Tagged: helen lewis

Privilege, and the importance of ‘getting’ it.

Helen Lewis, you just don’t get it, do you?

Yes, Caitlin Moran is only human, no human is perfect, we all make mistakes. I said that last time, and the time before that, and I mean it; just because she makes stupid fuck-ups, even multiple ones, doesn’t make Moran intrinsically bad. She doesn’t have the intent behind it, in my opinion. She’s just… fucking up. But does that make everything a-ok, and we should just forget about it?

Lewis is clearly pushing the agenda that this is all just a Twitterstorm in a teacup, people are being ridiculous, and they need to stop. Because – look, context. But what she’s not doing is seeing the wider picture.

Yes, Moran’s article in the Times yesterday, which sparked the Internet outrage that caused Lewis to write her piece in the first place, included offensive words meant in parody of right-wing tabloids. Yes, those tabloids are more than worthy of parody. Yes, I get it. I got it when I read it, and I get it now. So did a lot of people. However, that has not stopped many of us being offended. Lewis doesn’t seem to know why. She also makes a snide remark about people clearly not having read the full article, because it goes on to “dissect the problems with this opening paragraph’s “good intentions””. Well, I’ve read the full article. Moran might well “dissect the problems” with the “good intentions”, but is that the problem that everyone has?

Moran, in her satire/sarcasm/joke, describes herself as a lover of, alongside women, “gays, disableds, mentals, the working class, transsexuals and all the ethnics – apart from the Chinese, obviously. It’s difficult to trust them. They’re a cruel race. Or is that supposed to be the Japanese?” And that’s the problem. Yes, I know it’s meant to be a parody. I knew from the moment I read it. But that doesn’t make it okay. Moran is not one of any of those minorities, no matter how great an ally she considers herself. And a lot of people of those minorities are the ones who are offended. That, for me, is where I would back off and say – “hold up, people whose experience of life is different to mine have a problem with something I’ve said that relates directly to them. I should think about why, and apologise”. It doesn’t matter that it was a joke. It doesn’t matter that her heart is in the right place with the message she’s trying to give. The people that she is talking about are treated like her parody and worse every day of their lives, except then it’s not a parody. Not surprisingly, they don’t find it funny when a straight, able, middle class, cis, white person makes a joke of it. And neither do I. Still, some people of minorities might be totally cool with what Moran has to say. That doesn’t matter. People are offended. That’s what matters.

Lewis then goes on to look at other things Moran has been “torn down for”, showing us how, just as above, context is important and shoving it down our throats how well Moran “listens to her critics”. Except, as above, everybody knows the context in which things were said, and it doesn’t really make much difference.

Moran used the word “retard” and “tranny” in her book, How to be a Woman. It is obvious to all of us that this is not okay, that “retard” is ableist and “tranny” is offensive – and, as Lewis evidences, Moran knows that too. The former was a quote from a diary she kept when she was thirteen, that she included in the book, but with a lack of context. She had written the book in “such a hurry” and once it was pointed out, the book was, apparently, pulled, and an apology issued. Which, as Lewis smugly points out, counts as “listening to critics”. Sigh. As Moran knows that it is not an acceptable word to use, I am not sure why she felt the need to include it in the book at all, even as a quote, and I do not like the “such a hurry” excuse one bit. It seems like an easy way out. But she at least knows she was in the wrong.

Things get a lot less easy when her use of the word “tranny” is examined. Lewis takes what Moran says in that interview with the Hairpin as listening to critics, but that’s not exactly what I see. She blames the fact that she used the word in the first place on the fact that she has three transvestite friends, who all use the word to refer to themselves and didn’t realise that there is a problem. She also says that there is “no greater friend of the gays” than herself, and compares the education that she received from Twitter re: trans issues to the way that she has “educated about feminism”. It’s all about her. But it’s not about her. At all. What, exactly, has she learnt? Because I’m not seeing much of it here.

Then, of course, there is the mention by Lewis of the passage in Moran’s book where she infers that all women have vaginas. Lewis contends that this is a “fairly clear call” for reproductive rights. It might well have been intended to be that, but this issue is not the be all and end all of feminism. Moran probably could have expressed it better, if we’re being honest; it might not have looked as snazzy and catchy, but it would have avoided the risk of being as offensive as it potentially is. Especially when Moran has, as Lewis points out, spoken out in support for transgender people in the past. Incidentally, however, none of that is proof that what Moran said isn’t transphobic.

Still, context, right? Context makes everything okay. So, when Moran declared herself as “owning all the gays … like pets? Like Sea Monkeys, with amazing hair/shoes?” it’s actually totally okay, because she had just won the “Honorary Gay of the Year” Award from Attitude magazine. Really? I don’t think so. Even if, as Lewis claims, she was “talking to several gay friends excitedly about it”, the tweet in question was posted publicly, directed at no one; it was, for all the world, a statement. And even if it was being spoken to gay friends, and even if those gay friends thought it was a hilarious, totally okay thing to say, that still doesn’t make it acceptable. Moran is straight. Homosexual people have been oppressed for so many years, and still are oppressed, by straight people. Straight people kill gay people just because they are gay. So, like with her most recent article, it’s not really okay to joke about “owning” gay people when you’re straight, nor to compare them to fucking Sea Monkeys. Nor, for that matter, to perpetuate tired stereotypes about a sexuality that she is not even of. So, fuck the context. Winning a stupid award doesn’t give anyone the right to speak to gay people like they’re a separate species; it is homophobic. Again, nobody is saying that Moran is homophobic, but what she said? Yeah. And it’s really not funny.

Lewis’ final point is about the “literally couldn’t give a shit about it” saga re: racism in the media, which I have already written about, so won’t go into depth here. But rest assured that Lewis is wrong again. Why? Because Moran should give a shit about the representation of women of colour in Girls because it is directly related to the representation of women of colour in the media in general, and Dunham has absolutely no excuse for not including people of colour in her show. Nobody is comparing Moran to Enoch Powell, or really saying that she’s racist much at all – but they will contend that what she said was incredibly stupid, incredibly hurtful and unhelpful to women of colour, and potentially racist. But we’ve been through this; it is possible to say something racist without being racist. And that’s what Moran has done. Without apologising, or even accepting that something is amiss. And that’s why people are pissed off.

Nobody is needlessly attacking Moran for being Caitlin Moran, using accusations that have no basis. Nobody. People, many of them already marginalised by society, are angry, and angry for a reason. Instead of silencing them, and trying to speak for them, we need to listen to them. Now.