Right, I am probably just adding fuel to the fire here, given my past encounters with Caitlin Moran, her book and the utterly desperate and downright baffling level of defensiveness my negative review of her book caused, but given her recent outburst of privilege and ignorance, I feel the need to say something.
Here’s the thing about being a white feminist – we’ve got it way easier than we like to believe we do. Of course we’re often subjected to cruel and offensive insults, misogyny and our opinions being shut down by mansplaining and mockery, nobody is denying that. However, when the mainstream looks at feminism, we’re what they see. Jessica Valenti. Ariel Levy. Germaine Greer. Natasha Walter. Naomi Wolf. Julie Burchill (an awful figure who I don’t want lumped in with me but since she continues to advertise herself as a feminist and is seen by the media as such, in here she goes). The feminist scholars and commentators that are asked onto Newsnight and Meet The Press are seldom white or LGBTQ (Levy is openly gay and the exception here). Moving outside academia to entertainment, the same things occur. Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, and now Lena Dunham. I love the first two (but man, Fey's hugely problematic), I’m ambivalent on Dunham although she is undeniably talented. Caitlin Moran is often seen as the connecting figure between feminism and funny. I have been very vocal in my opinions on Moran’s book, which you can read here. Pay particular attention to the comments. Being compared to the pro-life movement was a new one for me.
Moran’s response to being asked if she’d asked Dunham about the exclusion of people of colour in “Girls” in her fawning Times interview, an issue that has been extensively covered by American media and can be found easily through Google, was “Nope, I literally couldn’t give a shit about it” . This, of course, created quite the fuss, and justifiably so. Moran continued to dig herself into a deeper and deeper hole, and people began to defend her.
Greg Jenner is a twitter friend of mine. I’ve always got on very well with him and find him to be friendly, interesting and always up for a debate. But he’s plain damn wrong here. I also really don’t appreciate the tone argument. It’s the David Cameron “Calm down dear” technique.
The exclusion of non-white people from the narrative, be it fictional or otherwise, deliberately or accidentally, is something inherently rooted in racism. I don’t think Moran or Dunham are racist, but there is something hugely worrying about a series being set in Brooklyn, a district where according to the 2010 census, black and Hispanic people make up over 55% of the population <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Brooklyn>, and the only people of colour are the crazy hobo and the help. Dunham is writing about her own privileged experiences, and that’s fine. She’s entitled to do so. She’s actually addressed these issues a lot better than most people have. However, when people like Moran declare Dunham to be the future of feminism, that’s a big issue that we need to address. Dunham’s character in the show jokes about being the voice of her generation, or at least a voice of a generation, but we’re not supposed to nod and say “Yep, she is”. Moran’s biases have always been pretty well documented, particularly in her book (Lady Gaga, who was nice to her and won her awards for her interview with her = cool feminist. Jordan, who was not so nice = “Vichy France with tits”), and this is another example of that. The entire industry is to blame for lack of diversity, but to criticise Dunham for it is sexism. Or something. Newsflash, people have been criticising media for lack of diversity for quite some time now. It happened with Friends, Frasier, Will & Grace, The West Wing, and a whole host of other massively popular shows. It still continues to this day with Amy Sherman-Paladino’s Bunheads, after Shonda Rhimes criticised the lack of women of colour in the show (Sherman-Paladino’s response was equivalent to Moran’s in many ways, in that she seemed to think Rhimes should put her gender before her race and support sisterhood or something). Ryan Murphy has been criticised for his stereotyping of race, among other things, in Glee. This isn’t new. The Dunham case isn’t new. What is somewhat new is how she’s being hailed as the future of feminism, by other straight white feminists. This is an issue. Feminism can’t be closed off to women whose narratives don’t match our own. We do everyone a huge disservice by thinking like this, and for white people to in any way police the definition of racism in their own favour is, yes, racist. Moran’s argument is spotty at best and downright ignorant at worst. Moran says “you wouldn’t insist boys had to always have black characters in their projects. It’s a sexist demand to make of an artist”. First of all, not all people of colour are black. Second, people have been insisting that for generations now! Dunham has received some sexist abuse, and I do think it’s unfair to lay the hopes of all female creators in entertainment at her feet in a make-or-break situation, but it’s not sexist for women to criticise other women. Moran does it all the time, often unreasonably so (I’m still mad at “Vichy France with tits”).
It is not unfair, unreasonable, sexist, racist or whatever other term you want to throw around, to ask for some diversity in the world of entertainment. The vast majority of artists in mainstream entertainment are straight white men, and they have responsibilities to do this just as much as Dunham does, particularly if they set their shows in areas were white people aren’t the majority.
We’re not “asking every female artist to represent 3.3b women in every project she does”. What we are asking for is real life to be somewhat reflected in the media we digest.
Moran began to block or ignore anyone who criticised her on this issue, including Gail Simone, and thanking everyone who defended. It’s sad to see someone so proud to call herself a feminist shut out any criticism of her obvious ignorance here. Then again, it’s not unexpected. I found out today that I wasn’t the only person Moran blocked for daring to ask her to explain her use of the words “retard” and “tranny” in her book. The impression Moran is giving is that she has no understanding or desire to understand feminist experiences that diverge from her own and that of her friends. Privilege is a term that gets thrown around a lot, particularly on Tumblr, but it absolutely applies here.
Feminism is ever changing, and we need to learn from our mistakes. Check out some of the things people like Germaine Greer and radical feminists said 40 years ago and cringe (comparing transgender women to rape, anyone?) It’s 2012. The straight white middle class woman experience is not the default mode of feminism, it never should be considered such. It doesn’t take much effort to educate oneself on these issues.
So excuse me, Ms Moran, for not giving a shit about giving my vagina a name (also please stop confusing the vagina with the cervix), clown porn and high heeled shoes. Feminism’s got other things to do, like sort out your mess and make sure we don’t do it again. Defending Lena Dunham is not the big issue here. “Fighting all forms of discrimination is the real feminist issue”. (Lisa Hajjar).