Here is an odd fact: whenever there is a twitterstorm surrounding Caitlin Moran, one or both of my children vomits. I don’t know why this is. During the Lena Dunham thing it was Youngest, all over the back seat of the car. This time, with that rather odd Times piece on equality, it’s been both of them in turn, one after the other (to be precise, one onto the pyjamas of his brother, prompting the latter to puke onto the floor – we call it vominoes). Obviously next time Moran plans on tweeting or writing anything remotely controversial, I’d like to be made aware so I can get a bucket at the ready.
That said, I always end up following said twitterstorms, in-between vomit mop-ups. The truth is, if Caitlin Moran didn’t exist we’d have to invent her. For philosophical purposes, obviously. She’s like that tree falling down in the forest with no one there to hear it, or … Actually, I don’t know many examples of philosophical stuff (I only got halfway through Sophie’s World in 1998). But anyhow, Caitlin Moran has meanings that extend way beyond anything she herself has written or said. I’m sure there’s a special word for stuff like that, I just don’t know what it is (I ought to know these words because I’m a privileged person. The reason I don’t is because I’m lacking in intellectual curiosity, busy with two kids and not quite sure how to look up words for phenomena that I don’t quite know how to describe in the first place. So not unlike Caitlin Moran, you could say).
Like a virtual rubbernecker, I follow twitterstorms but I don’t actually like them. People get accused of things they might not have said or meant, and other people get upset about things that the previous people have said, and then the other people, who have valid reasons to be hurt, end up having their motives questioned. It’s all tremendously raw, with everyone sincerely questioning the sincerity of everyone else. I try not to tweet too much myself, not because I am an aloof Solomon sitting in judgment on the masses, but because I’m scared. I break out in a cold sweat at the thought of checking blog comments. I don’t like people attacking me, especially since there are times when it’s so obvious they’re right about what a knob I am.
It’s odd, though, that it now seems possible to have a row on twitter which isn’t really anything to do with the supposed subject. It probably doesn’t feel that way to Caitlin Moran, but it’s as though she kicks things off by being either downright offensive (rape shoes) or just plain clumsy (poorly executed satire), and then the whole thing takes on a life of its own. That’s not to defend everything she’s written and said, some of which is genuinely worthy of being challenged. But I don’t think she’s a special kind of bigot, or at least she wouldn’t be if she hadn’t been awarded the mantle of Britain’s Leading Feminist. To be honest, in my own self-centred way I sometimes recognise where she’s coming from. It’s a defensive place, in which “mainstream” feminism is seen as overly apologetic and deferential and cannot under any circumstances be criticized. To be even more honest, I used to be considerably worse than Caitlin Moran on this score. The simplistic line taken in How To Be A Woman – advising one to basically not give a shit – is attractive to people. After all, if you are in a position of relative privilege as a woman it’s all too easy to ask oneself whether the patriarchy worry about making sure everyone’s included. As a white, middle-class, cis, heterosexual feminist I’ve said far more offensive things than Moran in the past. It might come across as arrogance but often it’s ignorance, which might not make it morally defensible, but it does mean (I hope) that further debate is possible. I know privilege checking can be dismissed as mere posturing, or even a privilege in itself, but it’s a strange kind of progressiveness that sees others as ripe for conversion but not oneself.
And yet now, no one is really arguing about that, or indeed yesterday’s article itself (which was not as bad as the opening paragraph suggested but let’s be honest – there’s some seriously dodgy “satire”, and even dodgier economics in there). The debate is now about who gets to say stuff, and whether it’s people who are offended by Moran – aka stupid, vindictive right-on Viz caricatures who probably only read the opening paragraph of the piece and don’t understand sarcasm – or those who defend her – aka cliquey white middle-class journalists who get seriously pissed off as soon as the uppity plebs challenge one of their own (by the way, both of those descriptions were “satirical”, but you knew that, right?). It’s a debate that exposes a lot of fears and hidden prejudice, exaggerating it all through the severity of the 140 character limit. Looking at some of the tweets exchanged has made me wonder whether someone like me – who is not paid to have views – enjoys far greater protection from ridicule, but is also far more disposable as a virtual human being as soon as I express the wrong ones. This hidden distinction – between professional opinion-makers and those who merely have opinions – can really start to grate, for both sides.
And yet it’s so easy to get dragged into these storms. They might involve real ideas – and real distress – but just the bickering and the spite can start to feel more genuine than the child who’s sitting beside you, retching into a paper towel. I’m not sure where the cross-over is between learning from other people’s experiences and wallowing in anger misdirected. Perhaps next time I’m faced with nauseous children, I’ll switch off my phone.
Well, hark at me and my “setting myself to rights” pomposity. It’s probably this that makes my children vomit. But anyhow, that’s just what I reckon.
*heads off to get the bucket and kitchen roll*