If you haven’t fallen in love with Caitlin Moran, there is something wrong with your head. Earlier this year, the Times Of London columnist published a brilliant modern-day feminist screed called How To Be A Woman; I literally can’t keep it on my bookshelf for longer than five minutes before another girl friend wants to borrow it. Moran is whipsmart, witty, pro-sex, anti-secrets and utterly unapologetic about being a feminist.
Why, then, would pop culture feminist magazine Bitch refuse to run an interview with her?
The explanation comes via Lorraine Berry, the journalist who interviewed Moran for a Q&A to run in Bitch, in a piece on Salon.com. Her Q&A ended up running on Salon after Bitch declined to print Moran’s interview after an incident on Twitter in which she was accused of — I guess you could say? — racial insensitivity. It all comes down (AS ALL THINGS DO, APPARENTLY) to Lena Dunham and “Girls.”
Back in July, Moran tweeted that she would be interviewing the “Girls” star/creator about for a piece in the Times. This was right around the time that Dunham was being pressed by the media to explain why ”Girls” has an all-white cast. Dunham had responded to the controversy in an interview on NPR in which she said each character is a piece of her, she did not feel right writing the experiences of a black woman as if she — a privileged white woman — truly understands them, and she didn’t want to cast a black character just for “tokenism.”
In response to her tweet that she would be interviewing Lena Dunham, a random Twitter user tweeted back at her, “Did you address the complete and utter lack of people of colour in girls in your interview? i sure hope so!” Moran responded, “Nope. I literally couldn’t give a shit about it.” Then the user responded, “What a surprise. Caitlin Moran loves Lena Dunham. White feminists who ignore the experiences of WOCs [women of color] have got to stick together guys!!!” Moran responded, in all caps, “THANKS FOR YOUR INPUT.”
Back to Lorraine Berry’s interview with Moran for Bitch. As she put it on Salon:
Her responses gave Bitch serious pause, and when Moran had not walked back her comments, the magazine no longer felt comfortable promoting her work. The end. The magazine hadn’t asked me to follow up with Moran to get the full story.
Berry quotes Bitch‘s editor-in-chief Kjerstin Johnson’s reasoning for killing the Moran interview — basically saying that Moran was already on notice but the Lena Dunham tweets pushed the magazine over the edge in not wanting to support her:
Moran’s tweets topped off some uncomfortable asides I found in ‘How to Be a Woman,’ jokes about devastating wars in non-Western countries, flippant use of the word ‘tranny,’ burlesque is cool/burqas are bad — and confirmed a nonintersectional feminism [feminism that accounts for different experiences of women on the basis of race, class, able-bodiedness, sexual orientation, etc.] I don’t want to support. Moran’s lack of public accountability didn’t help.
However, Berry went back to Moran, on her own, to ask for a response. You can read her whole response over at Salon, but here’s the gist:
I shouldn’t have been as brusque. I broke my own first rule: Be Polite. But I was frankly offended that this woman thought me and Lena Dunham were somehow conspiring in some undefined racist plot … If a woman of color was allowed to make show as funny and honest and daring as Dunham’s — wandering around slightly overweight, naked, spreckled with acne, and talking about abortion, I’d be pitching a fucking massive feature on that to the Times, too. And I wouldn’t ask that writer why there were no white characters in it, just like I didn’t ask Dunham why there were no people of color in ‘Girls.’ I think it’s as dumb as asking ABBA, ‘Why aren’t one of you black?’
That response, as well as Berry’s interview that Bitch wouldn’t publish, found a home on Salon.com instead. And, for what it’s worth, it’s a smart, witty, thoughtful interview.
I realize this whole story may seem a little “inside baseball” regarding women in media, but I think it illustrates something larger that has been bringing me great dismay in terms of “policing” other feminists in mainstream feminism. My criticism isn’t exactly over Bitch, although Bitch happens to be the present example. (I have written freelance pieces for Bitch Magazine since 2007 and the mag has, in fact, published the one piece of journalism of which I am most proud to have written.) There are a lot of times that mainstream feminism bites the hand that feeds it with its treatment of women who are its emissaries. When women are not “perfect” feminists, they get slapped down hard. Intersectionality within feminism is probably the most important thing in feminism today and of course feminists should be called out for fucked up comments. But part of “calling out” should be offering incisive commentary about why it’s fucked up, not just saying ‘”BAD FEMINIST!” and bonking the offender on the nose with a newspaper. I didn’t like the racially squicky jokes that Mindy Kaling made in her “The Mindy Project,” but damn, I wasn’t calling for Kaling’s head on a platter. I believe in using teachable moments to be positive and encouraging, rather than condemning or silencing. Women already have it hard enough making it in a man’s world, doubly so as feminists daring to go against the status quo. Why the hell would feminists themselves condemn or silence feminists?
But that’s what happens over and over again. It has happened to Lena Dunham with the “Girls”/race/tokenism allegations, who has done ignorant shit in regards to race/religion but is getting hammered for this stuff while plenty of other dopes get off scot-free. (For what it’s worth, I agree with our contributor Erica Watson’s take on the whole matter.) It has happened, now, to Caitlin Moran. It happens over and over and over again to Madonna. It’s happened to me, and Amelia and other feminist writers. I believe in the Golden Rule and treating others the way I would want to be treated, not the way the rest of society treats me; I want a feminism in which we dialogue about ideas and differences and mistakes, not trash or silence. Why would anyone want to be a feminist if this is how the “sisterhood” will treat you?
I’m dismayed that instead of running an updated Caitlin Moran interview with additional questions pressing her about the Lena Dunham tweets, it chose not to run the interview at all. (I also don’t think, as Bitch‘s editor suggests, that publishing an interview with someone should be seen as an endorsement of their philosophy. If that’s true, then I guess I endorsed Lori Gottlieb, the author of Marry Him: The Case For Settling For Mr. Good Enough, who told us all that we need to settle for whatever dude will marry us before we get too old, simply by publishing an interview with her on The Frisky.) Concerned about Moran’s lack of intersectionality — okay, why not press her on it? I don’t see how silencing her fixes anything (especially given how Berry went and published the interview on Salon, which I suspect has wider reach). Media publications are, of course, allowed to make their own decisions about how they want to run things. (And that goes for racial discrimination in “The Bachelor” casting, too, as we learned yesterday.) But I see this Bitch kerfluffle as a manifestation of something larger that I don’t like watching happen.
I am — hopefully — interviewing Moran in the next month or two about her forthcoming book. I intend to ask her about all this stuff and and I’ll print her responses, even if I (or, if I may speak for The Frisky as a whole, we — because we certainly do not agree on everything) don’t like or agree with all of them. And I’m going to do this because it’s how I want to be treated and because doing so is crucial to furthering feminist dialogue.