Already a bestseller in her native England, Caitlin Moran’s “How To Be a Woman” is a fresh, funny take on modern feminism that shines a light on issues facing every woman, lovingly boiled down to the basics with insight and humor. Here’s an excerpt.
So, I had assumed it was optional. I know that women bleed every month, but I didn’t think it was going to happen to me. I’d presumed I would be able to opt out of it—perhaps from sheer unwillingness. It honestly doesn’t look that much use or fun, and I can’t see any way I can fit it into my schedule.
I’m just not going to bother! I think to myself, cheerfully, as I do my ten sit-ups a night. Captain Moran is opting out!
I am taking my “By the Time I’m 18” list very seriously. My “Loose [sic] Weight” campaign has stepped up a gear—not only am I still not eating gingernuts, but I’m also doing ten sit-ups and ten push-ups a night. We don’t have any full-length mirrors in the house, so I’ve no idea how I’m doing, but I imagine that, at this rate, my boot-camp regime will have me as slender as Winona Ryder by Christmas.
I’d only found out about periods four months ago, anyway. My mother never told us about them—“I thought you’d picked it all up from Moonlighting,” she said vaguely, when, years later, I asked her about it—and it’s only when I came across a Tampax leaflet, stuffed in the hedge outside our house by a passing schoolgirl, that I’d discovered what the whole menstrual deal was.
“I don’t want to talk about this,” [my sister] Caz says, when I come into the bedroom with the leaflet and try to show it to her. “But have you seen?” I ask her, sitting on the end of her bed. She moves to the other end of the bed. Caz doesn’t like “nearness.” It makes her extremely irascible. In a three-bedroom council [subsidized] house with seven people in it, she is almost perpetually furious.
“Look—this is the womb, and this is the vagina, and the Tampax expands widthways, to fill the . . . burrow,” I say.
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I’ve only skim-read the leaflet. To be honest, it has blown my mind quite badly. The cross-section of the female reproductive system looks complicated, and impractical—like one of those very expensive Rotastak hamster cages, with tunnels going everywhere. Again, I’m not really sure I want in on all of this. I think I thought I was just made of solid meat—from my pelvis to my neck—with the kidneys wedged in there somewhere. Like a sausage. I dunno. Anatomy isn’t my strong point. I like romantic 19th-century novels, where girls faint in the rain, and Spike Milligan’s war memoirs. There isn’t much menstruation in either. This all seems a bit . . . unnecessary.
“And it happens every month,” I say to Caz. Caz is now actually lying, fully dressed, under her duvet, wearing Wellington boots.
“I want you to go away,” her voice says from under the duvet. “I’m pretending you’re dead. I can’t think of anything I want to do less than talk about menstruation with you.”
I trail away.
“Nil desperandum!” I say to myself. “There’s always someone I can go to for a sympathetic ear and a bowlful of cheery chat!”
The stupid new dog is under my bed. She has gotten pregnant by the small dog, Oscar, who lives across the road. None of us can quite work out how this has happened, as Oscar is one of those small yappy-type dogs, only slightly bigger than a family-size tin of baked beans, and the stupid new dog is a fully grown German shepherd.
“She must have actually dug a hole in the ground, to squat in,” Caz says in disgust. “She must have been gagging for it. Your dog is a whore.”
“I’m going to become a woman soon, dog,” I say. The dog licks her vagina. I have noticed the dog always does this when I talk to her. I have not yet worked out what I think about this, but I think I might be a bit sad about it.
“I found a leaflet, and it says I’ll be starting my period soon,” I continue. “I’ll be honest, dog—I’m a bit worried. I think it’s going to hurt.”
I look into the dog’s eyes. She is as stupid as a barrel of toes. Galaxies of nothing are going on in her eyes.
I get up.
“I’m going to talk to Mum,” I explain. The dog remains under my bed, looking, as always, deeply nervous about being a dog. I track Mum down on the toilet. She’s now eight months pregnant, and holding the sleeping one-year-old Cheryl while trying to do a wee.
I sit on the edge of the bath.
“Mum?” I say.
For some reason, I think I am allowed only one question about this. One shot at the “menstrual cycle conversation.”
“Yes?” she answers. Even though she is doing a wee and holding a sleeping baby, she is also sorting out a whites wash from the washing basket.
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“You know—my period?” I whisper.
“Yes?” she says.
“Will it hurt?” I ask.
Mum thinks for a minute.
“Yeah,” she says, in the end. “But it’s okay.”
The baby then starts crying, so she never explains why it’s okay. It remains unexplained.
Excerpted from How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran. Copyright © 2012 by Caitlin Moran. Excerpted by permission of Harper Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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