Times columnist Caitlin Moran’s brilliant new book, How To Be A Woman, tackles what it means to be a woman in the 21st century. Here, she answers the modern feminist’s BIG questions.
In 2011, there are several questions a modern feminist must ask herself. The first is, “What is modern feminism?” The second is “OK – given that there appears to be no such thing as clear-cut modern feminism, what would I like it to be?” The third will probably then be, “Why am I talking to myself? Jesus. Man, I need to get out more. I’m gonna go to the cornershop, and get a grab bag of McCoys.”
Growing risk of talking to yourself aside – and once you’ve eaten the crisps obviously – being able to apply yourself to working out what modern feminism should be is one of the great, and unexpected, pleasures of the age. They# thought feminism had ground to a halt when no new generation of feminist thinkers, à la Greer, Millett, Roiphe etc – came along. But they were wrong! Because having no generation of new feminist thinkers means we – womankind – have just got to get on and sort this sh*t out for ourselves. Yeah! Like when there’s a meeting at work to “plan” “forward strategy” and everyone fannies away two-and-a-half hours doing precisely nothing in the most longwinded way possible, and then you and your mate Claire sort it all out in the lift on the way home. Yeah. Like that. You know what I’m saying.
1. I feel in my bones that Lady Gaga is a true strident feminist and good for my soul – but how do I square this with the fact that she’s constantly walking around in her bra and pants, even at, like, airports and stuff, where even nudists wear a fleece and linen drawstring trousers?
Well first, because Gaga has described herself as a feminist, which – in these dark days where Goldie Hawn describes herself as a “feminist to a point”. What point? Equality? Voting rights? Not having builders shouting “Oi! Tits McGee!” at you? – is no small beer. But secondly, although Gaga does, clearly, deal in sexual imagery, hers is not the bouncy, willing, “Yes. I’m into S&M and will happily be hog-tied and ball-gagged in my new video, despite it all being a bit creepy when you remember I’m only 23, got signed to a record label when I was 16 and was bitten ON THE FACE by my last boyfriend,” schtick of Rihanna.
The “sexiness” in Gaga’s videos is neurotic, damaged, freakish, furious – she’s dressed in meat; she’s covered in blood; she’s wearing shoes that look like armadillos and setting fire to a man in a bed. If anyone’s managing to get aroused over the video to Bad Romance, good luck to them. As Gaga said in interview, “It’s not for straight guys to masturbate over.” It’s for women and gays to talk about. It’s self-expression, not a peepshow.
2. Germaine Greer once said, “[If a woman] never takes off her high-heeled shoes, how will she ever know how far she could walk or how fast she could run?” So can I be a feminist and still dress up all sexy, like?
Of course you can! OBVIOUSLY. There’s no POINT in feminism if, when the mood takes you, and/or you are in oestrus, and wish to mate, you can’t slut up in some top-ranking freakum dress and absolutely grind on the dancefloor like you heard they were handing out gold medals for hotness. You’re a furry mammal. This is your birthright. YOU GO GIRLFRIEND.
If the things that concern you as a modern woman are the bewildering rise of the Brazilian and the pressure to have a baby then start your feminism there!
What is worth remembering, however, is how infrequently there’s actually any point in doing all this. Being sexy takes a lot of energy – both in the preparation of the sexiness, and the dealing with the consequences of being sexy. You know what I’m talking about. The bloke at the bar who looks like the really terrible one off The Apprentice, who keeps doing that winking thing. Your sexiness was not meant for him! And now you have to explain that. There’s an hour wasted.
I would estimate that, currently, our culture “gets sexy” perhaps 40% too much. It’s only a rough calculation. But we seem to have forgotten that women have a very pleasant alternative to looking sexy, which is just “looking friendly and comfortable and nice”, and eschews all that pouting and hair-flicking and brittle sexy chat and uncomfortable shoes and skirts you have to keep pulling down over your thighs in favour of just kinda hanging out in a nice dress, with sleeves on, and maybe a cardie, and saving the thong and the Wonderbra for special occasions (I personally favour the school sports day).
3.Can I be a feminist when I like reading OK! magazine (not just in the doctor’s waiting room), suspect that Betty Friedan might be one of the women off Mad Men, and have never gone on any marches about ending female circumcision?
Again, the answer here is an emphatic “YES!” It’s not like you only “qualify” as a feminist if you do “all of it”. Being a feminist isn’t like the Duke Of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme. You can actually be quite a shallow feminist if you want. It’s not just for women who’ve spent 30 years debating gender-specific social structuring on Newsnight.
If the things that concern you, as a modern woman, are the bewildering rise of the Brazilian, the pressure to have a baby, and the unfairness of the Daily Mail constantly printing pictures of Christina Aguilera where she looks a bit fat when she’s only a size 10 FFS, then start your feminism right there. You don’t need to do all the gnarly bits you’re not really interested in.
After all, it’s not like men are walking around going “I’m only going to declare I’m equal with women when I’ve gone on a march to prevent all war and suffering.” Feminism isn’t a competition for the moral high ground. It’s just a piece of ground that’s usefully above the flood. There’s a difference.
4. Can I bitch about other women if I am a feminist?
Again, yes. Of course you can. You’re a feminist – not our Lord Jesus Christ. Why would being a feminist mean you can’t still find other women capable of being annoying, stupid, vain, bombastic, wholly deluded about that beret actually suiting them, and just plain mean? Bitch away, feminist friend! Just check who’s in the stalls of the toilets before you start. That’s advice from an old hand.
5. Are men the enemy? They don’t feel like it. Oh God, must I hate men?
No no no no no – one of the first rules of any useful kind of feminism is to politely but firmly say “Not today, dear,” to any woman quacking on about how men are the enemy. The Man: is the enemy – but he is not the men. You must never confuse The Man with the men. The Man is a shadowy mother**** trying to keep us all down with regular application of The Patriarchy. The men, on the other hand, are those guys you know who are nice to snuggle up with, and are good at heavy lifting. They’re very different.
Let’s face it, the patriarchy must be knackered by now.
It’s useful to remember, when you’re being a feminist, that sexism and the patriarchy have also made men’s lives difficult: how could they not? Men and women really hang around each other a lot. Our fortunes are intertwined. Gary next door’s not profiting from the patriarchy – his wife’s so rattled by the institutionalism sexism in her workplace she’s just sp*nked their holiday money on Botox and fillers in order that her line-manager stop referring to her as “Samuel Beckett with t*ts”. Gary’s life would be loads better if his wife had equal pay, his Parliament had a representative number of female MPs legislating better childcare deals, and his world had the other 52% of the population being able to chip in with things like “running societies” and “curing cancer”. It’s a small world with a lot of problems. We need every brain we can get.
6. Is it possible to get a one-bed studio commuter flat in or around Paddington and a five-bedroom property with outbuildings, anywhere between Bath and Frome, on a budget of £850,000?
Sorry, this is a conversation about feminism – not Location, Location, Location.
7. My mistake. You look a bit like Kirstie Allsopp.
Others have said this, yes. Is there anything else I can help with, before I go?
8. Yes – is there one thing, totemic above all others, that you would regard as an indication that feminism is succeeding? What is it?
When a woman goes up to collect the Oscar for Best Actress in shoes that aren’t killing her. Nicole Kidman in flip-flops. That’s my end-point.
#They is probably The Man. The Man gets around. I don’t know how The Man does it. He is BUSY.
How To Be a Woman is released on 16 June, £11.99, amazon.co.uk
Main picture credit: Mark Harrison/Times Sydication