Saturday, 12 July 2014

Caitlin Moran at Colston Hall

It’s possible that I was the only person in the Colston Hall who was not a fully paid up member of the Caitlin Moran Fan Club. I’m not sure if such an establishment exists, or if it’s simply a question of attempting to follow her on Twitter and hoping she doesn’t block you when you disagree with her.

When Caitlin arrived on stage in front of the sold-out 1,800 strong crowd, she was greeted by whoops and cheers befitting her self-given title of “feminist super god”. Because that’s why Caitlin is so popular… thanks to her bestselling book How To Be A Woman, she struck a chord with women everywhere who also thought “y’know, maybe it’s not right that women and men still aren’t equal”.

I have a problem with Caitlin. It’s less to do with her over-the-top big-sister chumminess, and more to do with her “Hey, dude, I’m gonna make feminism cool and everything I say is right, so don’t argue with me” stance. How To Be A Woman ended up in the palms of plenty of people who would never normally read a book about, yuck, feminism. It’s great that those people read a book that included chapters on lap dancing clubs, abortion or the choice to remain childfree. What was less great that what Caitlin presented as a book about contemporary feminism was actually just a book of her personal opinions.

So while How To Be A Woman got people who might not otherwise consider the issues of feminism to, y’know, consider feminist issues… there was a lot of unspoken pressure resting on those same people to take Caitlin’s opinions, run with them and decide whether or not they agreed. Because despite what Caitlin presents in How To Be A Woman, feminism isn’t just a question of saying: “Hey, dude, chuck on a Lady Gaga CD, light a fag and have a wank, ‘cos that’s what us bitches do all day” motif.

And lighting a fag is something Caitlin likes to talk about a lot, because smoking is apparently cool. She also likes to say “fuck, yeah” and “fuck, no” a lot – the way other people might say “umm” or “err” while thinking what to say next. But swearing is cool, kids. And she loves to namedrop her famous mates - within the first 15 minutes, she’d casually tossed such hip names as Bobby Gillespie, Benedict Cumberbatch, Richard Curtis, Emma Freud and Martin Carr into the mix. Yeah, we get it Caitlin, you have a much more glamorous life than we do. Your friends are way more interesting than ours are. We wish we were you, fuck, yeah etc.

But among all the bluster, the fags and the affected swears, Caitlin does hide a few sensible things in her talk. Her dissection of the Fifty Shades Of Grey narrative as a book that justifies sexual abuse by giving the victim a free iPad and a ride in a helicopter is spot on. Or she’ll suddenly throw out a line like: “What it is to be normal is to be a man. To be a woman is abnormal.” It’s just a shame that these brief moments of feminist good sense are followed by long, celeb-infused anecdotes about poo, menstrual blood or one of her many appearances on Newsnight. And being on Newsnight is something Caitlin likes to tell you about. A lot. Because she’s been on it. And she talked about poo on it. She’s cool.

Maybe this is deliberate. Maybe Caitlin is trying to soften the blows of what it is to be a woman in 2014 with her celeb stories? Or maybe, despite her working class roots, she’s spent so long living a comfortable life that she’s forgotten what life is like for the rest of us – those of us who don’t get to stay in a film director’s chateau after wrangling a free VIP pass to a festival.

For all her noise about wanting women to be equal to men and to embrace their chubby figures, she then comes out with the comment that the most important things a woman will say are “I love you” and “Is it a boy or a girl?” Instantly bringing a woman’s status back to that of girlfriend or mother. Nothing else. The celebration of feminist men made my toes curl up in embarrassment. Never mind the bit where Caitlin chummily told us to “celebrate and shag” the male feminists.

Ultimately, my problem with Caitlin is that her feminism is less a call to arms than an active call to doing nothing. She proudly says: “I’ve never gone to a feminist meeting or read a feminist book. I don’t need to.” And it’s that arrogance, that presumption that she knows it all, that underlines just how out of touch she is with what life is like for women today. And by women I don’t mean the millionaires with celebrity mates, I mean the real women: the Bristol women who juggle three jobs but still have to feed their kids from a food bank, the Bristol students who are told it’s empowering to pay their way through university by stripping, the Bristol women with mental health issues who are denied healthcare because the government is closing services down daily… the list is endless.

So no, definitely don’t do nothing. Because unless you’re a millionaire, you’re going to need to fight hard for what’s yours. Do read books, do go to meetings, do get out there and do stuff to incite change. Caitlin Moran is a good starting point if you’re new to feminist issues, but she is just a starting point. Never stop fighting for equality. Ever.

1 comment:

  1. This ‘review’ has really saddened me. It’s absolutely the opposite of what I took away from the night.

    Your words read incredibly bitter, which takes away from a few good points that you are otherwise making.

    I have never for one moment felt that Caitlin’s stance is “everything I say is right and don’t argue with me”. She was also completely honest about the fact that her book was her personal opinions – positioning it as “her own brand of feminism”. There are many parts of the book that I agree with, and many that I don’t… and she clearly expected that, because she knows that everyone’s idea of what feminism is for them is different.

    The joy of the evening for me WAS the fact that she combined some brilliant points about feminism, with hilarious anecdotes and tales from her celebrity encounters – because that’s what makes for an entertaining performance (and after all, this was a show, remember). The beauty of what she does is talk about very ‘fluffy’ anecdotes, (as you would down the pub with your friends) and then throw in a really earnest, impassioned rant about more ‘serious’ topics. And, for me, this gives them even more impact… which can only be a good thing. The first rule of engaging with people effectively, or giving weight to something important, is to balance it with something ‘lighter’ or ‘more entertaining’… imagine if Caitlin had just come on and talked really seriously about all the topics that concern feminists. I really don’t think the audience would have come away from her show as energised and positive and excited as I felt everyone did.

    Finally, I remember her specifically talking about how she can’t be “THE ONE FEMINIST” who will address everyone’s concerns, and solve EVERYTHING. And the terrible thing about your review is that this is exactly what it seems you are expecting her to be, and are angry that she’s not. We need to stop all this ‘in fighting’. Why not just celebrate her evening for what it was – a really positive night, which gathered like-minded people together and made them feel energised and entertained. She’s obviously not for you (your review makes it seem as though you feel that you’re superior somehow, or a TRUER feminist because you’re not a millionaire), but she has made feminism ‘cool’ and more mainstream, and it needs to be. I personally (and many people I spoke to) went away from the show WANTING to get out there and fight, and do things…not because she told me to. But because she inspired me to.

    And that should be celebrated... not torn to pieces.

    N.B. I’m also guessing you’re still bitter about her blocking you on Twitter, which I’m sure she was perfectly entitled to do...