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From Puberty To Pop Culture: What It Means 'To Be A Woman'


This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington. Every year, we look back at some of the books we missed the previous year. Today, "How to be a Woman." British columnist and critic Caitlin Moran describes that process through her own experiences - the embarrassing moments of puberty; and the perils of fashion, career, marriage, childbirth; and along the way, explores what it means to be a feminist today - and does it all with a rare sense of humor.

Women, what moment in your life changed your outlook on power, independence and gender? Give us a call, 800-989-8255; email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation at our website. Go to npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, we'll talk with a constitutional scholar who argues that we should largely ignore our most revered founding document. But first, being a woman. Caitlin Moran is a columnist, broadcaster and author. Her book "How to be a Woman" came out in July. It's one of the books we missed. She joins us from our bureau in London. And it's good of you to be with us today on TALK OF THE NATION.

CAITLIN MORAN: It's my absolute pleasure. I've got out of putting the kids to bed tonight.


MORAN: So I am so happy to be joining you and all in the cause of feminism, as well, (unintelligible) to me.

CONAN: The cause of feminism. So the process of having children is one of the experiences you go into in great detail in this book.

MORAN: Yes, there's a very visceral description of childbirth in the book, that I've had many people coming up to going: I really enjoyed your book, but it made me realize I can never have children unless I simply find one on the doorstep, because the whole process of getting them out seems quite tricky. And I have to nod in my kind of old-woman-of-the-tribe way and go yup, it does tend to chafe a bit around the middle section.


CONAN: There is a moment you describe that I think you were 18, newly appointed the presenter of a British program, which got some publicity, which was the first time you were asked: so when are you going to have kids?

MORAN: Yes, it's one of - because one of my jobs is being a journalist. So I interview lots of celebrities. And whenever you go off to interview a celebrity, you're always told by your editor, always ask them when they're thinking of having children. Which always seems baffling to me, because you are never asked to answer that as a male celebrity. It's always the female celebrities.

And if you don't, as I often did because I just find it quite a boring topic, you would come back and file your piece, and the editors would go: But why haven't you asked them when they want to have children? And you'd be told to ring them up and ask them afterwards. And as, you know, someone who was a bit of a celebrity when I was 18 - I was legendary to about nine people - I was astonished, at the age of 17, being asked when I was thinking of having children.

At the time, I was chain-smoking 80 cigarettes a day. I was hugely overweight. I was taking any drugs I could get my hands on. And I lived in a house where the electricity had been cut off because I didn't understand how to pay my bills. And the idea that they were looking at me going, well, your biological time bomb is ticking here, my friend, you need to be squeaking out a baby as fast as you can was utterly bizarre.

CONAN: And the other point your editors always say, would you ask her what kind of top she was wearing.

MORAN: Yes, you always have to - I'm sure any woman who's read any kind of women's magazine ever will recognize this opening sentence: I meet Angelina Jolie in the suite of the Henry V Hotel. She's wearing a beautiful, loose, gray Prada top and a pair of slim cigarette cotton pants, and her stilettos are kicked off on the floor with her feet tucked kittenishly underneath her.


MORAN: Her face seems free of makeup, but her beautiful skin glows out as she looks me in the eye and says it's so lovely to have you here. That will all be made-up. No journalist walking in there knows what these people are wearing. You ring up later and ask their PR what it was that they were wearing. But you must always start any celebrity interview with a woman by describing what she's wearing, saying that she looks thinner and prettier in real life than she does on the screen, and talking about how warm and friendly she is - even if, in reality, she'd been a complete bitch.

CONAN: Appearance and fashion figure prominently, as well.

MORAN: Yes, well, I mean because I came from a very sort of odd background. My parents were hippies. I'm the eldest of eight children. We were kind of brought up in a kind of scruffy background. And we only ever bought - clothes to us, I didn't even know that you could buy clothes in shops. I didn't even know that there were changing fashions.

When I saw "Pretty In Pink" at the cinema at the age of 11, I just thought it was a period piece from maybe 100 years previously. I had no idea that was what everybody was supposed to be wearing. We had no idea about fashion.

And so it was an enormous shock to me as a teenager to realize that you were supposed to go out and find clothes in shops rather than at thrift stores and jumble sales or them being given to you by kindly aunts who were scared about the fact that you appeared to be almost naked because you had no clothes.

So it just seemed to be one of a million tasks that you had to suddenly learn because you were a girl, because I just never saw the boys wondering about this. The boys were never kind of sitting there going: I just don't know what my colors are.


MORAN: I don't know what personality I'm exuding with this jacket. What do these shoes say about me? Men never ask these questions. And girls, you know, little girls don't ask those questions, either. You're only supposed to start asking yourself this stuff when you're a teenage girl, and I had no idea.

CONAN: What was the pivotal moment? What was it, high heels?

MORAN: With clothes, oh gosh, what was it? I mean all of it. We just didn't have - I can't stress how few clothes I had. When I moved down to London on my 18th birthday, because that was the first day I could legally get a loan from the bank to move out of my parents' house, my sum total, my trousseau that I took down to London Town was one skirt, two blouses, my dad's thermal underwear, which I wore as pajamas, and a pair of white leather pixie boots that I bought from a jumble sale that I was convinced made me look like Molly Ringwald.

And that was it. Those were all the clothes I had. I didn't have a coat. I wore an old dressing gown that I'd found at a jumble sale. And I wore a hat at all times, even when in bed, because I was convinced that if I had a big hat, it would make my body look smaller by comparison. It was the only slimming tip that I'd given myself.


CONAN: Which raises the question of a word called fat. You describe it as a swear word, a weapon, a sociological subspecies. It's an accusation, dismissal and rejection.

MORAN: You can crush any woman by suggesting that she's fat, not even saying the word "fat" but just suggesting she's fat. And there's this new subspecies, there's an amazing kind of sub-clause to this that's come up in the press in the last couple of years, in the more hysterical tabloids, that they will have pictures of women and insinuate that they might be getting fat later or that they have a fat aura.

Like - someone like Drew Barrymore, who might have, you know, kind of like isn't absolutely sticky thin, a beautiful woman, someone I absolutely adore, but they will kind of like - they'll have a picture of Drew Barrymore where she's clearly slim, but insinuate that it could all go wrong within a couple of weeks or that simply by wearing those trousers today, she's been fat today, but hopefully tomorrow she'll put some thin clothes on, and it will all get better.

It's - you walk a tightrope as a woman. At any minute, if someone turned around and accused you of being fat, it would be very difficult for anyone, even Hillary Clinton, not to burst into tears.

CONAN: Women, we want to hear from you. What was the moment in your life that changed your outlook on power, independence and gender? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Our guest is Caitlin Moran, author of "How to be a Woman," and we'll start with Beverly(ph), and Beverly's on the line with us from Tucson.


CONAN: Hi, go ahead please.

BEVERLY: Well, I grew up on a dairy farm in New Zealand, actually. There were seven of us. And it seemed to me the girls were always taking responsibility - there were four girls, three daughters, and it never really...

CONAN: Beverly?

BEVERLY: ...racing team...

CONAN: Beverly, can we avoid the complete references to...?

BEVERLY: Oh yes.

CONAN: Thank you.

MORAN: Beverly, you were the naughty one, and I was good. I usually swear loads, but you were the bad one. I'm so relieved it was you. This makes me look good by comparison. Thanks, Beverly.

CONAN: Let's not - in more ways than one, let's not dwell on it, but moving right along, Beverly.

BEVERLY: So I think in nursing school, I got a motorbike, and then I - you know, all the other girls were buying high shoes, and I thought oh, I better get a pair of those also. But, you know, the first time I wore them, they just didn't work with a motorbike. So that was the end of them. I had to, you know, resell them real quick.

CONAN: I've spoken with women who say they didn't work with the sidewalk, either.

BEVERLY: Oh sidewalks in New Zealand, they don't exist.

CONAN: Oh, I meant the heels and just flat ground in heels are a problem, at least when you're starting out.

BEVERLY: Correct, correct.

MORAN: Well, I mean, any kind of textured carpet is quite difficult. And also, living in England, obviously we basically live on the set of "Pride and Prejudice." So there's lot of very useful cobbled streets in London. And often when walking, trying to walk along them in heels, I've just gone right over on my side, something that Elizabeth Bennet notably never did because she was wearing flats.

I mean, the thing is, the weird thing about feminism is - I feel I may need to - I want to make this very clear, very now, that - very clear, very now, that's how articulate I am right now - that feminism isn't a load of rules. It's like it's not that if you can wear heels and you can walk in them fantastically then that means that you're not a feminist.

There is only one rule to feminism, which is that women have to be equal to men. And other than that, there's no other rule. Women, you can be out there now, you can be wearing your high heels, you can have your blonde hair, you can be caked in makeup, you can be driving around in a pink car with those false eyelashes stuck to the headlights that makes it looks like a child or Hello Kitty.

You know, you can be doing anything that you want, and you can still be a feminist, as long as you say that you want to be in charge of your life, and you want to be equal to men. That's the only rule. So this isn't a hating-on-heels thing. Because the other thing is, as well, that this book, although ostensibly a book about feminism, also there's a lot of things in there that are about being a woman that aren't really about feminism. It's just about being a woman.

And I would say that heels sort of come under the clause of just a problem that women have rather than needing to be addressed by a political orthodoxy, you know, or a massive wave for change. We can simply, by as women going: they're quite uncomfortable and difficult to walk in, maybe we shouldn't wear them anymore, or only wear them in times where we're at a party, and someone can carry us back out and put us into a taxicab.

You know, we don't need to kind of go: feminism hates shoes, I must burn them all like Beatles albums! It's simply a matter of practicality and sense.

CONAN: Beverly, thanks very much for the call.

BEVERLY: All right, thank you.

CONAN: But I did want to read another passage from your book to you. (Reading) In the interregnum between female emancipation and female politicians, businesswomen and artists finally coming into true equality, celebrity culture is the forum in which we currently inspect and debate the lives, roles and aspirations of women.

Tabloids, magazines and the Daily Mail work by a means of turning the lives and careers of a few dozen women into a combination of living soap and daily morality lesson. Really? This is where women's lives are examined?

MORAN: Yes. Well, I mean, they're not really being examined in many other places, are they? It's kind of - I can remember some black friends of mine talking about being brought up in the West Midlands in Britain in the 1960s, and saying that whenever anyone black appeared on television, they would shout up the stairs and go: One of us is on television. And everyone would run downstairs and watch it because you would so rarely see anyone of color on television in those days.

And to me it feels the same way, you know, if you see a woman normally dressed. I don't know, when Lena Dunham's "Girls" came out, and I just saw that first publicity shot of her sitting on that bench...

CONAN: The HBO series, yeah.

MORAN: Yeah, the HBO series, yeah. I just presume everyone in America knows everyone American, in the same way that everyone in America presumes that everyone in Britain knows each other.

CONAN: Do you know my friend Ian? Yes, go ahead.

MORAN: Ian, he's such a great dude, man.


MORAN: So, but you know, just things like that. So gossip magazines, I mean, albeit awfully, but these are the places where, in the same way that basically celebrity magazines take up the same place in our brains and our culture at the moment that the Greek gods did or the Roman gods did. You know, sort of, we see the archetypes there, and they live out these morality tales, and we discuss them in hairdressers and lifts.

CONAN: We're going to go worship more at the temple of People magazine in just a moment. Caitlin Moran, author of "How to be a Woman," is our guest. She - her book's for everyone, male and female. But women, today we want to hear from you. What was the moment in your life that changed your outlook on power, independence and gender? 800-989-8255. Or send us an email, talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.


CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. Today we're returning to one last book we missed in 2012: "How to be a Woman" by Caitlin Moran. She's our guest today. In the book, she parses sexism, which she calls a bit like Meryl Streep in a new film, sometimes you don't recognize it straightaway; why one should and shouldn't have children; and some of the parts of fashion that work against us.

Caitlin, I wonder if you could read to us the passage from Page 93 on the particular problem of underpants.

MORAN: I can, although I peeled a satsuma over it and I've stained it slightly. But I should regain my professionalism. I shall start. (Reading) Of course, whilst ostensibly both a literally and figuratively small problem, tiny undies have massive ramifications for us as a nation. It cannot have gone unnoticed that, as a country, our power has waned in synchronicity with the waning of our undies.

When women wore undergarments that extended from chin to toe, the sun never set on the British Empire. Now that the average British woman could pack a week's worth of underpants in a matchbox, we now have little more than dominion over the bailiwick of Jersey and the Isle of Man, and they're small, for those who don't know how small they are. I mean, they are small.

All the good that women getting the vote has done has now been undone by their constant struggle against their tiny underpants. How can 52 percent of the population expect to win the war on terror if it can't even sit down without wincing?

CONAN: Women, we want to hear from you today. What's a moment in your life that changed your outlook on power, independence and gender? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And let's see if we can go next to Sara(ph), Sara's on the line with us from Cincinnati.

SARA: Hi, thanks for having me. I just wanted to comment that I was horrible to myself as a teenager and an adolescent, and found myself pregnant later in life and planned on having a natural birth and ended up with a Caesarian section, and felt completely powerless. And it took a couple years before I even considered another child.

I did some research and decided to take up running in the process, and ran a couple marathons. And in that time realized how powerful I actually was and how much my body could actually do. And now I'm 34 weeks pregnant and planning a VBAC. I did a marathon at 26 weeks pregnant, so...

CONAN: Congratulations, Sara.

SARA: Thank you very much.

MORAN: That's so cool, dude. That's amazing.

CONAN: Caitlin Moran, you also had distinctly different experiences between your first child and your second.

MORAN: Yes, oh God. Well, congratulations to you again. I mean, running a marathon at 24 weeks pregnant is amazing and I should imagine an amazing inducement to get that kid out, as well.


MORAN: Yes, no, I had two very different births. The first one, basically I was in denial about birth, which I think a lot of women are. I just couldn't see how it would happen. It just seemed to be, frankly, impossible. I thought that people maybe might have faked it like the moon landings and that maybe babies were being got out in some other way.

There was one very awful moment where I was in the hospital, and what appeared to be some kind of piece of modernist art by Jeff Kooons was on the wall, of what appeared to be an eye in 10 different stages, going from being completely closed to completely open. And I sort of turned to the nurse and went: That's nice, modern art. Is it Jeff Koons? And she went: No, that's the 10 stages of dilation for the cervix, as it goes from being completely closed to completely open.

And I went: What do you mean, the cervix opens? I was at this point seven months pregnant. The cervix opens? She was like yes. I was like: But I've felt the cervix. It's solid. It's not a gateway. And she was like, well, yes, that is - that is why it tends to chafe a bit. That's why they call it labor. It is quite hard work.

So I was in completely denial and in complete ignorance of the whole thing, and it turned out to be an awful nightmare. And I had - it was a posterior labor. It went on for three days. I had to have an emergency C-section. I thought I was going to die.

And so the second time around, I decided to learn a bit about it. And the thing is that, again, I see so much written about birth. Basically the big problem with being a woman is that you're seen as a massive problem. You know, women are a massive market for self-help books.

We wake up every day, and we go: If I could just lose a stone today, and get a directional wardrobe, and sort my hair out, and get a signature perfume, and book an amazing mini-break away that will rekindle the romance with my husband, and find a new nail polish that no one else is wearing, I would be perfect.

And we see ourselves as a series of problems to be solved, whereas men just get up in the morning and put some trousers on and go: My name's Steve, and I'm going to get on with some stuff, and I'm going to enjoy my life. And I just want women to wake up in the morning and basically go: I'm Steve, and I'm going to get on with some stuff.

And this is one of the problems with birth. When women get pregnant, they're seen as a massive problem. You go and see the medical professionals, and they kind of sigh over you. Everyone's kind of worried about it. Kind of, birth is seen as a massive problem. Being a mother is seen as being a massive problem.

And, you know, what your previous caller was talking about, suddenly realizing that you can actually - you are actually very powerful, instead of seeing your body and your pregnancy as a problem, going wow, I'm about to do something really amazing, and I can take control of this. I'm certainly going to become fit and healthy and have a positive attitude about this and work very hard at it, and at the end of it, I'm going to feel enormously rewarded - whether I have a natural birth, which I turned out to, or a Caesarian because in no way is having a Caesarian cheating.

You know, there is no other case in the world where you would have a massive abdominal operation and then be held - handed a newborn child and told to look after it for the rest of its life. You know, if a man had a similar operation, he'd be in a wheelchair being pushed around, being spoon-fed trifle and being told he'd been very brave.

So, you know, either way you've done an amazing job, ladies. Congratulate yourselves.

CONAN: Sara, good luck. When are you due?

SARA: Thank you, February 18th.

MORAN: Good luck, baby.

CONAN: We'll be rooting for you. Thanks very much for the call. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Jennifer(ph) and Jennifer with us from Schertz in Texas.

JENNIFER: Hi there, hey thanks for taking my call. This is a great topic and one that's probably not discussed often enough. But when I thought back after you asked the question of our most - I guess our pivotal point from, you know, being insignificant to recognized, was when I was 16, I wanted to learn to change my tires. And I got my car, you know, and my dad was showing me all the - where you put the gas and, you know, high and low beams and all that.

And I asked him to show me to change a tire, and he said: Don't you worry about that. You ever have a problem, you ask your brothers and I. Well, when I was 19, my dad passed away, and I went off to Montana for the first time. And a lady out there who was an independent rancher, she - I ran over her cattle guard and cut the inside wall of the tire and was pretty much abandoned in the middle of a thousand acres.

And she came to my rescue and showed me how to change a tire. Ever since then, I've been stopping on the highway, left and right, and many times I've changed a man's tire. And I tell you, that was the beginning of my independence because I was raised in a very domesticated, you know, home life where I cleared the table, and, you know, I took care of my brothers.

And it was then, I think, when I changed that tire for the first time, I realized I could do anything. And I later became an electrician, and I drive a truck around and, you know, became my own self-supported woman who is married to a great guy, by the way, who accepts it. And that was the hardest part, was finding a man who didn't consider that to be off-putting or, you know, I think that a lot of men prefer women to be a little shy and, I guess, I don't know how to say it, but wouldn't correct them when they're wrong.

I can tell my husband when something's not square or plumb, and he's OK with that, so...

CONAN: Caitlin Moran, is there a British equivalent saying to don't you worry your pretty little head about that?

MORAN: Yes, it's don't you worry your pretty little head about that. That one's traveled worldwide.


CONAN: Oh well good, I'm glad some exports are doing well.

MORAN: This is another one of the things I don't understand. It's like quite modish now for young women to say oh, I'm not a feminist, you know, kind of, you know, I just like being feminine and girly and stuff, and not realizing how delicious it is to be in charge of your own life, to feel capable.

And at the moment, it seems kind of - you know, I've got two young girls, and it seems, so often, that the things, the two options that girls are given are to either be fabulous or to be good. And, you know, I believe in goodness and, you know, and trying to make the world a better place and trying to be a good person.

But the kind of weird, subservient, quiet, sorting-everything-out good, sorting-out-other-people's-problems good and then rewarding yourself every so often with fabulousness. So, you know, once every couple of weeks pretending you're in "Sex and The City" donning a pair of shoes that you can't afford, drinking cocktails that you can't afford, screaming your head off for two hours and then going home.

Or, you know, and then at your wedding, as well, which is always the other big one. Basically, you kind of get to swap a life of - you know, the men will go off, the men will go off and go fishing. They've got their hobbies. You know, women tend not to have hobbies. Women just sort of, you know, fill their spare time with work, as Germaine Greer noted so very presciently.

And the one sort of reward that we have, is we have one day where we're a princess. And so you trade this one day when you get to dress up and do whatever you want and everybody's talking about you and the pictures are all you and you look amazing, and then you quietly give up all your free time in order to iron and sort of slightly drudge your way through the rest of your life, whilst the men very sensibly - and this isn't a man-hating thing. I think men have got it right. They just quietly go, lady, I will go insane if I don't go and have a hobby, I'm off to my shed for a while. I'm going to go fishing. That's what I'm going to do to be a well-rounded human being. But women don't have the confidence to do that. And, you know, it's not a question of going: men are taking advantage of women. Women need to have the confidence to go: I, too, need to go to the shed. I, too, will go fishing now. I need to have a bit of me-time.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Jennifer.

JENNIFER: Thanks, Neal. Take care. Bye-bye.

CONAN: You too. When was the first time you - as you mentioned, grew up in a unusual family. When was the first time you encountered the word or the idea of feminism?

MORAN: Just to contextualize unusual, I mean, if you try imagine our house, it was a vey small house with a lot of children in it, and pets because we were breeding dogs at the time. If you imagine the opening sequence of "The Muppet Show" where they show the audience and it's kind of like ah, that's basically what the inside of our house looked like. And I was the eldest of eight and there were three girls and then there was a boy. And I just noticed that the boy just got away with stuff. He just wasn't expected to do the housework. He had a very easy job. His job was to empty the bins.

You know, the girls did all the cooking and all the cleaning and looking after the smaller children and the linen and the laundry and mowing the lawn and everything else. And he just emptied the bins. And my simmering fury with this one very specific unfair thing led me onto a path of feminist righteousness. As soon as I found the word "feminism," I was able to go to my mum, not: this is so unfair that I was able to use the big, strong, useful specific word: this is sexist. I am a feminist. I don't believe in this anymore. And she completely ignored me. But it was the start of my quest.


CONAN: And I would expect from the way you write about it, there are people on both sides of that debate who consider you a traitor to your sex.

MORAN: Yeah, but the thing is, you know, I mean, well, I think one of the problems of being a woman is that every time you speak, you are presumed to speak before 3.3 billion women. If you're a prominent woman - recently there's been so many debates in the media about prominent women, kind of going: are they selling women out? There was that CEO of a huge company who got - was the first one to be a female CEO of Yahoo, wasn't it, when she was pregnant? And people going, is she either, A, a feminist, you know, groundbreaker. This is amazing that she's done this or, B, is she an idiot? She's pregnant. Why would she take this job on? She's obviously going to screw up and then she'll ruin it for all the other women.

And it's like, can we not have an option C that maybe we just shouldn't have an opinion on women for a while? Go: I don't have enough information about this particular woman's life in order to draw an opinion. I wish her luck. But it's always kind of - it's always so closely fought and so impassioned and so overboiled. We're very uncalm when it comes to talking about prominent women. They are either saints or sinners. We go back to a sort of a horrible Catholic dichotomy instead of just sort of going, I wish you well. I hope it goes well for you.

CONAN: Here's a tweet we have from Mrs. Eek(ph). She says her outlook on gender has changed. The third time I had to explain to my guidance counselor that I did intend to take wood shop, not home ec, in seventh grade.

This is from Helen(ph) in Burlingame, California: I thought feminism was irrelevant until I had children. I was young, broke and needed a lot more social support than I received when my kids were babies and preschoolers. All the time, everyone was just telling me how happy I was and how much fun I was having. I won't bore you with the details, but motherhood was not what I thought it would be.

We're talking with Caitlin Moran about her book - one of the books we missed this past year - "How to be a Woman." You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And that reminds me, Helen's email that we just read, your experience with your kids was you then spent, what, a couple or three years tuned out from the world.

MORAN: Yeah. I think it's common. You know, I don't believe in moaning. I generally think that if, you know, if you're complaining about something, then - for three minutes, then two minutes ago, you should've started to do something about it. But the problem with having that attitude, the can-do attitude when you have children is that you can't do anything about it. You are just strapped to them. They kind of believe that they will die without you and, you know, in many ways, they would.

So you just sort of sit there, and I sort of realized I basically wasted my life a bit. It was an amazing wake-up call. You know, I milked the best out of it. I basically sat there breastfeeding and not moving under sleeping children for two years going, the minute these children stop needing me, I'm going to achieve some stuff. And the minute they went off to nursery, I immediately wrote a book. The second there was - waving them off down the street - right, Mommy's getting her laptop out now. I'm going to crack on with some stuff.


CONAN: Let's get Carolyn(ph) on the line, Carolyn with us from San Antonio.

CAROLYN: Hi, guys.


MORAN: Hey, beautiful.

CAROLYN: Great conversation. I just wanted to comment that I've always considered myself to be a feminist, although I felt that I was more a second or third generation, kind of benefiting from the, you know the era of Gloria Steinem and, you know, hearing conversations from my mom and about things that were fought for, you know, and stuff. And most recently, last year, I had a job situation. And by the way, I actually married late. I have two degrees, one being a doctorate. And I was on business travel supporting a clinical sales force and on the way to a business dinner, two sales reps in the vehicle I was riding - in which I was riding, they proceeded to tell an off-color joke, off-color on a racial and a kind of a sexist sexual level. And I was so shocked. I really didn't know how to respond. I went into shock. And when I got home that evening back to the hotel, I looked at myself and said, you know, what was I wearing? I was wearing a business suit. I had my hair pulled up in a bun. I didn't have too much makeup on. What did I do to deserve this? And then that kind of analysis shifted into more like anger and more like really recognizing, wow, this still exists in 2012.

I cannot believe I've been through 41 years on the Earth and I've never experienced what I'd always heard about, you know, from my mom or, you know, different older women, you know, mentors, that they had to kind of face back in the day, and I was really shocked. Maybe it just means I bought the Kool-Aid, or maybe it just means I finally grew up. But it was more of a disappointment and a recognition that this is still, you know, a battle that we deal - you know, still do have to deal with in today's workplace.

CONAN: Go ahead, Caitlin.

MORAN: It is really horrible because, you know, as a, you know, a woman living in the 21st century, and, you know, I live in London. I mean, I work in the media and stuff, you know, so generally I don't come across that much sexism. But whenever you do, it's - I can't tell you how shocking it is to women. It's the same as when you sort of encounter racism or, you know, homophobia or whatever.

It's being reminded that until very recently, you were seen as less than human, that, you know, the people before you who organized politically and fought for you had to argue with people that you were not an animal, that you did have reason, that you did feel pain, that you were intellectually equal to white straight men. And it's, you know, it's such a shock when you come across it.

And when I was writing the book, "How to be a Woman," I just went on Twitter and I just asked what's, you know, what's the worst encounter of sexism that you've had in the last couple of weeks? And I had thousands and thousands of replies, and I put some of the most shocking ones in the book. One of them was from a woman who's, you know, sort of a professional, and she was talking about how she has never ever again worn black and white to a business meeting since during a break in the meeting when everybody broke to go and get coffee, she went over to get some coffee from the buffet table, and two of the guys immediately presumed that she was a maid or a waitress because she was wearing black and white and told her what their order was, and that she'd been sitting around a table in a meeting with them, and they had completely forgotten that she was an equal to them. They just saw a maid.

CONAN: Carolyn, thanks very much for the call. We appreciate it.

CAROLYN: Thank you. Have a great day.

CONAN: Thanks for sharing that story. Caitlin Moran, thank you for your time today, though we were doing you the favor. I'm sure the kids have been sleeping and they're not way up and wired and waiting for you to get home.

MORAN: No, I'm going home for a glass of wine now. Thank you.

CONAN: Caitlin Moran's book, "How to be a Woman." When we come back, we'll talk about the Constitution. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.