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Caitlin Moran’s new book is a wake-up call for all those who think having young kids is the hard part of parenting.
For all those who think that having young children is the hardest bit of parenting and that middle age will bring a bit more ‘me’ time, Caitlin Moran’s new book will be a wake-up call.
Instead, she says in More than a woman, your life will be all about other people’s problems. “If anything’s going to get sorted out, you’re the one who’s going to have to do it,” she writes. “No more messy nights out, or voyages of self-discovery. You are about to be required to hold the fabric of society together. For no pay. That’s what being a middle-aged woman is.”
The book begins on a fairly lightweight note, on to-do lists, married sex and worries about physical appearance, but it soon ramps up. The section on housework asks why women seem to generally end up doing more of it. The answer, says Moran, is that men just don’t see a lot of what women do – all the endless problem solving and anticipating problems and worrying about other people. These are the things women are prepared for from childhood though endless articles, through watching role models and so forth. “Women plan years into the future – because they have to,” she writes. “Our lives are big, slow-moving ships, laden with responsibilities and consequences – pregnancy, attack, abandonment, demotion – and so our constant thinking, thinking, thinking is because we are always ready for the alarm bells to ring, or our moment to come. We were raised like this. We know no other way. We are so used to thinking like this that we think it’s normal. And it is. For 52 per cent of the population. We are, essentially, in a constant state of alarm. Panic. Readiness. It;s why, in an emergency, it is almost always the women who step forward, take over, say: ‘I know what to do.’ When the world falls apart, it’s women who put it back together again.”
In a later chapter on men she asks why men don’t do more to make the playing field more even. She asks men on Twitter what they dislike about being a man and is surprised by the amount of replies she gets and the depth of men’s dissatisfaction with the straitjacket of what being a man means. She says that over the last decades women have come together and bonded and moved forward, taking back some of the ground that men have traditionally occupied, for instance, in the workplace. Men may complain about not being able to show their feelings or being forced into certain roles, but, says Moran, they have not organised for change. “They have no network,” she writes. “They have no way of talking about their problems – what saddens them, what they would like to change. They have no way to ask each other questions, and find answers. They have not found a way to challenge the patriarchy. They are, essentially, stuck with the lives of their fathers and grandfathers.”
Part of the problem with moving into this traditionally female territory, says Moran, is that it is still viewed as inferior. Until those things are seen as equally powerful as what men traditionally do, men will be stuck, she states.
The book is structured according to a supposed middle-aged woman’s day – the hour of missing the children, the hour of working parenting, etc. It’s a little forced – the hour of working parenting, for instance, seems to be around 2pm. That chapter starts with a reflection on how important finding the right, supportive partner is. Moran states simply: “All too often, women marry their glass ceilings.” She rails against the unpaid nature of the childcare done mostly by women and calls for that work to be paid and for childcare fees to be tax deductible.
Next comes elder care and society’s reliance on generally middle-aged women doing unpaid work. The lack of awareness of the impact on women and the lack of a proper plan for dealing with our ageing society are symptoms of “an unspoken presumption that we will simply carry on as we are, with women carrying the burden, unpaid”, says Moran. The baton is passed down the generations. “It’s a baked-in financial inequality. It’s also a tax on love – for if you are the gender that, traditionally, loves and cares, by offering a service that saves the state billions, you are put at a financial disadvantage,” she writes.
Other chapters in the book deal with everything from women attacking women on social media to Botox [Moran has had it] and dealing with friends’ relationship breakdowns.
The most difficult parts of the book concern Moran’s experience of supporting her daughter through a mental health breakdown. For anyone who is raising teenage daughters, her words will have a strong resonance. In the lead-up to talking about the breakdown, she speaks about girls’ self esteem, their feelings of being judged constantly on what they look like. She tells in detail how her daughter stopped eating and how she and her partner ventured through the treacherous terrain of eating disorders and suicide attempts.
She sets that in the context of so many parents going through similar experiences. She says her daughter is “a product of her times”. She writes: “There are so many girls out there like her. In my social circle, fully a third of teenage girls I know are on medication; they self-harm; they starve themselves; they have panic attacks so intense they must leave school, or else be taught at home. This epidemic can’t be by chance.”
She asks why, apart from the pressures on girls over what they look like, this epidemic has taken off. In part she blames parents for putting too much responsibility on their children’s shoulders because of their own anxieties about the world. She says that if we want to know why we are raising an anxious, depressed, panicking generation who are prone to self harm, we should ask about our own expectations of them. “We have charged them with saving the world,” she says simply.
And what image of the future are we presenting them as women? “We just do not make being a grown woman look like an appealing job,” says Moran. “We do not sell the idea that being a woman is, yes, difficult – but also amazing, and joyous, and powerful, and freeing. We do not show them a world where we value the skills of women, or seek out their knowledge.”
The book finishes with a call for women to come together, to create a Women’s Union that “looks at all the evidence and statistics on problems that affect women’s lives, jobs, safety and sanity and campaigns to makes its members’ lives better”.
Moran states: “If we really want to stop our young girls fearing becoming full-grown women, we have to be able to look them in the eye and say, ‘It’s hard work, but life does get better,’ and mean it. We have to be truthful when we say, ‘There is both respect, and worth, in the work of women.’ We have to be able to say, ‘You will never feel like it’s just down to you, on your own, to make the world better. You will be working with millions.’ We need to be able to say, ‘Women are cared for as they care for others’ – and then point to an organisation that is actually doing it.”
*More than a woman by Caitlin Moran is published by Ebury Press.