My Problem With Caitlin Moran
Right I just want to get this out of my system NOW before I relapse into a deep depression and don’t see the point any more.
Anybody with any sort of vague involvement with twitter should know that Caitlin Moran, Times-columnist and sort of professional tweeter, seems to be putting her foot in it an awful lot lately. It seems like only yesterday that she was the darling of, not just the ‘progressive’ (*cough*) left, but journalism and the internet at large. She’s the kind of quick-witted, silly person who has thrived in the age of TWITTER but who was previously kind of not very well known.
Some of the stuff Caitlin Moran has said has been Really Fucking Awful And Unhelpful (the high heels debacle instantly springs to mind), whereas some of the stuff she’s said (gay seamonkeys, Intersectionalitygate, and her most recent gaffe “all of the ethnics”) is just really badly worded or very misguided or an unfunny joke or ignorant.
Today I woke up to an article by Helen Lewis which quotes and aims to dissect each of these individual blunders, basically writing off any blame levelled at Moran because she didn’t mean what she said, or it was misinterpreted, or she said sorry later and none of us is perfect. I mean, fair point, no one is perfect, everyone makes blunders, and certainly, I am as guilty of this as anybody (I briefly wore bindis as a fashion accessory earlier this year, before realising I was being an offensive culturally appropriating cunt, par example).
But let’s look at who Moran is, or purports to be. She’s often heralded as the face and voice of modern feminism, mostly down to a well-intentioned book, How To Be a Woman. I’m not saying Caitlin ASKED to be The Face of Modern Feminism (I don’t think she did) but whether or not she, or anyone else, likes it (and I don’t like it very much) she keeps being tossed this accolade and with this perceived role comes lots of VERY REAL responsibility.
Let me tell you a story. When I was doing A Level Music, my teacher told me about a concept which she referred to as ‘avant garl’. My teacher made me write down ‘avant garl’ with that spelling in my notebook. I was 17 at the time, preparing to start a music degree in a year’s time, and quite aware of the ‘avant garde’ movement, so I challenged her and had to show her that she’d spelt it disastrously wrong.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with not knowing how to spell ‘avant garde’. I would never hold it against someone. UNLESS they were my A Level Music teacher and responsible for helping me get into university. THEN I would judge someone for not knowing how to spell it. THEN I would start to get nitpicky and start to hold it against someone.
Caitlin, in many ways, is very much like that music teacher. She’s in a position of power (with which comes responsibility). She has an enormous platform, not just on twitter, but in her newspaper column as well. She wants to use this platform for good, which is admirable. But she doesn’t have the knowledge to back it up. She bandied the words ‘retard’ and ‘tranny’ around (she’s since apologised, which is good) seemingly without realising that she’d done anything wrong. That’s ok. Lots of people unwittingly use slurs, and realising this and then apologising is a great thing to do. But if you have written what (unfortunately), to many people, is the most important feminist tome ever because it’s the only one they’ve ever heard of, you have a responsibility to KNOW what is a slur and what is not without having to be educated on the matter.
If you purport to fight on the side of Equality For Everyone and you have one of the most widely-read columns and twitter feeds in the world, you have a responsibility not to shamelessly victim blame (as she did with her comment that women clicking along the street at night in high heels were attracting rapists, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of rapes are NOT perpetrated by strangers in dark alleys). You have a responsibility not to refer to gays as your army of extremely well-groomed tiny brine shrimp pets, even jokingly (because you should know that this sort of thing is taken at face value by lots of people on the internet, where it’s difficult to infer tone, and that implying that all gay men are grooming obsessed Ken Dolls, even as a joke, is really fucking unhelpful).
You have a responsibility not to effectively brush the needs and interests of LEGIONS of already under-represented women and feminists of colour under the carpet with a rude, flippant, swear-riddled tweet. You have a responsibility to express yourself clearly, and if you’re going to be humorous or deploy ‘parody’ or satire, to do so intelligently. When you’re Caitlin Moran, having your Heart In The Right Place and bumbling along making cock-ups and learning as you go along, is not quite enough.
Not everyone has these responsibilities - certainly, I’m not expecting everyone to be an academically proficient, thoroughly well-read expert - but Caitlin does, and she routinely flouts her power and platform with great ladles of ignorance and badly or unclearly expressed blunders. This is My Problem With Caitlin Moran. I’m not suggesting that every feminist, or even every person, needs to come with a degree in gender studies and an advanced grasp of semantics. But if you’re Caitlin Moran, and you’ve had this position thrust on you, you should at least have a modicum.
When social justice bloggers on tumblr (who have basically taught me all I know) are better-read, more eloquent and, yes, FUNNIER, than the supposed Face of Modern Feminism, you know you have a problem.
(picture via The master’s tools)