How to avoid being one of those women
All hail Caitlin Moran, the edgy and real Times columnist who has declared a one-chick war against cultural yobbery.
SCREAM! Caitlin Moran – a woman so wickedly witty that one of her Times columns can do to one’s sides what it normally takes three-and-a-half episodes of The Vicar of Dibley – has written a book. An actual book! With words in it, innit. It’s about feminism and that, but it’s so knicker-shittingly hilarious that it’s more like a toilet book than one of those tomes penned by dull wop and Gaga-misrepresenter, Camille Paglia. Only you shouldn’t read this on any ordinary bog. No, the BESTEST place to tuck into Moran’s musings is in one of those ghastly green toilets at Glasto after you’ve watched Stornoway rip folk music a new one and consumed more booze than Sebastian Horsley’s mum. I mean, that’s what Caitlin would do, and this is all about HOW TO BE CAIT, feelme?
Ms Moran shows that feminism doesn’t have to be dull. It ain’t all glass ceilings and childcare. It’s also heels and pimples and muffs and CAPITAL LETTERS. Loads and loads of CAPITAL LETTERS, because nothing communicates grrrl power quite like a CAPITAL LETTER. Moran grabs Germaine Greer by the scruff of her frankly outdated pullover and mashes her together with Adrian Mole to create a book which is both purlitical and personal, principled and prurient, a bit like if Simone de Beauvoir had one day decided to parade about Paris in golden hotpants. She didn’t, of course, cos her head was so far up her own arse she could have said ‘Bonjour’ to her cecum. Cait, in Technicolor contrast, is a feminist who knows how important equality is AND how to make a sparkly pink cardigan work with wellies. And she says ‘wank’. I bet Ms de Beauvoir never said ‘wank’
From the outset you know this is going to be a saucy romp of a right-on defence of women’s equality. Part memoir, part manifesto, we start with a 13-stone, 13-year-old Caitlin running away from ‘The Yobs’ – pottymouthed boys in her childhood city of Wolverhampton who shout ‘pikey’ and lob stones at her because they think she looks like a boy. Why? Because she’s wearing ‘NHS glasses that make me look like Alan Bennett’ and her dad’s ‘Withnail-style army coat’ (dad a psychedelic rocker, mum a hippy). Yes that’s right, Little Ms Moran may only be 13 years old but she already knows who Alan Bennett is. In fact, she’s so much edgier and cleverer than the stoning ‘Yobs’ – who ‘do not look as if they have dabbled much in either the iconography of the counterculture or the inspirational imagery of radical gender-benders’ – that she says she felt like turning around and saying to them: ‘I have read The Well of Loneliness by famous trouser-wearing lesbian Radclyffe Hall.’
LOL! This story isn’t only a ribcage-demolishing anecdote about zany teens in Wolverhampton – it’s also a metaphor for Moran’s life. She has, since she was 13, if not earlier, been running away from ‘The Yobs’, those inhabitants of vulgar mass society who understand little, if anything, about the beauty of gender-bending or the bohemian lifestyle or ‘ROCK MUSIC’ (Moran’s capitals) or what it means to be ‘edgy and real’ (how Moran refers to her and her hairy-muffed girlfriends). With this book, Moran has bravely declared a one-woman war – albeit one that has been vocally supported by every other woman and right-thinking bloke in the media – against those ‘yobs’ and their ‘ladette’ girlfriends, who use un-PC words like ‘pussy’ (they should say ‘cunt’), and who shave their pubic hair (they should let it grow), and who have never even heard of Radclyffe Hall, far less read The Well of Loneliness. (CAN they read???)
This is what I LURVE about Moran’s writing. She shows that it shouldn’t only be clever and precocious teens, who read Sylvia Plath and totally dig Frida Kahlo, who get to make a preening, peacock-style display of their cultural superiority over the jocks and skanks that make up the majority of the social spectrum. Why should THEY have all the fun?! Why shouldn’t a 36-YEAR-OLD WOMAN WITH A COLUMN IN THE TIMES OF LONDON also use a metaphorical foghorn to advertise how ‘edgy and real’ she is? Where most people seem to live in what Moran calls a ‘Sea of Bullshit’, she (dad a psychedelic rocker, mum a hippy) prefers to inhabit a space that is ‘warm, humane, funny, dangerous, psychedelic’, ‘like it’s 1969 all over again, and my entire life is made of cheesecloth, sitars and hash’. Fuck yeah!
Just as when she telepathically took on those teenage ‘Yobs’ by conjuring up images of lezzer Radclyffe Hall in her troosers, Moran mainly expresses her superiority over the plucked and preened hordes through the lingo she uses. For her – for all us proper feminists – language is the stick by which you measure whether someone’s Good or Bad. So for instance, she decides to give her vagina a name that sounds ‘a bit rock’n’roll’. ‘I, personally, have a cunt’, she says, whereas the yobs, who ‘get all their sex education from pornography’, use the word ‘pussy’. Pussy has got ‘all that unpleasant physical-disconnect bullshit that I find un-hot in a bad way’, she says. In short, strong, bohemian chicks who are a ‘bit rock’n’roll’ and whose dads are psychedelic rockers and mums are hippies use the c-word; the rest use the p-word. It’s soooo true. My dad was the cymbalist for Jimi Hendrix and my mum was the first woman from Yorkshire to fellate Keef Richards and I, too, balk like an anorexic catching sight of a jam doughnut whenever I hear the word pussy.
You might wonder why a book about women’s lib spends so many pages on what to call ‘down there’. You idiots. As Moran shows with saucy vim, all those buttoned-up Socialists and wimmin who claimed that there was more to being a woman than vag, than sexual orifices, were WRONG. Your vagina is ‘the epicentre of most of your decisions and thought processes for the next 40 years’, she points out. That’s why she so hates the yobs who shave theirs, so in thrall are they to the ‘gigantic, billion-dollar porn industry’; she, being an observer of rather than drowner in the ‘Sea of Bullshit’, prefers to let her public hair grow, because ‘lying in a hammock, gently finger-combing your Wookie whilst staring up at the sky is one of the great pleasures of adulthood’. When I read that sentence I IMMEDIATELY bought a copy of this tome for my two-year-old daughter Barbarella Jimi, because I want her to know that being a strong woman is not about having shoulder-pads and becoming a company director but about stroking your bits while on hols in Hawaii. Fuck yeah!
It isn’t only her use of the word ‘cunt’ and her copious pubes that mark Moran out from the pornified plebs. So too does her refusal to say ‘boobs’. ‘Boobs are, by and large, white and working class’, she says. She prefers to call her breasts ‘Simon and Garfunkel’, because she actually knows about the music of the Sixties, people, and also because ‘one’s bigger than the other’. Also, when she was 15, in 1990, she was already saying ‘I’m a feminist’, while those ‘normal people’ were saying ‘Loadsamoney!’ or ‘Rodney, you plonker!’. This is probably because her dad was a psychedelic rocker and her mum a hippy. Also, she hates lapdancing – where white working-class women with ‘boobs’ shake their thang for cash – but she loves burlesque. Because burlesque is ‘lapdancing’s older, darker, cleverer sister’. YES! My friend Matilda Mayhew-Goldsmith does burlesque, to supplement her inheritance, and I’m always telling her it’s FINE. It is about knowingly teasing middle-class men, rather than turning on working-class men, so what’s not to like?
I was so glad when Moran took her linguistic disdain for the vulgar habits of the yobs to its logical and radical conclusion, by cheering Iceland for becoming ‘the first country in the world to outlaw strip clubs for feminist, rather than religious, reasons’. ‘Men don’t HAVE to see tits and fannies’, she says, ‘They won’t DIE if they don’t have access to a local strip joint.’ Too right, sister! What better way to teach the yobs that there is a right way to refer to women’s anatomical bits, and a right way to watch women strip, and a right way to behave in general, than to prevent them by law from going to dingy, not-at-all ‘edgy and real’ institutions where they look at ‘boobs’ and ‘pussies’? Maybe this will force them to go to one of our hang-outs – a burlesque joint, perhaps, or Glastonbury, or any other place that lies outside the ‘Sea of Bullshit’ – where they might learn the proper way to speak and the proper way to ROCK. Fuck yeah!
But the book ain’t all heavy political theory and philosophy! There’s personal memoir, too, and bits and pieces from Moran’s teen diary, all about wanking and bodily hair and spots. The book has been described as ‘The Female Eunuch as written from a bar stool’, but actually it’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole as written from that tiny island of countercultural rationality in the Sea of Bullshit. The book’s rad answer to the question of ‘how to be a woman’ is to not be like those women, or the yobs they hang out with, who think the vagina is for sex rather than being one’s intellectual ‘epicentre’ and who think it’s somehow acceptable to say ‘b**bs’. What is a feminist? It’s a bird who minds her Ps and Qs, who is cleverer and edgier than everyone else, who loves ‘ROCK MUSIC’, whose dad was a psychedelic rocker and mum a hippy. That such a stalwart message of free-spirited bohemian individuality has sprung, rather ironically, from the pages of that old bible of the stuffy elite The Times, and has had praise heaped upon it by everyone from the NME to the FT, gives me hope that the toppermost sections of society, at least, are becoming more civilised. Now, what to do about ‘The Yobs’?
Fifi Adelsmythe is the rock critic at Gardener’s World Magazine.