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.

20 comments

  1. M.K. Hajdin

    Call me cynical, but I’m not surprised to see a fauxfeminist ride to the rescue of another fauxfeminist.

    Were they real feminists, the mass media would not give them a platform. And they’d be called radical manhating feminazis.

    The malestream media wants us nicely contained. That’s why they serve antifeminist crap labeled feminist to us, and why they are always telling us to calm down and shut up and stop criticizing and questioning people and things they’d rather we not take a closer look at.

  2. Tim Jones

    ‘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.’

    This was clearly a joke on by Moran. 99.9% of people who follow her on Twitter would have got this, had a little laugh and moved on with their lives.

      • TheoGB

        But in reference to the article HL wrote, isn’t the point that people aren’t (unlike you) making a distinction between making a remark that is homophobic and calling Moran a homophobe.

        Main issue I have with attacks on CM is I think there’s a lot of dislike of her driving them far more than any desire to get good messages across. So what we get are snide remarks in place of reasoned arguments.

        Is your piece here about making a point or showing fundamental disdain for Lewis and Moran. And if it is the latter or reads more that way, do you think the point you’re making suffers, and so does inclusive cause as a whole? This worries me more.

      • tillyjean

        I see that, to an extent, although my point was that it doesn’t matter whether what she said is homophobic, or that she is a homophobic; it’s not okay and needs to be challenged. I didn’t really feel like HL tapped into that enough, I guess.

        I have this fear too, but in my experience, I don’t see that. I see people genuinely angry – and it’s so important that we listen to them. I, personally, was a big Moran fan, and also, incidentally, a big HL fan. I don’t have fundamental disdain for either. But I don’t agree with the things Moran has said, and I didn’t agree with HL’s post. That’s what this post is.

      • tillyjean

        But, obviously, if we’re going to be angry, we have to be angry for the right reasons. So, people getting angry each time because they have an issue with Moran, or anyone, is not helpful.

      • TheoGB

        Hmm, sounds more accusatory towards you than I intended, so please accept my apologies. I meant to make a more general point.

  3. @maddockofficial

    I have 3 problems with this article of Moran’s:

    1) Pretty much as you said, on the idea of privilege. I’ll defend the right of people to write what they wish, but it’s not up to members of a majority group to dictate what is and isn’t offensive to the opposite minority group.

    2) The quality of writing is terrible, which can only further increase any potential offensiveness. Who on earth brackets 5 sentences between hyphens, and in the opening paragraph? If she is doing parody, satire, or whatever she’s trying to do, it doesn’t work if it reads like a clumsy mess.

    3) So if we take the “parody” bit out, that first paragraph reads:

    “When I first started being serious about being a [lefty], I did it because it seemed to be the right thing. The polite thing.”

    I can’t tell if this bit and the subsequent paragraphs are supposed to also be a parody (the transition is seamless), but I certainly didn’t start caring about politics to be “polite”, I did so because I was fucking angry at seeing people screwed over and knew whose fault it was. Maybe Moran is attempting to say this too, but her condescending tone – “this will make those people sad”, “poor the immigrants” which takes up half the article makes her sound oddly distanced from the issues in a way I can’t relate to. She may be writing about her younger self, but it’s still this unfathomable sheltered mindset.

    What can someone like this bring to the table, other than an awful attempt at a parody combined into an attempted “hey, I love equality!” piece? Maybe it’s not entirely Moran’s fault, but she has gone from a music hack who did wacky TV skits in the 90s buying dildos with Toni Halliday, to being held up as some kind of major feminist journalist. It shows the level of failure in the journalistic establishment (or maybe in culture and society in general) when somebody can become a “feminist commentator” or something on the back of a few vagina puns.

  4. Naranja

    The thing that bothers me about the recent Moran article is not the overall point, which is fairly solid (equality is not for privileged people to give, was what I took away from it). Rather it’s that she seems to need to be called out on every single offensive label before she stops using them.

    So in the first paragraph, which is supposedly a satire of what right-wing people would say, she uses ‘transsexual’ rather than ‘tranny’ because clearly she has been called out on that in the past and has taken on board that it’s not a good term to use. Great, fine. But she then goes on and uses ‘the gays’ and ‘disableds’ and ‘mentals’ and ‘ethnics’ without thinking about why they, too, might be problematic? Is it too much to ask, if someone has been called out repeatedly on watching their language, that they might continue to do so without having to be brought up on it EVERY SINGLE TIME?

    (Yes, I realise using Moran-style caps there – ironic, right?)

    • tillyjean

      Which makes you wonder, if she knew that she would be called up on the word ‘tranny’, and went out of her way to avoid it – which I would suggest that she had, because there’s no way a right-wing tabloid would have used a respectful word – why the fact that it is a parody is an excuse at all?

  5. T.O. Molefe

    You make a powerful point. Moran parodies using in-group voices of identities not her own yet she turns around to say she’s would never presume to speak for all women. She steps into the in-group narrative not her own when it suits her parody but when it’s too much responsibility (and there’s work to be done), she shrugs. “Oh no,” she says, “I couldn’t possibly presume to speak for them.”

    • tillyjean

      Thank you. The problem with Moran is that nobody expects her to speak for all women, but they do expect her to listen to all women. A lot of these prominent white straight feminists don’t seem interested in that.

  6. lobstero

    But people ARE attacking Moran using accusations that have no basis. Today I read on twitter that she has said she doesn’t care about black people, and that she thinks it’s ok to use the word ‘tranny’, etc, and as a follower of these things I’m informed enough to know what inspired these inaccurate assertions. Many aren’t.

    Lewis does two things; first, provides background info on what was said and in what setting, and second comments on what she feels is the significance of each of these remarks. It seems to me that you disagree with much of the latter part and have some valid points on why many are more serious than she believes.

    But they’re coming through as quite secondary points. This reads as an attack on Lewis, first and foremost. From the first sentence you’re implying that she hasn’t considered any viewpoint other than her own. You talk about her views as being ‘smug’ or being ‘shoved’ down the reader’s throat – I’d say both those rhetorical techniques are pretty good ways to silence people, right? Attributing a sinister or unpleasant motive or character trait to a view with no good reason doth not a good argument make.

    • tillyjean

      I understand that the purpose of Lewis’ post was to give context on it, but I disagree with her as to the affect that knowing the context changes things. It’s all very well to say “look, you’re attacking Moran for this when ACTUALLY she said this” but if what she actually said is rubbish too, that’s important. I feel that Lewis is using context to excuse Moran, and I don’t think that’s good or necessary.

      I opened the article in the way that I did, and addressed Lewis in it the way that I did, because she has an opinion and I disagree with it. It is not an attack, but a response – and a response to her one post on this issue, not anything else about her. I used the word “smug” to describe her in the way that I did because that’s how I feel that she was being. It’s not an uncommon adjective to use. I didn’t like her assumption that nobody had read Moran’s Times article all the way through, when I had, and I didn’t like the way she brushed it aside as “just a parody” when, even after reading the whole thing, a lot of people were still offended. Again, I used the words “shoved down our throats” because that’s exactly how I felt; her points about Moran “responding to her critics” felt laid on thick, especially when I have actually seen her do the exact opposite. I know so many women on Twitter who have been blocked by her, not for being offensive or irritating, but just trying to engage.

      I’ve nothing against Lewis at all; I just don’t agree with her. On this one point.

  7. Pingback: What white feminists like Caitlin Moran do not get* « The Modular Man

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