation she was dependent on cobbling together her wank fantasies from Dennis Potter dramas, Jennifer Ehle’s tits in The Camomile Lawn, naked Jenny Agutter in Walkabout and terrible post-pub magazine show Eurotrash.

Inspirational tits
She worries about today’s young people getting too much exposure to standardised porn on the internet. She doesn’t have a problem with porn itself (“It’s just some fucking”) so much as the porn industry:

“The whole thing is as offensive, sclerotic, depressing, emotionally bankrupt and desultory as you would expect a widely unregulated industry worth, at an extremely conservative estimate, $30 billion to be.”

I found myself getting annoyed by Moran's assessment. Not just the “we was poor but we was happy” attitude which dictates that anything that happens in one’s own childhood must automatically be better than what’s happening in the current one.

It’s the immediate assumption that exposure to porn is a Bad Thing for teenagers. The current crop of teenagers – the ones who have grown up thinking that the internet is a normal and indeed necessary part of their lives -  seem to be turning out remarkably well. Teen pregnancy is at its lowest since the 1960s and drinking and drug-taking are down compared to previous generations.  Compared to my generation of messed up teens in the 1980s, young people today seem to be doing OK. I’m not saying this is because of internet porn or the fact that half of them had probably watch Two Girls One Cup by the time they were fifteen. But internet porn certainly doesn’t seem to have broken them.

Not that Moran is looking to ban it. She wants to encourage more of it in fact. More diverse porn. She wants boys to have the chance of seeing sex as “something two people that two people do together rather than a thing that just happens to a woman when she has to make rent.”

It’s a battle cry for more women to become involved in the porn industry as the writer and the creators of the stuff not just the people providing the convenient orifices.

“I suspect that female pornography, when it really gets going will be something other: warm, humane, funny, dangerous, psychedelic, with wholly different parameters to male porn. Imagine if pornography was not this bizarre, mechanised, factory-farmed fucking, bloodless, naked aerobics, concerned solely with high speed penetration and ostentatious ejaculation. Imagine if it were about desire.”

And I know it’s not quite the same thing, but I wonder whether in all Moran’s frantic searching for porn with heart, she is even aware of the pages and pages of easily accessible erotic literature that our brave new digital world has made possible. Given her delight at finding cocks and tits and shagging in Riders as a teenager, you would think a world of even raunchier sexplorations and kinky romance would be just up her street. Especially given that it’s a million miles away from the male-dominated, exploitative, impersonal, industry that she dislikes so much.

Smut writing is literally a cottage industry (well for those of us who literally live in cottages at any rate). Anyone with a laptop and a filthy imagination can share their fantasies with the world and nobody gets exploited. You don’t need to worry whether  the girl getting tied up and face-fucked is enjoying herself or just doing it to send money back to her family in Liberia. You know she’s having the time of her life because you wrote her that way.

Maybe men are still running the show over on Pornhub but at the amazon kindle store, the sisters are definitely doing it for themselves. Caitlin Moran ought to check it out. The combination of feminism and filth is right up her street.

Like this one, for example.
How To Be a Woman isn’t all about masturbation and porn, obviously. Although don’t get too excited by the title and think that Caitlin Moran actually has all the answers on how to be a woman. Not that any of us need an instruction book. I think the only criteria to being a woman is having a vagina and everything else, provided you’re the one doing it, is comfortably within the acceptable parameters of womanly behaviour because you’re a woman. In fact, even having a vagina isn’t a non-negotiable part of being a woman, come to think of it. There are, happily, a lot of fuzzy areas.

This book is a collection of anecdotes and opinion pieces loosely tied in with Moran’s life story. We begin with her childhood in Wolverhampton living with her parents and seven siblings in a three-bedroom council house then follow her through university, work, marriage, motherhood and anything that pops into her head.

There’s a great bit where Moran having just interviewed Lady Gaga goes with her to a sex club in Berlin.

“To get to the dance floor, you had to go through a maze of corridors and past a series of tiny, cell-like booths, decked out with a selection of beds, bathtubs, hoists and chains.
‘For fucking,’ a German member of our entourage explained – both helpfully and somewhat unnecessarily.”

However, while How To Be a Woman is often very funny, it is also in equal parts contradictory, slapdash and smug. It reads more like a collection of hastily cobbled-together blog posts than a well-thought out structured book. In the acknowledgments Moran says that she wrote the book in a  couple of frenzied months and you know, you can really tell.

The number of poorly researched and downright incorrect things made me almost as cross as Moran’s often lecturing tone. She talks about her love for the film Wish You Were Here by describing a couple of scenes which totally didn’t happen.

Nobody gets shagged against a wall in this film. 
If you watched it because Caitlin Moran said they did, you may be disappointed.

It mightn’t be a big deal but it keeps happening. It’s just sloppy and to be honest, I think a British Press Awards Columnist of the Year should do better.

In fact, maybe there weren’t even as many clits in Jilly Cooper’s Riders as she said were. Some of them probably weren't even falling from the sky.

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