No need for cultural conversations: An end to excuses for “ironic” bigotry

Just as a stopped clock is right twice a day, even someone who believes in “rape shoes” and accuses Katie Price of being “Vichy France” can have moments of feminist glory. I thought this when reading Caitlin Moran’s latest Times column, which is on the subject of Seth MacFarlane’s 2013 Oscars misogyny-fest. In it, she looks at all the excuses that are trotted out for “ironic bigotry; faux misogyny; pretend racism; satirical homophobia” and calls bullshit on the claim that white, male, heterosexual comedians are merely “acknowledging the historical elephant in the room”:

Here’s the problem: in all these instances, the comedians were not acknowledging an elephant that wandered into the room – they brought it into the room. All artists start with an empty page, or a silence – and this is what they wanted to talk about. Over and over.

As Moran points out, there is no need for men to remind women that sexism used to exist and hey, just in case you’ve forgotten, this is what it looked and felt like. What’s so offensive about the whole thing isn’t just that these men are still being sexist, but that they’re using such a self-congratulatory argument to get themselves off the hook: “look, I was only parodying what people used to do to you for real”. If I’m honest, I wouldn’t be all that surprised if one day some clever-clever rapist were to claim he was merely performing a slapstick satire of the days when men used to have sex with women without their consent (it’s hardly his fault if his victim was too unsophisticated to realise it was all a postmodern joke). Continue reading


Caitlin Moran: Spewing forth

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). Continue reading

Top tips for rape avoidance: Why Caitlin Moran got it wrong

When something utterly unexpected occurs – when,  for instance, a stranger leaps out of a car and starts to sexually assault you – it’s funny how you don’t respond in the way you always thought you would. Until it happened to me, I always assumed one or all of the following things would happen: 1. I’d use my keys as a makeshift weapon, stabbing the stranger’s eyes with one hand and bending back his little fingers with the other; 2. I’d run like hell, faster than I’d ever run before, and I wouldn’t get out of puff because there’d be so much adrenalin flowing; 3. I’d memorize the stranger’s face and if he had a car, his number plate, too; 4. I’d do all the right things, all the things you’re meant to do, but then again, it wasn’t as though this would ever happen to me anyhow.

Of course, when a car did pull up in front of me on a dark road I instantly thought “what if someone gets out and attacks me?” And then I did that thing where you think that because you’ve already considered one eventuality it can’t possibly happen. After all, the stranger in the dark alley is way too much of a cliché. Still, it turns out that if you’re as terminally uncool as me, clichéd shit still happens. And when it did, I didn’t do any of the things I’d thought I would. I was too frightened and he was too strong (I remember thinking it strange at the time – shouldn’t the fear have been making me superhuman?). So anyhow, let that be a lesson to you, ladies. Take it from me – don’t ever leave the fucking house after dark. Continue reading

Men, women and doing “fuck all”

I’m now about halfway through Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman (actually, I’m reading it on Kindle, so I can be more precise: 58% of the way through). To my surprise, it has in fact been very effective in weaning me off the Daily Mail website. With this book I can get the same frisson of outrage and self-righteousness that comes from reading about instances of extreme sexism, but it’s already been put in a nice, non-sexist context for me. Hence I don’t have to feel so dirty! Result!

Beyond that, Moran’s book also comes in handy because it’s ace and make me laugh a lot. I lie in bed giggling away, making the mattress shake, and my partner wants to know what’s so funny. Her sister [snort] Caz did this thing [snigger] in 1986 [collapse into hysterics]. I think there’s something wrong with my delivery because he never really seems to get it like I do.

There is one bit where the book has annoyed me so far. One tiny, tinsy bit. But that is what I am going to focus on here. Because what would be the point of going on about all the bits I agree with? They’re written down in the book already. No point reiterating them in a less amusing and less accurate way. They just need to be read in their original context by one and all (then the whole world would be giggling in bed too. Wouldn’t that be lovely?). There is, however, this one crap bit where Moran’s discussing sexism and female achievement over the course of history:

For even the most ardent feminist historian, male or female – citing Amazons and tribal matriarchies and Cleopatra – can’t conceal that women have basically done fuck all for the last 100,000 years. Come on – let’s admit it. Let’s stop exhaustively pretending that there is a parallel history of women being victorious and creative, on an equal with men, that’s just been comprehensively covered up by The Man. […] I don’t think that women being seen as inferior is a prejudice based on male hatred of women. When you look at history, it’s a prejudice based on simple fact.

Hmm. Really? Give me a sodding break.

My partner has worked as a history researcher and lecturer. He does not tie himself in knots trying to “prove” that, contrary to popular opinion, women have actually done shit. He has however been confronted with countless students carrying the same prejudices as Moran, but expressing them in far less “reasonable” language.

I am not a historian. My own specialism is in literature, biography and reception. With a particular focus on one particular male – male! – writer. So I don’t claim to be an expert on what women have been doing since the dawn of time. Nevertheless, I do think the following things just might be true:

  1. even if something feels uncomfortable, and runs counter to popular belief, and sounds self-justificatory when you say it, it doesn’t mean that thing isn’t right. On the contrary, it might suggest that the context in which you’re now saying it still reflects the very prejudices you’re attempting to highlight (not necessarily, I know. But it’s worth bearing in mind that it could, and doing your best not to reinforce what may be shitty assumptions).
  2. reception of art in particular is highly subjective and responsive to cultural and political prejudice, even now.. Even now, if you have a vagina, you’re never going to be called “our greatest writer” (even if such assessments could be made). You’ll only ever be “our greatest female writer”. You can achieve all you like, but your space for recognition remains restricted.
  3. if women have spent 100,000 years doing fuck all, 99.999999999999% men have spent 100,000 years doing double fuck all. I mean, they haven’t even been arsed to give birth or raise children. They’ve just pootled around down mines or fighting wars, one big morass of male suffering, occasionally picked up on by the menz right’s movements as the true “victims” of sexism, at least whenever said menz rights campaigners aren’t showing off about how brilliant and unique and successful all men throughout history have been. Genius is recognized as such because it’s rare. Why the fuck should most men – just plodding along like the rest of us – be permitted to bask in the reflected glory of Einstein, Columbus, the Beatles etc etc? It’s not fair! Male “geniuses” have had all the cultural advantages, but they still didn’t achieve that much. There aren’t that many of them compared to the whole population of the world, ever. The disparity between male and female achievement just isn’t that great. Come on, men! What were YOU doing all this time? THAT’S what we should be asking (because obviously questions like this are totally fair and don’t have to be context-specific or take class, race or anything else into account. Obviously).
  4. that leap from “not having achieved much of note” to a presumption of actual “inferiority” – it’s a bit much, isn’t it?

Well, I’ve said my piece. The other thing I might add is, I have not, for a long time at least, come across a male writer who makes me giggle in bed. And if me giggling in bed isn’t seen as all that important, well – I think we need to reassess our priorities.