How to Be a Woman

Caitlin Moran’s new book has recently hit American bookshelves and I, for one, immediately logged onto Amazon.com to secure my copy. How to Be a Woman is sure to rouse the latent feminist within you and call you to action (please!).

A few days ago I heard Moran interviewed by NPR’s Terry Gross on her ever-popular show Fresh Air. Moran’s in-your-face wit brims with wisdom as in my favorite quote from her interview: “If you have a vagina and you’d like to control it, you are a feminist.” Of course she also asked what about feminism women don’t like? Is it your right to vote or own property? Perhaps your ability to get an education, is that too much? Or maybe you’d prefer to be confined to your home, caring for a quiver of children because you don’t have access to birth control?

But not only was Moran incredibly funny and engaging, she was also honest and amazingly willing to talk about what many would avoid, things too personal and private for such public consumption.

So, in case you haven’t heard, Moran, the mother of two children, had an abortion. Not only that, she has never felt guilty for doing so, even as she walked out of the clinic the day she had the procedure. I don’t know how I feel about her feelings—well, lack of them. I mean, I believe women should be free to make decisions about pregnancies and family planning, but I also believe life is sacred and any end to life is loss and sorrow or sadness or something seems like it should naturally follow.

OK, so I’m feeling a little ambivalent about Moran and her abortion narrative and then Terry Gross asks her to talk about women who decide not to have children. Wow. How often do you hear this one (maybe never)?

I remember early in our marriage, people asked Bryan and I when we were starting a family. It was always difficult to answer and I think we never did get very adept in handling the question, to some degree because our answer was sure to disappoint or surprise since we did not plan to have children. And, truthfully, there were a few times when our answers—mine, more specifically—met with sharp disapproval as in: how selfish of you. I’m disappointed and am sure your parents are as well.

And, even though I have not doubted the wisdom of our decision, that doesn’t mean it has been easy, that the consistent social pressure doesn’t sometimes feel oppressive, that the re-direction of your friends’ energies to their children—a perfectly understandable and good thing—doesn’t also represent a loss of sorts.

Moran’s interview reminded me of the need we all have to be validated in our choices but also to support others in the choices they make. But, something even more important lies behind these decisions that we must cherish because in our currently political milieu such liberties are being challenged.

When women do not have the freedoms to make choices about reproduction men will remain firmly in control of society, of government, of our individual lives. A well-known and well-respected scholar, Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, writes, “Our entire society is organized around gender roles. Females are socialized to be ‘feminine’ (passive, dependent, nurturant) and then urged to pair with males, who are socialized to be ‘masculine’ (active, independent, macho). It should not surprise anybody that within such pairings, the females are subjugated and encouraged to express pseudo-power harmlessly through consumerism.”

Feminism has been under assault especially by those who want to assert women have submissive roles to play in God’s patriarchal family. Maybe we have needed just this moment to remember where we’ve come from and how we want to live.