The unbearable snobbery of Caitlin Moran
Her new book confirms that Moran is the Rachel Dolezal of class.
‘Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman’, Tammy Wynette used to croon. But that’s now out of date. ‘Join me for 24 hours in the life of the average woman’, Caitlin Moran suggests, on the back cover of her new feminist polemic, More Than A Woman, before plunging us into the Fifth Circle of Hell.
7am. You wake to find you posted ‘a picture of your bare feet with a Jacob’s Cream Cracker wedged between each toe’ online. This propels you into such a schizoid state that you’re upset your feet are both so unbelievably fuckable that this has resulted in not one, but two rape threats, and that someone else has called your feet ‘unfuckable’. My feet.
8am. You lie down and think of lawnmowers as you submit to an ‘Hour of Married Sex’:
‘My preparation entails swilling a blob of Colgate round my mouth, then spitting it out, taking off my pyjamas, and fluffing up my pubes so they look a bit less like an old coir doormat, and a bit more like, well, a new coir doormat.’
9am. You’re forced to spend a whole ‘Hour Reflecting on a Good Marriage’:
‘Double-barrelling your surnames together has the effect of making your child automatically sound as though it’s posh.’
10am: you battle intrusive thoughts about your lady parts (‘camel-toe. Do I have a massive camel-toe?’) and are flummoxed by the Gordian knot (why have you spent the last decade going on and on and on about your ‘vagina’ when the correct term for it is ‘vulva’?).
‘How can we battle for equality – even invent a new thing or two – if we are still misnaming our fundamental physical attribute? As a thought-experiment, imagine how weird if [sic] would be if you read, in history books, how Alexander the Great insisted on referring to his penis as “my balls”.’
Conditions degenerate – parlously – until 6pm when you try to stave off visions of perpetual torment by ‘Imagining a Women’s Union’. (Essentially, all females of childbearing age would be paid to raise their own children: ‘any state money given to citizens doesn’t disappear… It immediately boosts the country’s economy in payments to utility companies; purchases of food, holidays, shoes. It goes into making houses more liveable, morale-boosting treats, helping your children, having free time…’)
I can’t list all that the devil’s devised – I’ve not got the strength – but suffice it to say, at salient points the ‘average woman’ must submit to the hell fires of Hampstead Ladies’ Pond and Munch-Scream through Nora Ephron’s very pithy observation: ‘One of my biggest regrets… is that I didn’t spend my youth staring lovingly at my neck.’ Sisyphean reboots include trying to clean white trainers with a scourer soaked in lamb fat, repeatedly stabbing ‘the lawn with a garden fork, shouting about “drainage”’, and having to report ‘the word “moist” is a borderline hate crime’. Etc, etc, etc.
‘Nothing bad can happen to a writer. Everything is material’, was Philip Roth’s view. To date, Moran’s unparalleled success has depended on her peerless ability to intrude on her own private grief but, after reading this book, I fear she might be getting low on her own supply. She goes into some depth about the time her ‘genitals… honked up a good 500ml of bathwater, held on to it for 10 minutes for reasons unknown, and… gently ejected it into my pants’ at the Hay-On-Wye literary festival.
Call me insufficiently ambitious, if you will, but if this is how you make it, shoot me in the head.
* * *
I had started to suspect – after finishing Moran’s first ‘feminist’ polemic How To Be A Woman – that I wasn’t one. So I was left in a terrible existential quandary until More Than A Woman explained what I am:
‘From birth, men and women are installed with different software… Men have interests – women have lives. Lives they must strive to perfect… it would never occur to them that their girlfriend/wife/sister has been thinking about armchairs since she was 13, and has a long-term armchair plan… For who thinks like that? WOMEN. WOMEN THINK LIKE THAT… If you are a man reading this, and you want to test if this is true or not, go up to any woman – any woman – and ask her if she has, say, a particular “aesthetic” about cushions. Or what her “beliefs” are around coat-hangers (no wire hangers. NO WIRE HANGERS!!!). Or which school of thought she comes from re: towels.’
This elucidating tirade is provoked by Moran’s younger brother, ‘Andrew’, who she has taken in, and returns home ‘with a single cereal bowl that he found in a charity shop, and did not understand why I – a woman – was furious that he’d broken the Crockery Rules I had to learn when I was 15, reading The Lady.’
Speaking as a teenage boy, he feels feminism might have ‘gone too far’:
‘I blink. No – there is my brother, sitting in my feminist house, grating my feminist cheese on his feminist cauliflower, with five feminist sisters and two feminist nieces, suggesting that feminism has gone too far. Yet – once again, he’s rammed his feet into my feminist slippers, stretching the sheepskin. It’s a like a massive, ironic metaphor.’
But, the poor, delusional boy retorts, ‘women are always doing mad things – like hoovering curtains’.
If ‘hoovering curtains’ has never once struck you as a sane impulse, congratulations: You’ve got balls.
* * *
The definition of a feminist (Moran, 2011) was:
‘Put your hand in your pants. A), do you have a vagina? And B), do you want to be in charge of it?’*
(*Now one’s aware of her problems in this department, one must ask: does all this feminism derive from her intense desire to battle incontinence?)
But that’s ancient chapeau too. In this book, even very determined possession of a cock won’t get you out of being a feminist and the answer to anyone, like Andrew, who objects ‘What about the men?’, is already here. It’s ‘Be more like a woman’.
Wollstonecraft, de Beauvoir, Greer? Cancelled. Yes, their feminism might have been considered ‘helpful’ to any cervix-haver who didn’t want to feel any less than a woman for having failed to use her womb. But More Than A Woman’s clear: if you aren’t a mother, you have not lived:
‘Anything Hunter S Thompson has ever described – as he drove across America, spending thousands of dollars on drugs, and hallucinating insects – is dwarfed by the average pregnancy, birth and early childcare years experienced by millions of seemingly normal women, all currently wandering around and touching the bootees in Jojo Maman Bébé.’
All this is tremendously fun reading and I don’t deny it. But then, out of nothing and nowhere, we descend into extremely disturbing passages which aren’t fun at all, in which Moran exerts all her undoubted power as a writer to expose her daughter’s eating disorder and suicide attempts.
I would skip over this entirely because it’s both shocking and none of our business. (‘Here are all the ideas you will come up with to make the days better! … Go into her room in a fury one day, when she is out, and take every picture of Amy Winehouse down off the wall, and put them in the bin – crushing them down into all the mashed potato and Quorn sausages she has not eaten. Fuck you, Amy Winehouse. Stay away from my child.’) But at one point, the kid cries ‘you control my life’ while refusing food like a Suffragette on hunger strike, and you think: Dear God… What’s all this feminism doing to girls?
Thankfully, Moran’s daughter recovers, and this is all temporary. But unless I am misreading things, this whole interlude is attributed to the fact that nowadays women ‘just do not make being a grown woman look like an attractive job’, and constantly tell their daughters: ‘All we want is for you to be happy darling. That’s all me and Daddy care about. It kills us to think of you as sad.’
At my state school, no girl — never mind a third of them (as Moran estimates is now the going rate) — was in and out of hospital like this. I hated high school. Of course I did. That’s what it’s for. But a grocer’s daughter was in Number 10 and a girl who failed all her O-levels – twice – had the heir to the throne’s balls in her purse. So it seemed perfectly clear to me: if only I sat it out, perfected both the death stare and the come hither, I’d fuck any man stupid enough to think he could fuck with me. But back then we girls had not heard – much less been taught – that the ‘patriarchy’ was out there just waiting to sodomise us for the rest of our days the moment we turned 18. Our unhappiness wasn’t hurting anyone. And no one – least of all our poor mothers – ‘control[led]’ our lives.
The cost of such savage neglect, of course, comes in adult life when your problem isn’t men at all – it’s these impossibly gorgeous creatures (who you could never have guessed existed) who suffered unspeakably at elite educational institutions as if on purpose to enjoy all the glittering prizes ever after, while complaining – constantly – about the ‘privilege’ men enjoy by virtue of being white. Class-wise, nothing’s changed since 1928, when Captain Grimes pointed out: ‘One goes through four or five years of perfect hell at an age when life is bound to be hell anyway, but after that there’s a blessed equity in the English social system…’ Except they let the girls in.
I don’t like writing memoir. But I stare around me now and I can’t see a single female in my profession who went to a state school, let alone one like mine. If nothing changes, journalism’s on the fast track to becoming a more elite institution than the House of Lords. Already, it seems to have a hereditary function.
I see you Flora Gill.
But woke liberals don’t care about privilege that derives from class. So let’s talk about what happens to working-class kids who are black. Specifically the boys who keep getting stopped and searched in London by white police officers. It’s completely obvious how to remedy this particular problem. Whenever any kid – regardless of ethnicity – is found to be carrying a knife, twice, they must be condemned to education at an elite boarding school. It’s cheaper than prison and if the Old Etonians were forced to switch school places you’d find educational standards for those not arming themselves would improve beyond all recognition in six weeks flat.
* * *
But back to the book, which concludes with a rewrite of Rudyard Kipling’s If and offers hope that I could become a woman, after all, if only I one day witness my ‘daughters catcalled outside their school / By a man in a van’, and then run ‘after the van and, banging on the side, screaming, / She’s TWELVE YEARS OLD, YOU GIGANTIC PAEDOPHILE!’
So now I’m forced to call bullshit.
If Caitlin Moran is an ‘average woman’, the rest of us were aborted at birth. You can’t earn (at the last published estimate) £250,000 a year and own a house – with a garden – in Hampstead and claim to be the slightest bit ‘usual’.
Also, if Moran gets to call herself working class due to the circumstances in which she was raised, then #MeToo. I am, right now, not reviewing books at all but bombing up and down the A149 in a Suzuki Rascal.
No one who was dropped off and picked up from school in such a noble vehicle by their old man, every day, aged four to 11, would stand for the honour of van men being besmirched like this. Of course Moran is careful to note that the man in this fictional scenario ‘looks like one of the Mitchell brothers’. He’s certainly not black or Asian like the overwhelming majority of van drivers here in London. No. No. That would be racist.
Nor would any woman of proletarian descent stand for the ludicrous statement that ‘men’s lives look pretty much as they did at the beginning of the 20th century’ or that ‘the only real difference between our grandfathers and our sons is that our sons are unlikely to wear a top hat. Unless they are Slash from Guns’n’Roses or playing the Artful Dodger in a musical production of Oliver!’
If you’re so lucky as to be related to the most heroic kind of men on earth you wouldn’t type anything like Moran’s ‘If’ if a gun was held to your head. It was Britain’s van drivers who fought and died in two world wars – like my grandad who signed up to the RAF at 15 – and started his own business, in a van – and, his best mate, Stan – plumber – who was in tanks in North Africa. No one who’s had the decency to find out what boys who served in tanks in North Africa did for us would have the gall to suggest that men’s lives have not changed one bit in a hundred years. Prior to the invention of vans, these men were labouring in fields, like my great-grandad who returned from Passchendaele with a hole in him, and carried on working.
I am very, very sorry for the conditions in which Caitlin Moran grew up. They are unspeakably awful and infinitely worse than my own. I would never have emerged from waking up in a urine-soaked bed because I was sharing one with a sister who wet herself to become an internationally adored wit with columns, memoirs, and biopics coming out of my ears. But when it comes to being ‘working class’ the clue’s in the name. It’s not living off benefits in a council house while despising the kids who are working class, and picturing what cottage you’ll have one day while flicking through The Lady.
Anyone the remotest bit working-class would know that all that Hampstead liberals glory in most – the NHS and the welfare state – was won for them by working-class men who sacrificed their lives to keep the rest of us free, and voted in a Labour government to make damn sure we all got the reward they deserved. You can tell, from the sensitive and beautiful tributes that she writes to her own men, that Caitlin Moran is proud of hers. But it’s an insult, to the working-class women – who also served, to stand and wait – to claim that feminism is responsible for all the privileges we enjoy today.
Women and the working class got the vote at precisely the same time. I had understood that showing solidarity and seeking freedom from authoritarianism in order to decide how you should live your life was the entire point of feminism. Not arguing that because middle-class men hire ‘plumbers’, women should proudly employ ‘cleaners’. As if ‘plumbers and cleaners’ are one thing and you’re something else. Or do say that – if you want – but don’t insist you know what it’s like because you cleaned someone else’s house once. My best friend is an immigrant Pole who had her own cleaning business before Covid destroyed it. For her, lockdown was not ‘easy’ – as Moran claimed on the front page of The Times. The overwhelming majority of people in this country can’t afford to, don’t want to, and will not live off benefits when given a choice. Because there is no liberty in that.
It is an honour, a very great honour, that Moran pretends to be working class. But if she’s going to carry on doing so, she has to stop acting like Rachel Dolezal in a world in which every black person alive can tell she’s white but can’t be heard saying as much.
All I can do now is stand and point – at my dead white men, and their compatriots of every race today, cocking an eyebrow at Covid as if to say, ‘This is the challenge? Hold my beer.’ Die with pride at the NHS if you want, but the only reason anyone could stay indoors on purpose to protect it was because men driving vans delivered whatever was needed, while battling to defend the broadband connection.
More Than a Woman, by Caitlin Moran, is published by Ebury Press. (Order this book from Amazon(UK).)
Picture by: Getty.
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