Labour MP for Walthamstow Stella Creasy turns the tables on journalist Caitlin Moran and quizzes her on feminism, online abuse and how to make your voice count
Caitlin and I first met online four years ago, trading views about crisp flavours, The Muppets and feminism. I almost didn’t want to meet her in real life in case she turned out to be boring, intimidating or incapable of sharing a bag of kettle chips. I couldn’t have been more wrong. A night out with Caitlin is never dull – but she’s not just good company, she’s also one of the most insightful people I know, who fights for the things she believes in. That’s why I wanted to interview her for Stylist.
By the time I arrive (late as usual) she’s been in hair and make-up for half an hour, donning ‘Adele’ hair, gold eyeshadow and fake eyelashes. She’s like a real life espresso, stimulating parts of your brain you thought were long gone. Within an hour we’ve covered Han Solo, Taylor Swift, online abuse and her plans to write her own manifesto – as well as my poor taste in footwear. Our chat makes me chuckle, but also keen to plan the revolution, and I hope it has the same effect on you.
SC: Now, I know you saw Star Wars last night, but if you ruin it for me – remember, I know where you live…
CM: What I will say is it’s f***ing brilliant and I love it. I’ll tell you what, there’s some hotness. I would certainly elect at least two of the new cast members in the new film. John Boyega is scorching, and there’s a new sexy pilot in it who’s the new Han…
SC: All of which is important… but I have to talk to you today about women. Women, ladies…
CM: OK, yes, cool. But this is important!
SC: The thing is we always used to have these silly conversations – but now we’re all having these conversations in public, on Twitter. Sometimes I think, did I really just tweet that?
CM: But that’s what I love about what you do. You say things you just really should have kept inside your head. But there’s a whole generation of people who think that politics is just for the politics people, and that you probably need to know the history of the Whig party to be able to engage in it. And then you come along, and you’re very accessible, you’re in the places they are – like on social media.
SC: But the flip side of Twitter is, of course, the abuse you get. How do you deal with that?
CM: There are two ways of dealing with abuse. One is to be quite Kate Moss-like and never complain, never explain, and just not respond to anything and become icy and distant.
SC: I love the idea that anyone else could ever be Kate Moss [laughs].
CM: The other tactic is to love-bomb someone, and that’s what you seem to do. I’ve seen you on Facebook when people are being horrible to you, just going, “Let’s keep talking about this.”
SC: I had that around the Syria debate. Anybody who thought there was a nice easy option on Syria… but it was the first time that the more I shared statuses like “here’s a bit of the briefing we’ve been having”, the more people were like, “Oh, you’re just trying to avoid the question, oh, I hate you, I hate you”. That was worrying to me as someone who thinks it’s important to be able to have those conversations. I don’t know whether you’re finding that in the comments below your articles – that arguments are being closed down?
CM: I don’t read the comments any more. It’s usually about 20 people who are taking up 70% of the conversation. They’re all talking to each other and showing off to each other. The problem is with various spaces in the media, such as television, radio or newspapers, that men got there first. But social media was the first place where there was limitless space, and the women got there first. And they dictated the terms, and that’s why there’s this huge rise in feminism in this country. But now social media’s become so nasty. When you get those big arguments, people come to watch. It’s become a spectator sport.
SC: That is why we started this project called Every Voice Matters – to run workshops and events to find ways to challenge these behaviours. I listened to some girls talking about when they set up feminist societies in their schools, that they were getting abuse shouted at them. And all the things that people say to them online they say offline too, because for their generation there’s no distinction. This stuff is now contaminating their lives. I hear from some of these girls that they just want to shut down and not speak up any more. What do you think about leaving social media?
CM: You and I have had rape and death threats, probably from the same people. I’ve had it graphically described to me what people are going to do with swords and my children and my vagina. It didn’t sound that nice, I think it might chafe. But I’m just like, no, I will not leave Twitter. I will not go away.
SC: How do you think we can help people facing such abuse?
CM: Being able to protect the voice in your head is the most important thing. You need to make sure that the voice in your head is you, and that it’s a kind voice. I’d like the voice of Lorraine Kelly, constantly saying, “Are you OK? You’ve done very well today.”
SC: [Laughs] I’d quite like Cerys Matthews telling me, “Oh go on, you can stay for another hour.” [CM laughs] “You’ll be fine tomorrow, honestly! You’ve done it before, four hours’ sleep, a full day’s work. You’ll be fine!”
CM: I see young feminists, where as soon as they get a profile, a load of others will pile onto them, because they think, “There’s only going be one feminist job this year.” It’s that queen bee syndrome that cripples things. There are two ways to be, as a woman who has been given some power. You can either go through the door and close it behind you, and enjoy being in the room that no-one else is in, or you can stand there and hold the door open to let other people through.
SC: Or, if you’re me, you can start taking the hinges off. [Both laugh]
CM: Feminism is about giving you the tools for when you feel bad to say, hang on, it’s not me, it’s not because I’ve got fat thighs or my hair’s not good, it’s because this is a world hostile to women.
SC: Politics is full of men who think they’re feminists. But they need to do more than just say, “Yeah, I totally think women are capable.” Because it’s like, well, really? How are we seeing that?
CM: I think there’s a genuine belief that being a politician is the worst job you could have, and if your child came downstairs and said, “Mother, I’ve decided to be a politician”, you would regard them as if they’d just said, “Mother, I’ve decided to become a massive pervert.”
SC: Yeah, I think that’s probably where Ma Creasy was. [CM laughs] She was like, “You know that estate agency, do you think…? How about used car sales?” But you are right we need to do more to get more women wanting to stand for Parliament.
CM: As a working-class girl from a council estate, I didn’t think I could be a journalist until there was a competition in The Observer that said, “Come and write for us.” You need someone in Parliament to say, “Come and join us.”
SC: You do, but I’m extremely wary of saying, “Come and do it like me, come and be like me.” What I always ask is, “What are you interested in? What are you passionate about? What do you want to change?”
CM: When I do talks, I say, “Who voted in the last election?” Most hands go up. Then I ask, “Who read the manifesto of the party they voted for?” All the hands go down. So the next book I’ve written is called Moranifesto because I just think everybody needs to read the manifestos and write their own manifestos, because that’s the point that you start realising, what are we actually voting for?
SC: A political party is how you bring people together with a shared set of ideas and then try and make that happen… I’m approaching middle age but I’d like to think I’ve got radical bones in me, and my radicalism says, “I want the world to be completely different.” So, where do we start?
CM: Join the Moranifesto Party. [SC laughs] I’d like you on board, you can be my first signing. Because I believe that if you started complaining about something three minutes ago, then two minutes ago you should have started doing something about it. I don’t believe in criticising things that already exist, because – you see it in feminism and you see it in the Left – that as soon as someone does something, someone else comes and tears it down, and it means that you’re just constantly standing on rubble; you never progress. Instead of criticising something, I’d rather make something new.
SC: But isn’t that in and of itself a criticism?
CM: Yeah, but you’re expanding the choice, aren’t you?
SC: I’m with you. I don’t do hand-wringing. I say to people, don’t tell me what’s wrong, tell me what you’d do differently. That’s why they get really annoyed with me. [Laughs] So how can we change the world?
CM: One of the key things I found interesting the first time I met you – we’d had a sort of feminist powwow…
SC: …Was that when we drank those banana cocktails? That was bad.
CM: Yeah, we sat out on a terrace and it was pissing it down with rain and Ruby Wax was hiding under a blanket. I was with a group of people from the arts – comedians and actors – and we were talking about the things we would do to change things, like signing petitions. And you said, “None of that will change things. That’s not how you change power.”
SC: If you collaborate, you can generate huge amounts of power for change that you can’t get waiting for the market or waiting for the elite to do things. It’s just bloody hard work but… more importantly, away from politics, what was your favourite music of last year?
CM: I have listened to Uptown Funk 439,000 times. Someone pointed out that at the end of it, you realise it’s a song that’s been sung by a cartoon dog that drove away in a car. What about you?
SC: The new Suede album. Last year was such a sh*t year for me, and in the middle of it one of my best friends died. He and I went to see Suede 18 months ago. So when I heard the new Suede single the other day I instinctively went to text him to go, “Oh my god!” And then I was just like – urgh. It just got me.
CM: Oh, babe.
SC: How do you consume your music? Are you on Spotify?
CM: My husband has got 50,000 vinyl records, but I use Spotify because instead of hunting for two hours for one song, I can press a button and play it straight away.
SC: Except you can’t get Taylor [Swift] on Spotify.
CM: No, that’s true. I bowed and downloaded her album. There’s nothing I love more than her, except a sensible shoe [looking at SC’s shoes].
SC: You just called my shoes sensible. That is like girl code broken. [Laughs]
CM: No, sensible is one of those things that is cool again. If I could wear heels, I would, I think it’s an amazing skill. I just have flat feet and weak ankles. My problem with high heels isn’t that they’re constrictive or sexy. I just can’t walk in them. That’s the reason I’m a feminist.
My 2016 pledge to women
“Through my Every Voice Matters initiative I will fight to ensure every voice is heard, on and offline, by standing up to those who want to silence others, supporting those who want to speak up and calling out those who think this issue is someone else’s problem.”