Earlier today I wrote a rather furious post about the whole Caitlin Moran twitterstorm. To summarise: asked whether, when interviewing Lena Dunham about the TV series Girls, she’d raised the issue of race representation, Moran responded by claiming not to “give a shit”. When pulled up on this, Moran became increasingly defensive, linking accusations of racisim in Girls to “saying I’m currently being racist by not having someone Chinese in my house” and arguing that “you wouldn’t insist boys had to always have black characters in their projects”. Unsurprisingly, many people were offended by this, so many people blogged about it, myself included.
I am white and I have never watched Girls, hence am not in a position to condemn or defend the show. Nevertheless, what dismayed me about Moran’s tweets were the following things:
- the knee-jerk sense of entitlement and authority over the things that matter
- the lack of interest in other people’s lives and positions – if you do not understand, why not simply ask why someone thinks you should mention something instead of just telling them you don’t care?
- the basic disrespect shown to someone who asked for a response about something that mattered to them
- the unspoken assumption that artists, directors and writers are white people who get to choose whether or not to include non-whites in their work – and tied to this, the outrage that white women apparently experience more pressure to include non-whites than white men do
All of these things seemed to typify a passive racism – the racism that expresses itself not in hate, but in exclusive assumptions about who the default human beings – or, to use the terminology of How To Be A Woman, “the guys” – are. This is something about which it’s worth getting angry. Nonetheless, I fear my initial blog post was unfair. Worse than that, I’m pretty sure it revealed my own sense of entitlement and privilege. Even worse than that, I’ve probably exploited this privilege again by taking the initial post down (since if someone who is not white and privileged appreciated it, who am I to say “no, actually, it’s a bit mean”?). Basically, I have probably offended everyone – Moran, people who like Moran, people who are cross with Moran – in one fell swoop. Looked at charitably, it’s quite an achievement. Go me!
The trouble is, many things pissed me off about How To Be A Woman and pretty much all of them were to do with Moran’s privileged and often quite random assumptions about what does and does not constitute female identity and experience. Her feminism is exclusive and simplistic. This is not something which I view as damning. I’m hardly Everywoman and my feminism is exclusive and simplistic, too. I think this is okay providing you’re able to accept that your understanding of equality is a work in progress. I don’t believe you have to attend a woman’s studies course and learn all the lingo in order to make a stand for women’s rights, but I do think you need to listen to and acknowledge other women and their lives. It’s a constant learning process – for instance, six years ago I was horribly dismissive about feminist issues relating to motherhood and childcare. I’ve learned about these the hard way, but beyond that, it ought also to be possible to learn about experiences you’ll never have by talking and listening. Moran can speak to many people, and they’ll listen to her. It’s a waste of her intellect and communicative talents that she’s not listening back.
What bothers me about my own response to yesterday’s twitter fight was that I saw it as an opportunity to express, in acidic terms, all that irritated me about Moran’s work – not just things that relate to race, but to class and wealth and possessions and reproduction, by picking on her infuriating way of suddenly deciding something matters to women only if it affects her personally. In some respects I am more privileged than Moran – I come from a wealthier background, have been to university, haven’t ever had to face the trauma of an unwanted pregnancy – and I thought it might be interesting to see how it would look if someone said to her, “actually, none of this happened to me and hence it’s not a feminist issue – and hence I don’t give a shit”. So I did this. In as bitchy a manner as possible. Nevertheless, it all felt a bit wrong and this wrongness was clarified, in part, when someone pointed it out to me on twitter. At first I was defensive – just like Moran! But then it occurred to me – isn’t there something inappropriate in a white woman like me exploiting Moran’s racism in order to launch a much broader attack on her? For sure, I think the racism and the other issues are related, all bound up in this misconception over what “a woman” is. But I don’t want to latch onto things that affect others far more than me simply in order to bitch about things I’ve always wanted to bitch about but haven’t, for fear that it would look too bitchy.
So I took the post down. Which then leaves me with the fear that I’ve behaved in a privileged, entitled manner towards those who retweeted it. Here you go, I’m on your side. Oh, actually, hang on… I think others have every right to let rip. I just don’t want to appropriate their offence and use it to have my own little rant-a-thon.
Well, that was far less snappy than the original post. Look at me – blah blah blah. And I remain entitled and privileged and getting it wrong. But in my defence, and that of other feminists, I would say this – we really do try to give a shit.