In the last few weeks I’ve read two excellent books on what it means to be a woman in 2013 – How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran and The XX Factor: How working women are creating a new society by Alison Wolf.
How to be a woman was given to me by my best friend Calliste in November when I was visiting her in Oxford. We spent much of the weekend having the kinds of conversations it turns out Caitlin Moran has written about in a brilliantly funny way in this book. We talked a lot about work, relationships, the tricky decision on whether to have kids or not, why knickers are getting smaller and many other things. After a couple of cocktails in the back of a taxi we got an enormous fit of giggles when I couldn’t remember how old we were and we felt hugely grateful to have such an amazing friendship 21 years on from being stuck together on the first day of our A level Geography class (we didn’t think much of each other on first glance as I thought she was a tart and she thought I was square, which just goes to show whilst we were both a bit right, it doesn’t do to make snap judgements). So, I started reading How to be a woman on the train home and then on my daily commute for the next few days.
My inability to not frequently laugh out loud was made worse by the fact I am surrounded by male commuters on this very quiet early morning train into London, who probably wouldn’t have understood why it was quite so hilarous to read about what it was like to grow up as a girl born in the mid 70s. All the cultural reference points were just so spot on for me and it was the first time a book has captured exactly the way I talk to my friends and the things we think are worth discussing.
I then moved on to The XX Factor, which I wanted to read because I have admired Alison Wolf since she led the review into vocational education for the government in 2011 and because I knew I would find the subject matter interesting. But I had no idea how much I would enjoy it. It is such as fantastic book I haven’t been able to stop talking about it since. It charts how this generation of working woman at the top of their professions are more and more like working men at the top of their professions and are becoming less and less like other women. It shows how the workplace is (and isn’t) changing and also has a really good look at the impact of all of this on families, having children and relationships.
Having also read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg earlier in the year I keep coming back to how this year really has felt different. It does feel like the conversation is changing and that it’s a more exciting time to be a Feminist than it has been for a long time.