by MIA FREEDMAN
There are very few books I have inhaled and then immediately turned back to the begining to start again.
In fact there are only two and they were both written by Caitlin Moran.
Reading her first book, How To Be A Woman is probably the closest I will come to a religious experience.
Like many others who have read and raved about this book, I wrote big chunks of it down. Just because her words about being a woman – everything from periods to sexism to brazilians to childbirth to abortion to masturbation to feminism – were unlike any I’d read before but always innately felt and believed. Even if I hadn’t been able to articulate it yet.
I bought the book for my friends. For my mother and aunts. I talked about it and wrote about it…I still do. Caitlin Moran would have to be one of the biggest influences on me as a woman, a feminist and as a writer.
Are you getting the picture that I’m quite taken with her? So when the opportunity came up to interview her in conjunction with the release of her second book, Moranthology, I was a combination of jubilant and terribly anxious.
The day before our interview, I woke up quite sick. Just a cold but I was distraught not to be at my best. And then I remembered it was an interview. Not a date.
I downloaded a piece of software that would allow me to record our skype conversation – both video and audio – and naturally, when she finally called me at the appointed time, I forgot to press record.
No, I don’t want to discuss it any further. OK?
I’d been allotted half an hour. We ended up talking for well over an hour until my Skype connection crashed. Most of this time we were in her bed – we started in the kitchen but Caitlin was hung over and took me (on her laptop) back to bed where we hung out with her cat. In her bed. You know. Just us.
Here’s an edited version – we went on a lot of tangents – but here are the most interesting bits. Enjoy. xxxxxx
M: You seem really good at hangovers. I gave up getting smashed after I had kids because I am so terrified of having to parent with a hangover. How do you do it?
C: I have a husband who is naturally nice to rise early in the morning and he’s very dedicated to making breakfast. If it’s a cold day he’ll light the fire in the front room first, lay out [the kids'] breakfast on trays. He does a mini fried breakfast sometimes which is a quail’s egg that he fries, tiny bits of sausages and half rashers of bacon and pieces of toast pushed out with a cookie cutter. Basically I just go to bed and let my husband do everything.
M: He sounds like a proper wife.
C: He is the best boy that has ever lived. He saved my life.
M: Do you think it is important for writers or very creative people to have very calm, balanced partners?
C: F***ing hell, yes! I believe in the meeting of opposites. I’ve got my male friends who are single but as much as I love them and enjoy their company, we are too similar and would just drink up or smoke ourselves to death within a year. I need to be with someone much calmer.
M: You and your husband got together really young. Is he your age?
C: No, he’s six years older than me so I get to frequently tease him. I was quite a simple seventeen year old and he was twenty-three [when we met].
M: And did you get time to sow enough wild oats before you guys settled down?
C: He was the first boyfriend I ever had and he said ‘you’re seventeen, you’ve moved to London, just about to be on TV, just go off and have some adventures, I’ll be waiting here when you come back’. I went ‘okie dokie’ and then came back about eighteen months later saying “Peter, Peter I don’t like it, take me back”.
M: You didn’t like your wedding - I didn’t like my wedding either very much even though I liked my husband – but at my wedding I was just not a very good bride. Like you, I also lost a baby shortly afterwards. So I was reading about that incredible quote you give about grief when you’re talking about being at the beach with Pete a few days before you got married and your wedding dress is in the bag at your feet and you guys not knowing that the grief was coming for you.
C: Yes, because you don’t know what’s coming down the track, what the knock on the door will be like and that’s horrible.
M: Now, How to Be a Woman is one phenomenal. I’m just waiting for a children’s version to come out for my daughter.
C: I could do a less rude version…but the reason you want to read it if you were a child is because it’s rude, is because it’s all the grown up secrets. I want kids to pass it around like contraband, like underneath the table, like “read this dirty book…”
M: Yep, totally. Better that than Fifty Shades…
C: It [50 Shades of Grey] annoys me so much…no, no, no, I keep having to tell myself not to be annoyed. The stats are amazing. In the UK, 40 per cent of all books that were sold last year were Fifty Shades of Grey.
M: Do you think it’s been good or bad for the publishing industry?
C: I’m an eternal optimist, so I think it’s saved the publishing industry, which was in decline, but there’s now a massive pot of money that could be used to commission…and also, as feminists, we have many times bewailed the fact that the pornography industry only talks about straight, white, male sexuality…when will female desire be focused on, when are we going to talk about female sexuality.
The amount of academics that that have tried to jump-start conversations about female sexuality and how it differs from male sexuality, and even though this book isn’t that, the subject of female sexuality is now massively lucrative, which means loads of books will be commissioned off the back of it. If some kind of female–made pornography rocked up now, some dirty films, or some amazing book came out, there would be so much publicity around it in a way that wouldn’t have happened before.
M: Does it bother you that it’s called Mummy Porn?
C: Well, I mean other than it does sound a bit weird …do you have Peppa Pig there (in Australia)? Whenever anyone mentions mummy porn I just imagine the mummy pig from Peppa Pig [Mia snorts and does a rather impressive Peppa Pig imitation], which kind of makes it seem even ruder.
Come back into my bedroom now, you can smell the alcohol I breathed out all night…
Note: Moran is moving the interview into her bedroom (to do the interview from bed)
M: How was promoting your book in the US? Did they understand How to be a Woman?
C: It was tricky because many of the programs that you would go on, or interviews that you do, someone would take you aside and say “Well we’re kinda not allowed to say the word ‘vagina’ in America at the moment.”
C: It’s weird there. And you’d realise… like in the same way that we don’t have policemen with guns in the UK and then you go to America and the policemen have guns. And often you can be in a state where there’s the death penalty and…
M: Not for saying vagina, surely.
C: Yep! They kill you for saying vagina [laughs]. And then in the same way that you know, here (in Britain) we have contraception and abortion and then you go there (the US) and there are people that genuinely believe in Heaven and Hell and Satan and there are states where all sex is illegal and they’re trying to take back the right to abortion or the right to contraception.
And it’s a lot scarier, it’s like going back in the past or something. It’s like travelling two hundred, a hundred years back and I feel quite vulnerable as a woman there because there are things that you can just toss off in a conversation here that people take for granted but you have to take people step-by-step through it in America in terms of feminism.
M: Like the fact that you’ve written about your abortion and things like that: you just can’t just go on The View and chat about that, can you.
C: It’s got to the point now where when I’m doing interviews with people, and I know they’re about to talk about abortion, because they do this sort of sympathetic head and they go “of course you wrote very meaningfully about your abortion” and I always have to stop myself laughing when they do it. Not that I’m laughing at abortion, it’s just because that’s what everyone feels they have to do when we talk about it.
So yeah, it was weird going there and having to basically justify feminism again in a way I never had to in this country or in any other places. Italy seems to be troubled as well, judging from the interviews that I’ve done. You get female interviewers who really need you, who are desperate for you to take them through, step-by-step, through why women should be equal to men, and why access to abortion should be a right. They need you to do that because that conversation has still not happened there. Women still haven’t been proven equal to men in Italy as far as I’m aware.
M: I wanted to ask you about your column that you wrote last week about how whenever a woman does anything, whether its Marissa Meyer getting pregnant, or Fifty Shades of Grey, you’re asked to speak on behalf of women and what it means.
C: Having become a prominent feminist, it’s taught me so much about human nature, and society, and gaps that we have in our philosophy. That was one of them, kind of realising that quite a lot is loaded on me at the moment.
The end point of that is that at the moment, as the foremost funny kind of ninth generation feminist in Britain – that I’m very aware that if I fucked up now, or did something wrong, or something that people disagreed with, you could easily go “Hey, well feminism didn’t work out! Let’s just move it to one side and move on with the next thing. We’ll all go back to how things were before.
So the two things I’m trying to encourage are a) other women to come forward – I will tirelessly promote other female writers, other feminists, whether or not I agree with them, and try to get a gang going. When you see that these things work – like in the 1960s – music and creativity were working off each other and it becomes a movement, a vibe.
If it had just been The Beatles on their own, and you hadn’t had the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys, it wouldn’t be a thing, they’d just have been seen as a run-off aberration, they wouldn’t have changed everything.
My books tell my story. How To Be A Woman is not just a book about feminism. It’s someone going ‘I’m a bit weird and unusual and I want to tell you my story.’ And I hope other people go ‘I could tell my story as well’ so we have all these stories out there because it’s control of the idea of normal that I think is the key thing there. Normal, if you think about it for thirty seconds, just means ‘straight white man.’ That’s what normal is.
Women don’t feel normal still.
I’m being given this award next week ‘Honorary Gay.’ Attitude Magazine, which is one of the big gay magazines here, is making me their honorary bisexual of the year. I was thinking, when I was writing my speech to accept this, why would a load of gay men want to make a woman an honorary gay? As a feminist what does that mean?
And again its just the idea of normal: gays don’t feel normal, women don’t feel normal, that’s why there’s this brilliant alliance between gay men and straight women. We club together going “we feel normal in this gay club…we’ll get very drunk and dance and feel normal,” outside the doors we don’t feel normal but in here we’re normal together…
M: But I guess the difference is that women are 51 per cent of the population, so…
C: If you put all your blacks and your Asians and your Chinese and your gays and your transgenders and your women together, we’re like fucking 70 per cent of the population but we’ve been made to feel tiny. And you go, well why is that then, given that we outnumber normal?
And it’s control of the media, it’s control of the stories, it’s the terrifying statistic we have in this country that something like 84 per cent of the people who appear in Question Time are men, 91 per cent of the people that appear on Radio 4 – which businessmen and politicians listen to – are men.
It’s just being out there, being visible, it’s having control of the stories and the media, having your voice heard and your story told. When people go, ‘what does your feminism mean?’ its simply talking, talking about your lives.
M: I slip between two things that you say, because on one hand you write that we should think about having a five year amnesty on saying anything about any women, which is your point: let’s just let everyone be.
But then something else that you say that I loved in How to Be a Woman was ‘let’s not confuse feminism with Buddhism. Just because I have a vagina, doesn’t mean I have to agree with everyone else who has a vagina.’
C: Yes. I mean the thing is I believe both those things. I simultaneously want us to talk about women all the time. I suppose with women, it’s being able to occasionally say “I have no idea.” I’d like women to be able to take control of that idea, and push that part of feminism, because what you never see on news shows, or when businessmen or politicians are interviewed, is them going “I don’t know about that.”
If you look at the political disconnect that we have in this generation and the next generation, people think of politicians as arseholes or as trying to get one over you – and part of that is because they never admit they’re wrong, they’ll never say ‘I don’t know,’ they’ll just bluster and bullshit their way through. I think this is very important, to get people re-engaged in politics, and make politicians seem human again, for them to be able to do things like say ‘I made a mistake.’ I think it’s a strong, sexy thing to be able to say, or to say ‘I don’t know about that.’
M: I don’t know how much you know about Australia…
C: (Moran knows we have a female Prime Minister) She’s ginger and Germaine Greer said her arse was fat and…
M: Yeah, Germaine’s been a little bit disappointing on the subject of the prime minister. It comes back to what you said about not wanting to be the only feminist, because suddenly when Germaine says something awful about the PM, suddenly people use that as an excuse to write off feminism, and get angry at feminism.
C: Yes. I love Germaine in many ways, but she’s a bit of a lone wolf. She was so out there for so long. Germaine was a pioneering female and that would drive you insane because you wouldn’t have anyone else to bounce your ideas off. She’s sitting there coming up with all of these great ideas with no one to bounce it off; that would drive you nuts.
You know, if there was one thing that I could do, it would be to go back and change Germaine Greer’s life for her. It would be to have a massive group of women around her and she could have worked in a pack. I mean, imagine Germaine hanging around with four or five other women – many of whom she would have disagreed with - but the idea of women as extreme and amazing as Germaine Greer working together in a pack would have been astonishing.
C: Yeah, but I have these moments where I sort of have to catch myself and go: ‘But she’s just one woman.
M: It’s just who she is.
C: But, from studying people’s lives, because I read every autobiography – I read every book in the library – and when you’ve read, you know, 200 of these, of people of varying jobs, of very disparate lives, you can learn a couple of lessons from them. And one of them that I learnt really early on is that, more often than not, although it’s kind of sexy to be like ‘I’m David Bowie, I’m on my own, I’m an icon of myself, I’m me because I’m on my own,’ it will knack at you and it will drive you insane. I think you want to get a gang ready, you want to have a round table. You want your 1960s where you’re all working together with as many people on board as possible.
M: You were talking about the feeling of not being able to fuck up, because then people will say feminism failed……..You know on Twitter, when I said I’m going to interview you and I joked that I’m not going to put on makeup ‘as a strident feminist statement’, and then people are like “But why can’t you be a feminist and wear makeup?” And I’m like, “ohhh f*cking please!” And then I made some joke about Cameron Diaz and it’s all “oh it’s not very feminist, being unsupportive of Cameron Diaz. And what do you do with that, these people that want to box feminism in?
C: It’s the feminist police. And you get them with everything. It’s that whole thing of …there’s nothing more dangerous than someone who’s read ONE book on a subject. I was a music journalist when I was 16, my dad was in a band, I’m married to someone who’s got fifty thousand records, I meet people in bands, I know the music, I know my cool stuff…If you go on Twitter and go “I love Coldplay” and they know you for liking cool indie stuff it’s like [makes gasping sound] ‘You know you’re not allowed to like Coldplay…’
But these people maybe have 26 records in their collection and maybe if you only have 26 records you would think that it’s wrong to like Coldplay, you’d think I’ve sold out. If you’ve got fifty thousand records in your collection then you’re a bit more relaxed about this, and you know it’s actually fine to like Coldplay.
It’s the same with feminism. If you’ve only read one book on feminism, you would go [makes ‘horrified’ sound] “you’re not allowed to wear makeup.”
M: I’ve got a 15 year old, a 6 year old and a 4 year old. My daughter is 6. I’m really watching in front of my eyes her body being commoditised. Suddenly people are commenting on her body. We’re at the shoe store and the woman said “What’s your favourite food?” And she said “soup” and the woman said “oh that’s how you’re so skinny.”
And some of the girls at school are talking about whose legs are hairy. So, I’m really struggling with this. So for a time she was worried about the hair on her legs and didn’t want to wear shorts. I shave my legs. So I don’t know what to say to her…..how do you juggle all that with your two daughters?
C: It’s tricky, isn’t it? My husband’s Greek, so their cousins have very strong moustaches and have had them since they were very small children. Evie’s got a much lighter version of it and she’s also got a massive monobrow. So as soon as she got her monobrow I was like right, ok “Frida Kahlo!” So we got these amazing children’s books about Frida Kahlo and her paintings and I would read Frida Kahlo every night, and it made her very proud of her monobrow. But just recently she’s insisted on having a fringe, because she wants to cover it up, and she’d never talked about it before.
So she asked me for a fringe [inaudible] and she just sort of said last week, because I asked “How about we grow your fringe out?” and she went “No, because people might see my monobrow.” And she’s nine and it breaks my heart and I don’t know…I know strident feminist friends who go “I would never let my children shave their legs, I won’t let them thread their eyebrows or remove their moustaches” but then that’s making your child suffer for your beliefs.
They’re having to go out every day and live out your beliefs in front of their friends, and I don’t think that’s fair. The point where they want to start waxing or threading or whatever, I’d let them because I want them to be comfortable and happy with themselves. My mum didn’t let my shave my legs and I just simply stole a razor and did it anyway.
M: Same. But when I was 12, not when I was 6. It didn’t occur to me when I was 6.
C: I always like a simple fix that’s just something to do with attitude, and attitude-wise you can totally tell them that they’re beautiful, but in these cases the answer is that you have to change society, which is a massive f*cking pisser.
M: You hate Sex and the City, don’t you?
I think it was an important stepping stone in that it had women talking freely and openly about their sexuality, but they didn’t seem like women to me, they seemed like women pretending to be gay men, ok, that’s better than the women we had before but the answer to everything has been “Fabulous!” and that’s exhausting. The end thing that you take out is that it’s an enormous amount of hard work to be a woman, just to look beautiful.
And it’s hard work to be a woman, but I don’t want to put all my effort into looking fabulous and kind of maintaining my walk-in wardrobe. If I’m going to put that much effort into something it will be a fucking Marxist feminist revolution, it won’t be debating accessories. It annoys me that women are having their energy sidetracked. Every Christmas, I used to get a jigsaw, and one year my sister walked past me and she said “Why are you doing a jigsaw? You’ve just bought yourself a problem.”
And I said “I’ve just spent $7.99 to put to together a picture of some trees, and spend three days doing that. And that’s what Sex and the City seemed to be for me, it was women buying themselves a problem. You watched it to the end and you went, “Shit, I didn’t previously know that my life needed to be fabulous and revolve around racketing around bars, experimenting with my anus, and coming up with fifty new kinds of hair. It seems that any woman that wanted to live the Sex and the City lifestyle ….[cuts out] bought themselves a massive fucking problem… I don’t like it.
M: It’s the inadequacy though, isn’t it? It’s that so much media aimed at women and that depict women make us feel shit about ourselves because that’s not real life. I come from a magazine background – I used to be the editor of Cosmopolitan – and I’ve railed against the whole airbrushing/Photoshop bullshit. And I’ve now become one of those mothers who don’t allow magazines in my house.
C: Yes, I think that’s really key. Don’t let them see it.
M: There’s a great quote from Tina Fey in Bossy Pants, where she says about how she feels about Photoshop the same way she feels about abortion: “it’s terrible and outrageous and it should never happen – unless I need it in which case everyone be cool.”
C: Oh god I love Fey.
M: Isn’t she awesome?
C: My stance on this is different – and Fey’s is different, and she’s done the big photo shoots and she looks fabulous and that’s what she wants to do – and, you know, I love looking at Tina Fey looking sexy. When me and my sister get stuck when we’re writing we’ll get pictures of Tina Fey and eat pictures of Tina Fey, and it gives us power.
My feminism is very much focussed on looking scruffy and rough as shit, so my stipulation when I do photo shoots is that I do my own hair and make up, and I style myself – I don’t want any photo shopping done on it. Because I feel happy if I see photos of a woman looking rough and happy.
And one thing I thought I could do with my fame and leverage is just turn up in a pair of shorts, and a pair of denier tights with a small hole in them, and a pair of comfortable boots, just sit there looking friendly and clever and pleasant with a smattering of adult acne, and very visible roots.
M: There was a very tragic case in Melbourne recently, about an Irish girl who was walking home from a bar, and who was married and lived 800 metres from a bar, and was walking home and was just randomly abducted and raped and murdered. And it’s really been one of those watershed moments for the whole country.
There have been peace marches, and reclaim the night marches, because it is that thing that we all fear, a woman walking alone, randomly taken from the streets, and it’s really divided a lot of women. Because there have been those who have said, “don’t blame the victim, we need to be free to walk the streets at any time, it’s men who need to be taught not to rape and murder.”
And of course it should never be about victim blaming but I worry about the idea of saying to women “don’t change your behaviour, this is not your problem!”. I feel like that’s saying, ”You should be able to leave your car unlocked with the keys in the ignition, or leave your front door unlocked, and expect nobody to burgle you.”
C: Yes. It’s on that basis that I don’t wear high heels – other than I can’t walk in them – because when I’m lying in bed at night with my husband, I know there’s a woman coming who I could rape and murder, because I can hear her coming up the street in high heels, clack-clack -clack. And I can hear she’s on her own, I can hear what speed she’s coming at, I could plan where to stand to grab her or an ambush. And every time I hear her I think, “Fuck, you’re just alerting every fucking nutter to where you are now. And [that it’s a concern] that’s not right.
Society should be different. But while we’re waiting for society to change, there’s just certain things you have to do. But again the thing is, so many things you could do instead are predicated on having money. She could come out of a nightclub and get into a taxi, that would be the right thing to do.
No billionaire heiresses are ever abducted and raped and murdered, because they are just being put into a taxi or have their driver waiting around a corner for them. Again, it’s not just a feminist thing, it’s a class thing. It’s a money thing. It’s a problem of capitalist society. That’s why I think often feminism links to Marxism and socialism, I don’t just want to help one bunch of people, I want to help everyone.
M: And what about your daughters? Do you kind of sit down and give them life lessons all the time, or do you live by example? And show them that you don’t have a Brazilian and that’s how they learn.
C: Yeah, people sometimes ask me when are you going to sit down with your teenagers to tell them about feminism? And I think why would I have to tell them about feminism? From day one it’s been, “Be aware of the patriarchy.”
I think you see a lot of middleclass mums dong this, they hide their children away from the parts of society they don’t like. So they don’t watch MTV, they’re down on glossy magazines, they’ll walk past shops with slutty girl fashion and go ‘I wouldn’t wear that.’
But you can’t disengage from society. As soon as girls are 14 or 15 they will go out there on their own, and my way of being there is just by actually discussing everything that they’re going to have to go out there and deal with, and give them tools to be able to analyse it themselves. I don’t give them my opinion on it. I don’t say, “We hate Rihanna for dressing up like a slut” or “Girls, you mustn’t dress like Rihanna”. We talk about her, and I give them the tools of analysis and comparison, and ask, “Why does she dress like that? “
What is it about society that she always has to dress like that, even though she’s supposedly very rich and powerful? Do we think she should always have to get around in her underwear? What do we think the tokens of power are? This is what the public likes, it’s about sex; but do women always have to be sexy? Couldn’t Rihanna write a song about feeling hungry?… Couldn’t Rihanna write a song about having a pet?”
And talking to kids on that level, so that when kids turn it on, rather than hearing my view in their heads and my feminism, they can go “Well, I’m analysing it like this.” And they come to me now, they notice stuff and they feel sorry for Rihanna.
M: Because Rihanna can’t wear a cardigan? That’s a reason to feel sorry for her.
C: That’s what you want. Not for them to parrot back at you’re your feminism, but with their own feminism. Their generation will have feminist dilemmas that we don’t even know about. And rather than looking to us, saying, “Mummy, sort it out”, …
[Kerfuffle as Mia introduces Caitlin to her mother and daughter.]
M: And this is three generations of feminism that you’ve affected, in Australia.
C: Hello, small feminists!
M: Living in a house of men and boys, sometimes Coco and I say, “Vagina power!”
6 year-old Coco: Vagina power!