Noteworthy: Caitlin Moran and the middle-aged ladies. By Eleanor Black
I feel a deep kinship with Caitlin Moran. We are the same age and have shouldered many of the same burdens – mostly because white, middle-class Gen X women have more in common than we don't. She is funny and kind and incredibly clever and I like her as a person. I interviewed her once and she called me "darling". It was lovely.
That said, when I picked up my review copy of her latest book, More Than a Woman (Ebury Press, $35), I had reservations. It arrived with a list of talking points on the back cover, including the rather banal, "Can feminists have Botox?" I couldn't care any less than I do whether Caitlin Moran has had Botox or spent two years pursuing posh facials at celebrity haunts in London (which she tells us she did, before she eventually got Botox).
If she has taught us anything with her previous books and thrice-weekly opinion columns, it is that women should feel free to present themselves as they wish: puckered as prunes, smooth as blank sheets of paper, covered in tattoos like Ray Bradbury's Illustrated Man. We get to decide. So while I wish Moran and her smooth forehead all the best, I don't feel like she owes me or anyone else an explanation.
Banality #2: home decor. Moran riffs at length about the differences between men and women, as evidenced by their attitude towards armchairs and china sets. Apparently, a woman will "not make sudden, snap decisions about things. We have been taught to believe there is a best practice for everything that needs to be done …" Men, however, "just see a thing – on sale, or possibly in a skip – [and] think, 'I like that. It will do.'"
I have a few problems with this. For one thing, I am a woman who did not plan her lounge furniture years in advance, or her wedding, or her family. I am not programmed that way. I am, however, married to a man who has plans about the pantry that he bores me with about three times a year, when he deems it has "got out of control" again. We don't fit Moran's narrative, nor would many of the couples we know.
But much more significantly, gender is not what we used to believe it to be. There isn't a male way and a female way and nothing else. The binary does not describe the variety we see within humanity. I don't think Moran means to exclude trans and non-binary people, but nor does she try to include them – or non-white people, for that matter – in the book. This chapter, in particular, felt like a missive from another time, and it made me uncomfortable.
Far better was Moran's heartfelt advice for the parents of teens with eating disorders and the chapter about the importance of allowing women to "fail up" in their attempts to climb the corporate ladder or succeed in politics or simply be feminist. She writes: "Whenever we pile on a woman who hasn't been feminist enough or has been found to be imperfect, we don't improve feminism or strengthen it but instead make it more difficult for all of us."
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In this book, Moran is primarily speaking to the concerns of the middle-aged woman, the underappreciated workhorse caring for children and ageing parents while paying bills and trying to keep her partner happy and navigate made-up problems like "back fat". As one of those women, I did find this book comforting, if limited in its perspective. Like all of Moran's writing, it sparkles. Hopefully, it offers younger women some comfort too, in envisioning a future in which they can still be themselves – or even more so, as hokey as that may sound.