Writing exclusively for Stylist, the author of last year’s hugely successful book How To Be A Woman answers life’s most important questions
Photography: Simon Songhurst
Since the success of my last book – top 10 in the UK for almost exactly a year, now being adapted as a movie for Film Four, rah rah rah – the big changes in my life have been: 1) I have bought a lot more novelty knitwear off topshop.com. A LOT more. There was a jumper with TWO WHITE VELOUR GREYHOUNDS ON! It was in my basket in less than a minute! I can impulse purchase that kind of £29.99 s*** like that these days!
And: 2) I have felt much more chillaxed about looking, most days, like someone with some of the lowest personal-grooming standards in northern Europe. Like, to the point where I will happily rock up at key business meetings in a Gore-Tex anorak from 1995 and tights with holes mid-thigh, exuding the air of someone who is about to sit down – only for a stoat to come out of the pocket, which would be greeted with, “Ah, Mr Jenkins has decided to join us for this meeting. Well met, Mr Jenkins. Well met.”
However, much as I love the jumpers, I find the second a deeply intriguing side effect of having some success – discovering that many of the traits we deem to be inherently masculine (greater confidence; more “relaxedness” about emitting smells; being perfectly happy to let your spouse do the majority of the childcare; shouting “I’ve been working my BALLS off to put dinner on the table”; forgetting people’s birthdays; speaking up in meetings; walking around with your belly hanging out of your jeans and eating a sausage while shouting “Bollocks!”) aren’t, actually, male traits at all: just the traits of feeling more socially powerful and validated. Obviously this observation runs into difficulties when one considers that the Queen – the most powerful woman in the world – does not, as far as we know, do any of these things. But I would beg you to ignore that fact, as the rest of it hangs together so nicely.
The third most noticeable side effect of How To Be A Woman is that people now presume I know stuff. Once you’ve written a book that fairly assertively tackles a single subject – how difficult it can be to be a woman in the modern day – and posits a suggestion (I’m condensing here, but not that much, when I say “eat a cheese sandwich while reading Spike Milligan’s war memoirs”), the wholly illogical assumption seems to be that you can sort all manner of other things out, too.
Off the back of a book moaning about knickers going up your bum-crack and admitting that I first masturbated while thinking about Chevy Chase in The Three Amigos, I now get people asking me for advice. People on Twitter going, “@caitlinmoran – this one’s over to YOU!” People coming up to me in supermarkets, going “Catmo – the Eurozone crisis. Is there a third way between austerity and Keynesian economics?” People at dinner parties shouting, “Everyone – let’s ask CAITLIN what the solution is!”, when I’m on the patio smoking a fag, trying to show three women how to do the Single Ladies dance by Beyoncé. Really, it’s quite alarming how much people will trust – indeed rely – on someone who’s only achieved one thing in a fairly limited area. What are the chances that someone who has written a humorous book about feminism will also, and at the same time, have the answers to every single other one of the world’s problems? Of course, the great thing here is that – I DO!!!!
YES! In my new book, Moranthology, I have gathered together all the columns I’ve written for The Times over the years that no-one read, because they’re behind the paywall, and in which I diligently busted, one-by-one, all the big questions of our era. It’s honestly a pretty all-encompassing sweep. Regard the following five questions:
q1: Is the correct response to being trolled on the internet to simply hold your head high and ignore it, like a noble person?
Until recently, I would intone the internet’s big catchphrase – “don’t feed the troll”. There’s always the undeniable feeling that, as you castigate a troll, he’s rubbing his Red Dwarf mouse-mat against his crotch, sighing, “Angry liberal women typing at me. Oh yah, that’s how I like it.”
But then I started to notice that, as a phenomenon, trolling isn’t just confined to pseudonymous IT workers hanging around Justin Bieber fan-sites. When, on Top Gear, Jeremy Clarkson made his “amusing” remark about Katie Price having a “pink whore’s box” – “I meant PINK HORSE BOX!” he corrected, knowingly – it occurred to me that Clarkson’s entire career is essentially an exercise in trolling: gleefully vexatious comments on Mexicans, homosexuals and women, thrown out with the, “Ho ho! Our ‘PC’ friends won’t like THIS!” expression that is the carat-mark of the true troll. Clarkson isn’t the only professional troll on the block: consider his friend, the Sunday Times columnist AA Gill, with his liberal sprinkling of references to “dykes”, “ferret-faced Albanians” and the “ugly Welsh”. Both Clarkson and Gill know these kind of comments provoke massive reactions – in their cases, to the point where ambassadors from other countries get involved. Essentially, they’re trolling the entire concepts of diplomacy and civilisation for a reaction. This is something that some hopelessly small-town troll, flaming for kicks on the breastfeeding boards of Mumsnet, can only sighingly aspire to.
If there is one thing that defines the troll world-view, it’s a sour, dissatisfied sense that the world is disappointing. Trolls never troll enthusiasm. The default troll attitude is one of inexplicably vituperative disapproval for something millions find joy in. The first time I thought that sentence, I went, “Oh my God – you know what this means? The Daily Mail is the f***ing LODESTONE of trolldom! It’s the Magna Carta of trolldom! It’s the Dead Sea Trolls!” Because if you look at its website, your presumption that Daily Mail readers actually like bitchy headlines about female celebrities putting on weight (“Fuller-Faced Cheryl Cole”), is blown out of the water. All the comments are actually from reasonable people baffled by the Mail’s tactic (“Can’t celebrities put on an ounce without it being news?” Ivy, Barking) – making you realise that the Mail is, in practice, trolling its entire readership. Amazing.
So this is why I can’t agree with “don’t feed the trolls”. When millionaire celebrity broadcasters and entire publications start trolling, ignoring them isn’t really an option anymore. They are gradually making trolling normative. We have to start feeding the trolls: feeding them with achingly polite emails and comments, reminding them of how billions of people prefer to communicate with each other, every day, in the most unregulated arena of all: courteously.
q2: Is there actually a seed of truth in the American pro-life campaigners’ stance?
Republican candidate Rick Santorum’s comment that, if his 14-year-old daughter were raped, and became pregnant, he would not want her to have an abortion – but think of the baby as a “gift” from God – has been one of the defining quotes of the year. Let us think of all the inferences of “gifts.” If I give you a gift, it is usually a surprise. It is probably something you would not have got for yourself. And after I have given it to you, I would not see it again. I leave you with the gift. Gift-giving leaves the person who receives the gift essentially powerless – not a problem if it’s an incongruously brightly coloured wristwatch; a great deal more so if it’s a human being you bear responsibility over for the rest of your life.
Babies being “given” to women as gifts makes the women sound powerless. Something that a present was put into, like a cupboard, or a shelf – rather than a reasoning adult, who decided they were ready to be a mother. From the shop-floor of pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood, here’s what that gift can entail: tearing, bleeding, weeping, exhaustion, hallucination, despair, rage, anaemia, stitches, incontinence, unemployment, depression, infection, loneliness. Death. Women still die in childbirth. Not as many as used to – but notably more than die while receiving any other “gifts”, like scented candles or mini-breaks. Additionally, “gift” sounds hopelessly inadequate to describe your children, whom you would die for in a heartbeat, inhale like oxygen and swoon over like lovers. I have never done this over a foot-spa, book token or vase.
q3: In a world still riddled with sexual inequality, what would be the quickest and most effective way to put women on an economic parity with men?
Positive discrimination, and strictly enforced employment quotas. “But Cate,” those who object will say, those who know what my nickname is. The good nickname. Not “Snakey Mome Rath”. “But Cate – if you insist 50% of your workforce is women, and force employers to hire them, that means you’re gonna get women who are wildly ill-qualified desk-meat, smashing at keyboards with their faces, and making a total hash of it. That can’t be right!” Well, it’s not “right”. It is, however, totally normal. After all, in an office that’s 70% men, at least 20% of them are going to be wildly ill-qualified desk-meat, smashing at the keyboard with their faces, and making a total hash of it. Of course they are. That’s just statistics. People who are anti-positive discrimination are ignoring the fact that we’ve been giving jobs to MILLIONS of stupid, unqualified people for millennia: men.
Please don’t misunderstand – I am not prejudiced against the stupid men. Or the stupid women, for that matter. As we all know, any office – from Budgens in Crouch End to the White House – only needs three clever people to run it. Everyone else there is essentially just a background extra to stop the important, capable people feeling lonely. And that’s another reason why we need quotas.
When women are in a minority in any situation, they feel as understandably odd and stressed as two pelicans in a camel enclosure. And the camels can’t help but look at the pelican beaks oddly, and go off and do “camel things” in the corner, while the pelicans feel awkward and alone, and go on a weird diet, out of self-loathing.
In this situation, you clearly just need to wang half a dozen stupider pelicans into the enclosure, to keep the best pelicans company and even out the numbers – so that both “being a pelican” and “being a camel” is totally normal in London Zoo’s New Pelican & Camel Experience.
q4: Should I put all my money in an off-shore investment fund to avoid tax, and spend all my time moaning about tax?
No. Getting stuffed by the taxman is a good thing – because it means you’re earning money! You’re not going to go to the workhouse after all! Given that only 0.6% of British workers earn £150,000 or over, complaining about having to pay what is effectively a ‘You Really Are Winning Tax’ comes across as an act of querulous, caviar-maddened ingratitude. You’re basically being Chandler in Friends, when he wails, “My wallet’s too small for my 50s and these diamond shoes are too tight!” I think it’s actually a repressed, British form of showing off – like when the aristocracy complain about how draughty their castles are. You know what? As a grown adult, I kind of want my taxation to hurt a bit. I feel like The Joker, facing down Batman: "Come on – stick National Insurance on top of it! I can handle it! VAT me! VAT ME! PAY FOR NEW PAVEMENTS WITH MY DOLLAR."
Obviously, I know that avoiding tax isn’t actually breaking the law. It’s not illegal to gigantically minimise your tax burden with the help of an accountant whose massive fees you can, handily, then claim against tax. But, then, neither is it illegal to be a total dick – and no-one will thank you for doing it. Come on, dude – you know you have to pay your tax. It is beholden to you, as a gentleman.
q5: Does a public school education lead to a better quality of Prime Minister?
Although I cannot answer this definitively, I did once meet David Cameron, at a garden party held by News International, publishers of The Times. Chatting with fellow Times’ columnist Giles Coren next to a table bearing cheeses – “Always set up camp next to the cheeses,” Giles said, wisely – we noted that David Cameron had noticed us, and was drawing near for a chat. “Oh, I do so enjoy YOUR writing,” Cameron said to Giles – planting himself between me and Coren Jnr, with his back towards me.
I was amazed. I thought the whole point of posh people was that part of their incredibly expensive private education was to behave graciously toward red-faced Hogarthian peasants such as myself. It seemed not. £100,000 at Eton and he was still a rude asshat. Still - little I cared. With Giles now otherwise occupied in talk of property prices in Ladbroke Grove, I had a full run on the cheese table, and subsequently managed to decant half a Reblochon into my handbag before ordering a taxi.
In many ways, my new book marks the beginning of my New World Order – so long as you’re expecting something less “authoritarian world government”, and more “taking a load of pills in the Hacienda, and playing the bass with my legs wide apart”.
Moranthology by Caitlin Moran is out now (£18.99, Ebury Press)