On Caitlin Moran and “giving a shit”

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:

  1. the knee-jerk sense of entitlement and authority over the things that matter
  2. 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?
  3. the basic disrespect shown to someone who asked for a response about something that mattered to them
  4. 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.


17 thoughts on “On Caitlin Moran and “giving a shit”

  1. I think you should probably have just released your irritation at her as it popped up, tbh. It’s not like she would have read it or cared- you’re not nearly famous enough. I am experiencing major Moran Fatigue.

    1. Even if someone doesn’t read something – and I’m sure she wouldn’t have – I just don’t want to be horrible. To be completely selfish about this, it just makes me look bad. I have *schoolmistressy voice* let myself down. Even a not-remotely-famous blog like this is a reflection of the blogger and I don’t want to be a total bitch because – well, because it’s wrong!

  2. I think you made the right decision in taking down your original post. This one is far more eloquent and detailed on the issues. As someone who’s had a major problem with Moran’s particular brand of oh-so-cool feminism, I’m pleased these issues are coming to life but wish it weren’t in such a manner.

    1. Your post on this was brilliant – I was totally out of order in my first one. Admitting I have been a knob is really rather liberating, though. I will do it more often (not that I will engineer situations in which I’m a knob on purpose – I just know they will come along).

  3. This is the line that sums the whole thing up for me: “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.”

    Very well put.

  4. Well put! I think it’s lamentable that so many people are trying to out shout Moran into a corner, flog her and leave her for half dead. Haven’t we all said things we wish we hadn’t on the internet? Humility and grace are more powerful than pride and condemnation, no matter what misconceptions you are fighting – patriarchal or racist.

    1. Twitter’s really inadequate for it all, as well. I think now it would be hard for Moran to back down as she has a responsibility to all the people who’ve supported her on this – even if she changes her mind.
      But yes, I’ve totally said things I regret – like the previous post.

  5. “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! Absolutely this! Why do people not understand that seeing ‘white’ as the default race is racist? It isn’t hateful (as you say), but that doesn’t make it any less racist, and so often when called out on it people refuse to see it. It’s not easy to get called out on privilege, but I’m sure it’s a damn sight harder to never (or rarely) see positive representations of your race in popular culture.

  6. This is such a good post. So admire you for re-thinking that first response; you used your blog to express yourself freely and then re-worked that same freedom responsibly. I admire that a lot.

    I have had such a curious response to this – I saw that twitter exchange simply because I had missed Caitlin that day and wanted to catch up on her timeline. When I read the exchange my first response was to defend her, because I have thoroughly enjoyed her books and bought ‘How To Be A Woman’ for two friends. I enjoyed ‘Moranthology’ even more, and couldn’t understand why, except now, in hindsight, I suppose the net of Moran’s observations was drawn wider and she was able to give rein to cultural and socio-political issues without the gender focus.

    I have discovered that I truly dislike being described as a ‘WOC’ or ‘POC’ on twitter!! I find these abbreviations quite grisly. In fact, that has gnawed at me far more than the outrage at Moran and Dunham. It feels so reductive to be discussed on twitter as part of a mass of coloured women who ought apparently to be deeply offended or wounded because of such an omission. Isn’t that ironic? That what offends me is being ‘mass defended’ on a matter not of my choice. It is lovely to be supported and spoken up for, but not spoken for, if you see what I mean?

    Have you read Bim Adewunmi’s piece in the Guardian?
    She writes eloquently about the matter from her perspective, but what I found myself thinking mid-way was this – in one of her interviews Caitlin said, “What I would really like is for people to now write reply books to it… ‘How To Really Be a Woman’ or ‘How To Be A Woman Actually’… I hope everyone pitches in and we can have a massive debate about it”…

    Perhaps this ‘debate’ isn’t quite what/how she imagined it, but it is still a conversation that she openly invited during that interview at the Edinburgh International Book Festival
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bDhKDTeWdxg (around 4:30)

    The very fact that she invited the debate suggests a depth and honesty in her that is being overlooked. Look at it this way – you were able to write your first post, and then retract and re-work it. Caitlin can never retract her first response. BUT she can applaud the author of ‘How To Really Be A Woman’ knowingly she genuinely wanted that Other book to be written 🙂

    1. I thought Bim Adewunmi’s piece was great. The comments that followed it were predictably awful, though. What really annoyed me was the impression that it was a bunch of sexist white men who seized upon it as an opportunity both to be racist and to attack white feminists not for making privileged assumptions, but for being feminists. Well, I suppose these are just things they’d think anyhow. But the misrepresentation of Bim’s argument was shocking.
      What you say about WOC is interesting – I think in some tweets there was a real smugness about who knew the “correct” lingo and who didn’t (and it was automatically assumed that “WOC” was correct).
      I agree with you about supporting people but not speaking for them – but find it a fine line. A lot of the issues I am interested in (eating disorders, for instance) are characterised as white middle-class issues – but I still consider them feminist issues and don’t think the boundaries are clear (hence I will keep going on about them!). But with things which are beyond my experience, it can be hard to find the balance between saying nothing and clumsily wading in and making a right mess. Listening first is so important. I think that’s often why people seem not to care about a whole range of issues (not just to do with equality) – but I am now wandering off the point somewhat!

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