Being a woman is complicated. It’s also frustrating, funny, heartbreaking, wild, and rich, like all human experience. In Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman (Harper Perennial), the author bravely and brilliantly weaves personal anecdotes and cutting insight into a book that is at once instructional, confessional, and a call for change. Calling into question societal pressures from popping out babies to getting Brazilian waxes, Moran shifts effortlessly between her own hilarious experiences and larger questions about women’s place in the modern world. Moran herself is no stranger to wielding power as a British broadcaster, TV critic, and columnist at The Times, winning Interviewer of the Year in 2011. And yet Moran still was troubled by the roles she saw even successful, strong women buying into, especially in an increasingly troubled economy: oversize designer handbags, expensive cocktails and insipid chatter about sex and men. A mother of two young daughters, Moran wants the world to change and soon. Her book is a guide and intensely personal journey of discovery of both what it is like to be a woman and what it is like to be a person, constantly questioning the world around them. We spoke with Moran from London about eating more cheese, nitrous oxide, rock-‘n’-roll, handbags as status symbols, “Sex Narnias,” her Celtic skin, and all the things she has done—and other women can do—to feel more comfortable in it.
ROYAL YOUNG: Tell me what it’s like to be a woman.
CAITLIN MORAN: It’s bloody knackering if you do it properly. One of the main reasons I wrote this book, is that I felt as a modern woman, I was faced with a choice: I could either really fucking up my game and do everything all the magazines told me to do, get a proper wardrobe, a blow dry and work hard on looking stunning but natural, or I could write a book that would make other women lower their standards. I wanted the world of women to just relax a bit, just say “You know what? Fuck it.” Eat more cheese, read more.
YOUNG: I think that’s pretty sexy. That’s way more attractive than girls that are so fragile.
MORAN: Yeah, I’m not at all concerned about breaking a nail. I’ve been listening to rock-‘n’-roll since I was 16, so my most comfortable mode is at music festivals, whiskey in one pocket, doing nitrous oxide in a field. That’s when I feel like a beautiful princess. That’s my princess moment. In the book, I tackle the idea of expensive weddings, bridezillas, the idea that that might be the most important day of your life.
YOUNG: I think we’re talking a lot about pressure. Societal pressure to look your best all the time and be this version of sexy that feels outdated.
MORAN: Right, we’ve been stuck in this for so long, glamorous ladies in Jimmy Choos having cocktails and they must have one gay best friend. They’re very bitchy and go to very loud clubs. We need a new template. Our world is afflicted by poverty. Don’t spend all this money on clothes! I didn’t like the inner voice that most Western women seemed to have, a fretful, neurotic, capitalist tone. I prefer something more careless and joyful. You can wear cheap Mary Janes and it’s fine!
YOUNG: Yes. But then again, I like putting on a tie for my girlfriend. I like combing my hair. I like when she looks at me and I can tell that she thinks I look handsome and that I put some effort into it. I feel like those moments are important for both men and women.
MORAN: Yes, but listen to your list of getting ready for a sexy night out. For some women, they would plan a bikini wax two days before, so they don’t have stubble issues, fake tan, facial, highlights, do your eyebrows, get your false eyelashes glued on, get your nails done, have some sort of cellulite prosthetic treatment. You just comb your hair and put on a tie.
YOUNG: [laughs] That’s a long fucking list.
MORAN: [laughs] Yes, and in that time, you could be watching Ghostbusters or going for a long walk.
YOUNG: It seems to me what you’re getting at is that there are spiritual and emotional things that everyone—not just women— can do. How much more exciting to explore your heart and mind, who you are as a person than giving an awesome blowjob because you read 20 million articles in Cosmo on how to.
MORAN: Absolutely. And the magazines are also telling you to spend so much money. To spend thousands of dollars on a handbag. I once went into a meeting and every woman put her a million-pound bag on the table. Then I’m there with my tote bag and anorak. And I’m like, well, I’m still the most important person in the room right now.
YOUNG: [laughs] That’s awesome. I love that. But playing devil’s advocate a tiny bit, I feel like being blasé or more natural eventually becomes capital.
MORAN: Yes, even the idea of being casual can be marketed.
YOUNG: And not marketing yourself is still a stance that can be marketed.
MORAN: Yes, and though I can’t escape that, I can offer alternatives. It’s not my way or the highway, I just want a widening of views. I just don’t want to only see one kind of woman. And I fear for my girls. One is eight and the other is ten.
YOUNG: What scares you?
MORAN: The way they seem to talk about science and math as things they can’t do. I need the entire world to change for them in the next ten years.
YOUNG: I feel like you’re probably a pretty amazing, strong mom.
MORAN: Thank you, but you can’t go everywhere with them.
YOUNG: Of course. I was particularly interested in this idea you bring up of a “Sex Narnia” or imaginary romance.
MORAN: There was a very famous British comedian who I had my imaginary relationship with. But then I did actually end up having sex with him. I went through the wardrobe. And it was a terrible shag! But I think when you’re in your early 20s, often you don’t know what a real relationship is. When you’re always on the phone with your friends agonizing over things for hours and then when you actually find a partner and get into a real relationship, you realize there’s no need to pick up the phone. You’re too busy having amazing sex and planning your future together. That’s the difference between a fantasy relationship and a real one: you don’t have to talk about it all the time.
YOUNG: Let’s talk about fashion, which I feel can often be such a horrible force.
MORAN: I’m quite British; I’ve got big, flat feet and I can’t wear heels. I’ve got very, very pale Celtic skin, so my legs are always a frightening blue color. So when you take out clothes that reveal your legs, shoes that have any kind of heel, no shop will actually take my money. We’re all walking around in someone else’s idea of what we should wear. It used to be if you wanted something nice to wear, you would sew it yourself for your body type. Women before the 2oth century didn’t have this problem. Now, it seems we’re all squeezed into random designs. They’re designed for no one.
YOUNG: They’re designed, maybe, for a Taiwanese 12-year-old.
MORAN: [laughs] Exactly.
YOUNG: So it sounds like you feel women are up against a lot.
MORAN: I just feel there need to be more options. Women can be academics. It doesn’t all come down to women in a cupcake café with three friends. One is gay, one is a bitch and one is a slut. I didn’t have any friends at all when I was a teenage girl. And every movie, every TV show said if you’ve just got your friends, everything is fine. But lots of people grow up having no friends at all. I just felt so lonely. And that is okay.
HOW TO BE A WOMAN IS OUT TODAY.