Saturday, 1 November 2014

Un-Review: "Not That Kind of Girl" by Lena Dunham. Also, I AM A FEMINIST.

Caitlin Moran and Lena Dunham

Following this Woman's Hour episode I finally got around to reading 'Not That Kind of Girl' by Lena Dunham (in one sitting, over 4 hours), and following me reading this article on Lena Dunham (and Caitlin Moran to a lesser extent) I am writing this review (I am using that term loosely).

I brought Lena Dunham's book on the back of how much I loved 'How to Be a Woman' by Caitlin Moran, so it does make sense that the world links them together so consistently. I have to admit that, in a way, I do both love and hate both of these women (which is fine, complicated feelings are better than a non-committal shrug). I find them both brash and smug and loud, and I believe in real life the pair of them would cause me a lot of eye rolls, HOWEVER, I like that they exist, because when I try to think of women who are portrayed/portray themselves as anything other than lovely or nice, I have a real mental block. I want these women to exist, to piss me and everyone else off, and I wish it wasn't such a big deal for a woman to be a bit too loud or a bit too honest or a bit too 'big for their boots'. In the world of tat like the LAD Bible, I am glad the (sometimes) irritating female equivalent is so eloquent, brave and honest. Remember everyone - a woman is not a whinger just because she complains, and finding someone's personality traits irritating is not the same as being irritated by their existence in your life/field of vision.

On that note, despite finding Caitlin Moran a bit tiresome sometimes, I could not have loved her book more, and in Christmas 2011, every woman I know got 'How to Be a Woman' in their stocking. Yes, she may mention periods more than I would like, and yes, I wish bodily functions did not exist but, they fucking do don't they, and she made me feel normal, happy, alive and want to shout, I AM A FEMINIST from the rooftop. I am feminist you see, although I hadn't realised it before, I am a feminist because I have a vagina and I want to be in charge of it (spoiler - all women are feminists, because they all want freedom and a good life - obviously).

As you can see, Caitlin very much won me over with her honesty, wit and feminist mantra, so I though Lena deserved a go. No-one can say Lena Dunham is not herself, however irritating, obnoxious and dramatic she may be - sounds like my kinda woman. It was the Woman's Hour interview that swung it for me and finally made me shun my work to sit down and get reading, where, despite having something to sell, Lena made me realise how much I like to read about the shit women have gone through, because it makes my shit more normal. We are all ashamed of the events of our late teens/early 20's, but it is all fine, and we really shouldn't be.

'Not That Kind of Girl' is structured very similarly to 'How to Be a Woman' - chapters based on age/life stages/key events, with an emphasis on funny and embarrassing stories that we all hate to admit we completely relate to. The book is a series of stories, and sometimes lists, of Lena's experiences growing up, and is not a traditional biography at all, which I very much enjoyed. I think people are too quick to judge books as being about 'nothing' and I do not like the idea that anyone thinks they have the deciding vote on whose story is worth more, and that some women's stories are unnecessary or too domestic. Middle class white girls can have problems too, and women do not complain about 'first world problems' any more than men in my opinion. 'Not That Kind of Girl' does a good job in teaching us that there is no such thing as 'that kind of girl', and that there is no reason to feel ashamed (but that the shame is a normal feeling none the less). WE ARE NORMAL.

I do not feel the same emotional pull to this book as I do with 'How to Be a Woman', not least of all because Caitlin's life/likes/dislikes/home city is so much closer to my version of reality, but also because Caitlin's embarrassing stories have a warm realism, whereas some of Lena's are a actually really upsetting, even disturbing in one case. I think different readers will warm to the book closest to their version of growing into a woman, and mine is very British and very northern. Also, for me, Caitlin is cooler -  I sort of want to be her, or at least be her friend (yes, despite sometimes disliking her) and, I like reading about what my pretend friend has written, what is a book if not a friend when in need?

I am not sure if either book would have any great appeal to the opposite sex, though I do hope so, as both are honest and well written, and could be a genuine help in understanding your daughter/partner/mother. Maybe it is not a huge problem anyway if the vast majority of readers are young women, how much do we really have that is aimed at us and of good quality? I hope/wish men have book like either of these that they can latch on to in the same way.

Read this book if: you like (or at least appreciate) Caitlin Moran or Lena Dunham/you are a woman/you like women/you know a woman/you want to feel better about your body and its confusing functions/you don't always understand the woman in your life/you have insulted (internally or vocally) either of the books or women mentioned in this 'review'/you have ever publicly insulted someone/you have ever felt ashamed of yourself or your body/you have ever insulted any woman or made them feel small.

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