Well, I don’t need to give much of the back story for this post, but I shall do, albeit briefly.
A few days ago, following a tweet promoting her interview Lena Dunham in the forthcoming Saturday magazine from The Times, Caitlin Moran was challenged by a follower on Twitter who asked her whether at any point in the interview she had raised the point about the lack of any ethnic diversity in Dunham’s sitcom Girls. Moran’s response to the question “did you address the complete and utter lack of people of colour in girls in your interview?” [sic] was “Nope. I literally couldn’t give a shit aboutit” [sic]. What ensued was one of those ‘twitter storms’ people so often seem to have – one person says something that others don’t agree with, which then gets retweeted and screen-capped and makes its way around the internet, being taken out of context left right and centre and dividing people on a topic they didn’t even think they cared about.
Annoyingly, I’ve been thinking about this whole thing since Friday, when it all kicked off. I’m not particularly good at organising my thoughts when I’m particularly passionate about something, but I figured I’d give my two cents on this occasion because I’ve been reading around, seeing other people’s responses to this.
Something that’s been thrown around is a criticism of Moran’s ‘feminism’. I’ve been reading her book, ‘How To Be A Woman’ and as much as I want to like it, I find myself becoming more and more frustrated with it, but that’s just my opinion – her writing style grates on my nerves, although it’s clearly working for her. I keep thinking to myself that maybe it’s jealousy on my part that she has this lucrative writing career, and maybe that’s part of it. But in that sense, I’m jealous of basically anyone who writes or composes for a living.
My problem with this weekend’s on-goings is the original article which kicked everything off (but also the “WOC” issue, which I’ll get to later). The front page of The Times Saturday magazine has this as the front cover:
I can’t even. I just can’t. Look, like I said, I’ve been reading “How To Be A Woman” on and off for a while now and in that, Moran makes no secret about her impoverished, sheltered yet liberal upbringing in Wolverhampton – and fair play to her for being open about it or whatever, I’m just trying to sound like I’m being nice here, okay? But her book opens with her as a 13 year old girl in 1988. That’s the year I was born. Someone who was a teenager when I was cheeky, newborn baby clearly comes from a different generation. So why is she declaring who is the voice of mine?
Moran is not the first person to proclaim Dunham as the voice of a generation, and the success of Girls would certainly explain the excitement surrounding the 26 year old writer/producer/actress/juggler (disclaimer: I don’t know if she can juggle). But I imagine that Dunham herself would not be so quick to accept the mantle being thrust upon her so fervently – then again, reading Moran’s article led me to see the link between her and Dunham that explains the arse-licking that spanned over several pages.
You see, in Moran’s book she talks openly and in detail about her experiences of masturbation and abortion, for which she has been inexplicably heralded (no doubt mostly by feminists) as brave and progressive. In The Times‘ article, she mentions Dunham’s amateur student video where she gets into a campus fountain, completely naked, and bathes in it like it’s completely normal; this is referred to by Moran as art, forcing society to look at what a real woman looks like – in Dunham’s case (and paraphrasing Moran) – pale, chubby-faced and round-bellied. Lena also appeared naked in the opening skit for the Emmy’s this year, and is frequently naked in Girls. This is referred to as ‘brave’ and ‘refreshing’. Well, I have another word for it, which applies to both Moran and Dunham: exhibitionism. Both women write unbelievably self-centred pieces, and that’s fair enough, plenty of writers have done the same and written themselves into their work. Dunham’s film ‘Tiny Furniture’ and her sitcom Girls are both centred around a character who is essentially Lena (Ricky Gervais has made a very successful career out of writing sitcoms around his current situation at the time – from a nobody/wannabe comedian in The Office, to minor, burgeoning celebrity in Extras, to all out control-freak star aka himself in Life’s Too Short), while Moran’s outrage extends only to issues that directly affect her. And that’s why the idea of Dunham being the voice of MY generation (I am only two years younger than her) irritates the hell out of me.
There are parts of the characters in Girls that ring true – the lack of direction for graduates and twenty-somethings, the plight of the unpaid intern, the mishmash of fashion statements and style. However, the main characters are of a single ilk. Hipsters. Hipsters are the proof that evolution is slowing down, perhaps even going backwards. Hipsters are proof of God, because if there is a God there must be a Devil, and yea if the Devil were incarnate, he would be a hipster. There’s the chubby hipster, the slutty hipster, the virgin hipster, and the boho hipster. I mean, that’s kind of like saying “there’s being stabbed slowly, then there’s being stabbed quickly, and then there’s being stabbed with an icepick, or being stabbed with an antique vintage letter-opener” – they’re all painful and unnecessary. So there’s diversity amongst the hipsters. But the argument that arose over the weekend revolved around the lack of ethnic diversity.
Moran was called out by someone on Twitter for not bringing up the subject of the all-white cast on Girls with Dunham. Moran’s flippant response about not giving a shit about it pissed off a LOT of people, and rightly so. Now, the articles I’ve read in response to this issue have been filled with references to leading feminists and experts on culture and history. You’ve read my posts on here before, you know I’m neither of those things, but I do feel qualified to have my say on this matter, for a number of reasons – though to be honest, everyone is entitled to have their say on it, I just think my view might be a teensy bit different from others.
The debate has included the accusation that Moran’s feminism is not intersectional, i.e. she’s only bothered about women’s rights that don’t take into account other issues such as race. Therein lies my main problem with the “voice of her generation” claim and the idea that Girls is a real triumph for feminism. Fucking feminism, man. It just pisses me off. Reading Moran’s book, she talks about how feminism has been demonised, and that there’s no such thing as a woman who isn’t a feminist. Well, I’m just not her kind of feminist, then – and I think that’s what feminism should be – it should be about being free to have your own views and values without being judged by anyone, male or female, and being sensible enough to respect the views of others too. Hell, that’s what every human being should do, not just feminists. Then there’s the name-dropping of famous historical feminists – you know, from the 1950s, when feminists were urging women to take control of their lives and step out of the kitchen, the black maid will take care of everything in there while you’re going out getting jobs!
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for women being treated fairly and equally but I don’t believe that referring to a patriarchy all the fucking time is going to help. And that’s how Moran and her other “feminist” chums tried to deflect the issue – “Let’s not fight, you guys, think of the bigger picture. In-fighting means that the patriarchy wins!” I smell bullshit. I read the original tweet, about “women of colour” – a term I was not previously familiar with and don’t really intend to keep using – and my own reaction was “Damn, I never thought of that. She’s got a point.” Even if Moran didn’t think that at the time, her response of “I couldn’t give a shit about it” speaks volumes about her, as a feminist and as a person. In that single tweet, she embodied the smug, arrogant attitude of a white, middle-class woman who calls herself a feminist but turns a blind eye to the plight of a whole community of women, that of being under-represented in a show considered to be a true representation of young women today. Moran happily, and with obvious and delirious admiration for this young woman whom she no doubt sees a lot of herself in, sings Dunham’s praises and calls her the voice of a generation, but only because she’s not listening to any others.
Following the uproar about this tweet, Moran went on a blocking spree toward anyone who sent her a mean tweet, further cementing her new image as an ignorant snob rather than the cool, hip, liberal feminist she thought she was. Why didn’t she just say “You’re right, I should have asked her about it” or “It honestly didn’t cross my mind”? Instead, she responded to tweets with “I can’t wait to see your letters to the writers of Cheers and Friends” or words to that effect. In an interview with theatlanticwire.com promoting ‘How To Be A Woman’, Moran said of herself:
I’m an old hippie, but I think the most important thing anyone can do is walk in and say “I know nothing so I won’t comment,” or “I’m a bit of a dick, I admit it, I fucked up.”
Clearly, she’s adverse to taking her own advice, seeing as since the storm died down she has referred to it simply as being “all a bit horrible” and “a misunderstanding”. No sign of “Look, I know nothing so I won’t comment, and I *am* a bit of a dick and I *did* fuck up”.
The point of the whole issue has been that in a sitcom that supposedly represents modern young women in one of the most multicultural cities in the world, New York, there is no ethnic diversity – save for a Hispanic maid – and a woman that is considered by many as a very contemporary feminist didn’t even notice it. All that she noticed was the all-female cast, the casual prescription-drug use by the characters (because if there’s one thing that comes across in everything Moran writes, it’s how desperately she wants people to think she’s edgy and cool and retro and non-conformist. Fuck off, for real), and the female lead who ISN’T a blonde, size zero beauty queen. That was enough to satisfy her feminist agenda.
In the same interview mentioned above, Moran said:
Girls sits on Sex and the City and squashes it. For me, Sex and the City is about four gay men who are wearing dresses. It doesn’t tap into the essential truths of being a woman
In some ways, I agree with her on the description of Sex and the City; I found it to be a bit over the top, and so I didn’t really watch it. But Sex and the City was based on the semi-autobiographical, columns of Candace Bushnell, so it tapped into the truth of being a woman for Ms Bushnell. Maybe not for Moran, though, and she’s the expert on how to be a woman, right? Bushnell’s funny columns were made into a book – ‘Moranthology’ has just been released, wherein Moran’s humorous columns are collected. What a coincidence. Bushnell’s autobiographical writings were then made into an HBO comedy – Dunham’s Girls is based on experiences she has had, and the sitcom was broadcast on HBO… oh, another coincidence. The same experiences combined in one woman’s achievements, but it doesn’t tap into the essential truth of being a woman because it isn’t what being a woman has meant for those two specific people. And that’s why Moran doesn’t give a shit about the race question – because it hasn’t been a part of her life.
When I said I was qualified to talk about this from a different point of view, it wasn’t just because I’m female and I love comedy. It’s also because I’m mixed-race in a way that isn’t apparent until it comes up in conversation. I look white, but actually have an Anglo-Indian mother. Technically, I guess I could include myself in the “WOC” group, but I’m not, because aesthetically I don’t attract any of the kind of prejudices or the discrimination that face WOC. And for those who think that those prejudices no longer exist, they do, and in many different ways. I’ve had white girls ask me if my mum wears a sari, despite having met her numerous times, as soon as they hear about her ethnicity; as well as directing their looks at me when talking about the utterly ridiculous notion of white people smelling of milk and Indian people always, ALWAYS smelling of curry (this has happened to me TWICE); I’ve also had black girls suddenly take an interest in me and accept me once finding out that I’m “not 100% white”. You see it all the time in other places too, not just race. The men who recoil when they find out another man is gay, and the women who suddenly treat the same man as if he were a glittery puppy, all cute and shiny! People are different, and rely on stereotypes to get through life – it would be more helpful if we were all to make the effort to learn about one another as individuals rather than assume all black people are happy to be greeted with “yo homie”. There are differences between the lives of women and men, and there are differences within those genders based on class, race, sexuality – it’s not as simple as Male versus Female.
Take the BBC’s Citizen Khan. It’s had a mixed response, and been referred to as closer to a 1970s style sitcom (from a time when racism was, well, more blatant and acceptable) due to it’s stereotypical depiction of a Muslim family. I know I’ve said stereotypes are not preferable, but regardless of the quality of humour, I genuinely believe it’s a step in the right direction. I planned on listing some current and recent sitcoms which feature one or no characters from ethnic groups other than Caucasians. It got embarrassing, and I won’t include it because it’s depressing how acceptable it has become for a show to feature an all-white cast without being considered exclusive, and that this is how society is being viewed and chronicled through the fictional exploits of sitcom characters. In my late teens, one of my friends made a comment that at school, most of my friends had been black. It hadn’t been a conscious choice and I genuinely don’t believe I would have realised it had my friend not pointed it out to me. I hate to generalise but I would say that people of my age and younger, more-so people from my kind of background too, tend to move in social circles with all manner of ethnic minorities and mixed race people too. Perhaps not working class, though – a girl at my university once told me she had “never seen so many black people in one place” on campus, and tried to qualify it with “there just aren’t any blacks in my village”.
In short (she says, after 2000 words), I think feminism is about sisterhood, and these days we’re a nuclear family – Caitlin Moran is part of our multiracial family and she’s raising strong, white women, but she’s willfully ignoring her step-daughters… if you know what I mean.