In response to Helen Lewis on Caitlin Moran.

I’m writing this here because Helen Lewis of the New Statesman has decided that responding to my criticisms of Caitlin Moran on twitter isn’t worth her time because I can’t google or something. I can’t reblog her post but here is her post on Moran’s repeatedly problematic statements and the supposed context in which they were made. That’s all well and good. However, Lewis has missed several crucial points, deliberately or otherwise, which should be addressed. I say deliberately because I asked her repeatedly on Twitter if she thought it was satire or justifiable for Moran to compare a glamour model to Nazi collaborators. She never responded. Funny that. She then went off to seek comfort in the twitter arms of noted transphobe Julie Bindel, right after chastising me for not googling her hiring of a trans-columnist. Not the smartest of moves, to be honest.  

I am so sick of hearing the phrase “He/she’s not perfect” in response to genuine criticism. Yes, we get that. Perfection doesn’t exist, particularly in feminism. Feminism is not one singular unchanging movement. It is something that has and indeed must evolve with the times, as we come to a greater awareness of our own context, the people who populate our world and those whose narratives differ from our own. The feminists of the beginning of the 20th century who led the movement to get women the vote (a movement which was very classist) would not be representative of the feminism of the 60s and 70s, where reproductive rights came to the forefront (this wave of feminism includes far too many examples of transphobia from people like Germaine Greer & Gloria Steinem). 21st century feminism should aspire to be intersectional, or it will, as Flavia Dzodan so beautifully put it, be bullshit. This is what we should work towards. Feminism should be about fighting Page 3, reproductive rights for all women, tackling the worldwide rape epidemic, criticising our sexist media, fighting for representation on the board and in the political forefront, equal pay, good childcare, sex work, sex education, education for girls, and everything else you can think of, because feminism is inherently connected to almost every issue in our world. We may not understand all these issues now, but we should work to do so, and listen to the voices of those who have lived through such difficulties. We should actively seek those whose narratives differ from our own because otherwise we’ll continue to coddle ourselves with falsehoods.

No one person can be representative of feminism, nor should they be. This is why so many people, myself included, take umbrage with Caitlin Moran being hailed by the media as the face and voice of 21st century feminism. This is the same mainstream media that Moran herself is a part of, for which she is paid handsomely and heralded by her many friends within the business, most of whom are white. And this is the context that we look at Moran’s words through - the context that has positioned her as the de facto leader of modern mainstream feminism, the context that pays her to be this honourary figurehead, the context that is more willing to defend her slip-ups than allow dissenting voices to be heard. And whether or not Moran likes this title (she seems to) or asked for it (she says she didn’t, but calling her book How To Be a Woman suggests a serious brass neck), she has been given a lot of serious responsibility with this perceived role.

Moran’s book was a huge best-seller and widely acclaimed. She also has a huge audience with her column in The Times. She has a real opportunity to do good, and she has for many people. Believe it or not, I don’t hate all her work. I think some of her columns have been very on the nose on social issues. She tweets extensively and should be aware of the power of the format and the difficulties that come with it. We all make flippant remarks, but we don’t all proudly declare that we “literally couldn’t give a shit about” PoC representation in a TV show we like, then try to further justify this claim with insulting and damaging falsehoods that it’s somehow sexist to desire some racial diversity in a TV show set in a borough where 55% of the population aren’t white. We don’t all compare asking for diversity in such a TV show to not having a black person in ABBA. We don’t all try to justify our slip-ups by saying how we’d all be equally as excited over a version of Girls populated solely with black people, mainly because we are at least aware of the fact that it’s much harder for non-white show-runners to get anything on the air in USA and the chances of a TV show like Girls by an African American woman being commissioned are pretty low. We’re aware of the context in which Girls exists and why it’s a huge problem. It’s not sexist to ask a female show-runner to think about the world she is creating. Shonda Rhimes manages diversity in her shows. It’s not that hard. In fairness to Dunham, she has responded to this issue much more maturely than many of her defenders have. she’s just completely idiotic on many other fronts, like her "fundamentalist" tweet.

In many ways, Dunham & Moran have a lot in common on this front. I see a lot of people defending them both for little “slip-ups” and saying how “they’re not perfect” but are somehow valuable assets to media and culture as a whole. Moran may not have known how insulting her word choices were in regards to the featuring of “retard” and “tranny” in her book, but ignorance is no excuse, particularly when said book is being professionally published. The fact that no editor picked up these slurs is worrying but not surprising. The word choices also really angered a lot of people because for a large portion of her book Moran discusses the power of word choice and how terms such as “fat” are used to slur and belittle people. She’s right, of course. But surely she can’t have not thought for a second of her own word choices. There were two really tasteless jokes in her book that seriously irritated me. One was “joking” about how a little boy’s reaction to a bra is similar to the Vietnamese child covered in napalm and screaming in pain, and the other is the comparison of glamour model Katie Price to Vichy France. So much of what Moran says is written off as “a joke” or, that old favourite “satire”. She’s outraged with belittling word choice when it applies to her, but it’s okay for her to compare a woman who poses topless for a living to Nazi collaborators. 

Indeed, the entire chapter dedicated to slamming Katie Price seems based solely on the fact that Moran interviewed her for Elle and didn’t like her. I’m not particularly a fan of Price myself, but she doesn’t deserve to be compared to Nazi collaborators. Contrast this with how Moran spends another chapter practically drooling over Lady Gaga, who she admits to being a fan of. The interview she did with her brought Moran much acclaim and I believe she won an award for it. Her biases are fully on show in the Gaga segment, where she declares her a feminist idol who’s so much more feminist in her skimpy clothing than Katy Perry is in her skimpy clothing for reasons not explained. Of course, this book was released before Gaga had tea with Julian “bad sexual etiquette” Assange and agreed to make a film and coffee table book with noted pervert and accused sexual harasser Terry Richardson. I don’t know about you but I love my feminist allies to pal around with accused rapists and harassers of women. What Moran does extensively in her book and in her column is justify her own biases. She says burlesque is feminist but claims pole dancers are “letting us [women] all down”. That’s not particularly welcoming to women, is it? What makes dancing naked for money any less feminist than writing for Murdoch, a man who has profited extensively from topless women? Moran also seems to have a serious problem with women who wax their pubic hair. Once again, I bring up the notion of choice. We shouldn’t be shaming women for their choices over their own body, and we certainly shouldn’t be pulling the concern troll card over clothing choices. Rihanna can wear whatever she wants. We shouldn’t condition young girls to pity her. Moran’s brand of feminism is full of this kind of less than subtle women shaming. Anything that differs from her point-of-view is wrong, regardless of what she understands of the issue. She doesn’t like the burqa either, but can’t seem to explain why. To quote an Egyptian newsreader who chose to wear the hijab on air (yes, Moran, those two things aren’t the same), “There’s no difference between forcing women to wear hijab and forcing them not to wear.”

Lewis, to her credit, at least takes one sentence to note that she found Moran’s recent comments on high heels and rape to be “wrong and unhelpful”. However, the fact that Moran has yet to further elaborate on this topic says a lot to me. Another feature of her book is her bragging over not wearing huge heels, as if this is some sort of feminist statement within itself. It’s not. If you want to wear heels, you should be allowed to do so. You should be allowed to do so without someone claiming they’re signals for rapists, or that they make you a slut, or that you’re only doing it for a guy. Statistically, you’re more likely to be raped by someone you know, and not in a dark alley-way. Moran may not have known the statistics and details of such an issue, but the fact that she is the most prominent feminist figure in our media and never seems to do her homework is worrying, because her words and automatically given more credibility than, say, half of Tumblr. 

I’m also eager to know why the top paragraph of the article that caused this controversy is satire in its use of “gays” yet it’s okay for Moran to continually use this phrase online because she’s supposedly an ally? Frankly, I found her claim that "gays don’t feel normal, women don’t feel normal, that’s why this brilliant alliance between gay men and straight women" to be pretty insulting. “Normal”? When anti-LGBTQ groups try to tear down equal rights, they’re particularly fond of using such terms. Just because she is supposedly an ally, that doesn’t mean she’s not to be held responsible for these comments. The next paragraph also contains the delightful phrase “If you put all your blacks and your Asians and your Chinese and your gays and your transgenders and your women together”. Is that satire? How about that bit in her book where she said “I want to reclaim the phrase ‘strident feminist’ in the same way the hip-hop community has reclaimed the word ‘nigger.’” Is her use of the N word satire there? The comparison between women’s rights and civil rights is hugely problematic, and that’s without her appropriation of such a word. 

Why are Moran’s flippant words justified and defended, yet when her detractors get angry, they’re told to calm down? This is a massive catch-22 situation for people who our society shuts out - they’re ignored and belittled, their voices aren’t heard, so they have to scream and shout for attention, which just leads to further belittlement. Having a bunch of white media figures, from Moran to Owen Jones, Lewis, Graham Linehan, Grade Dent and Charlie Brooker all laugh over the outrage whilst playing down the concerns and criticisms of people who have every right to be offended by her supposed satire is not only hugely damaging, it’s insulting and stupid. It’s a less than subtle way of saying “your opinion doesn’t mean anything to me”. Whose opinion does matter then? Because we don’t all write for New Statesman or The Times or the Independent or the Guardian.

When Moran claims that “Even the most ardent feminist historian…can’t conceal that women have basically done fuck-all for the last 100,000 years”, that’s not just a falsehood, it’s a perpetuation of an assumption that women are lesser than men. It entirely fails to take into account the lack of opportunities given to women throughout history because of the patriarchal make-up of our society (see Virginia Woolf’s Shakespeare’s Sister for elaboration), and it ignores the women whose narratives were lessened, wiped out or ignored by the telling of history, which is usually dictated by men. Right now, education secretary Michael Gove is attempting something similar with the history curriculum for English and Welsh schools. Maybe he’s just being flippant or satirical too. She did later claim that the reason men had accomplished more was because they didn’t get cystitis. Why is this supposed to be funny?

It’s not enough for Moran, or indeed any media figure, to have their heart in the right place, certainly not in 2012 with our wide ranging media and social networking. This is what Moran does, and this is what the media keep letting her get away with. She repeatedly says flippant, insulting and problematic things, then people justify them with claims that it’s “satire” or she “meant well” or “you’re all overreacting”, which leads to the primarily cis white middle class able-bodied media pushing out the narratives and voices that differ from their own. The media and Lewis may claim that it’s not Moran’s fault that she’s the sudden voice of feminism, but they’re the ones who pushed that mantle upon her. Moran doesn’t have to be a highly qualified academic, but she should at least be aware of some of the facts, and her problematic views and word choices can’t be overlooked or justified because they’re supposed to be flippant or funny.

Moran is in a position where her opinion is given a lot of credit, and she should use it wisely. Instead, she jokes around with her friends, blocks out every dissenting opinion and claims we’re just not clever enough to get the joke. Is this what we’ve come to? We can entirely ignore cultural and historical context because it’s all supposed to be a laugh? What Moran does is apply her experiences to a universal context, with lots of capslocking and jokes, and whenever she’s called out on it, she hits the block button. This is the face of feminism, as dictated by the media. She has responsibility. She cannot exist in a context-less bubble where all her Yes Friends run to her defence. As long as the media is primarily made up of faces like Moran, there will be a demand for accountability. It’s necessary.

This is the context of Caitlin Moran - a woman who uses sweeping generalisations, her own biases, total insensitivity, a complete lack of historical and cultural understanding and a bunch of bad jokes to position herself as a supposed ally. There are many people who have been greatly insulted by her brand of feminism. Surely that’s a sign that things should change. Just because she and her friends keep calling her an ally, that doesn’t automatically make her one. If our media friendly brand of feminism is one that happily selectively chooses things that only apply to a narrow band of people, then it’s not a feminism I want to align myself with. 

so when I criticise Caitlin Moran, I’m not doing it because I’m being oh so irrational and need someone from the media to tell me of the important context of all her embarrassing and insulting comments. I’m doing it because I had the misfortune to pay for and read her book. I’m doing it because everyone in every paper or website I read, declares her some faultless sort of feminist goddess that’s revolutionising the movement. I’m doing it because I am sick to the back teeth of being told that everything is just a joke. I can’t stand to see her ridiculous claims and hurtful anti-women comments written off as “satire”, yet people getting angry at her are the real enemies somehow. Privilege, whether the left likes it or not, is a real fucking thing. Moran is dripping in it, as are all her defenders. We rightfully attack Jeremy Clarkson when he pulls the “It’s just a joke” crap, yet not Moran, because she’s on our side and is trying so hard? Well sorry, she’s not trying hard enough.

So there’s my context. I’m not seeking perfection. Just a little bit of accountability and fact-checking, along with that not too hard to understand thing called intersectionality

I’d also really like a mainstream figure of feminism who knows the difference between a vulva and a vagina. Ms Moran, you’re a grown woman. You really should know this by now.

  1. nataliesmoulder reblogged this from great-work-begins
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  3. capricorn-child reblogged this from happycrescendo and added:
    I can’t speak to the race stuff because like … white girls’ opinions on racism, who the hell cares? but I guess it is a...
  4. happycrescendo reblogged this from capricorn-child and added:
    Hmm. Food for thought, yes. I do love Caitlin Moran, and have done for years and years, because out of everything I read...
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