Women in the World

07.17.12

Caitlin Moran on Slut Walks, Feminism, and Being the British Tina Fey

With her new book, How to Be a Woman, British columnist and personality Caitlin Moran is set to break out with her irrepressible brand of feminism and frank opinions.

Caitlin Moran may not yet be a household name on this side of the Atlantic, but if her first book, the autobiographical How to Be a Woman is anywhere near as successful here as it was in Britain, that is sure to change soon. The book is just out in the U.S., and it’s already being turned into both a film and a sitcom in England. We spoke to Moran—whose Twitter bio reads, simply, “A woman, yes, but still funny”—from her home in North London about Slut Walks, “writer’s runny bottom,” and the nutritional properties of Tina Fey.

Is now an OK time to chat?

Yes, yes. I’ve just eaten an entire gigantic, family-sized bag of crisps, so I’m on a massive carb high at the moment and I’ll crash in about 20 minutes. So if I start talking slower and slower and then just fall asleep, you’ll know what happened.

Thanks for the heads-up. Congratulations on a wildly successful year!

Thank you very much! I'm enjoying it enormously. It's great being a spokeswoman for a generation, because previously when people just looked at you and went, “That’s a bit of a weird thing to say,” now they go, “Oh, wow, she’s being iconoclastic!” So I'm getting away with saying all kinds of weird things.

Are you being more outspoken?

Well, it’s kind of encouraging because I come from quite an odd background: insane hippies who home-educated us and never let us out of the house. So being a columnist at the Times—the newspaper of bankers and high-court judges—I've spent the last 20 years pretending to be normal. And then when you write a book that’s basically full of admissions that, you know, you had your first wank while thinking about Chevy Chase or your dog ate your sanitary pad, and people like it, then you think, “Wow, if you like that weird stuff, I can do more of that!” I can now take off my normal clothes and reveal that I was quite weird all along.

Are you surprised by how well it’s been received?

I thought it would do well. I thought it would do well enough for me to, I don’t know, do up the house quite nicely. I was aware as a feminist and someone that reads books that I hadn’t read a book about feminism that was funny for a long time. So I figured, well, I'd buy it. I'm my market, and I would buy this book, so there will be other people too.

But the sending it to 17 countries? I didn’t expect that. Winning awards had literally never occurred to me. I think it’s won seven now. Turning it into a film? That never occurred to me. Also to a TV series? Didn’t expect that either. The whole kind of franchisey bit, no. Successful book, yes.

Are you worried about how you might follow it up?

No! I'm just terrified I won’t get to write all the books that I want to before the lung cancer overtakes me. I can never really talk to writers because there’s always a bit after about the third drink where they sit around and go, “Well the thing about being a writer is it’s just so hard! Writers block, staring at the blank page, wondering what you’re going to write next.” Mine is the very opposite of that. I'm like, “We need more blank pages! There’s not enough space on this blank page for all the things I want to say.” I've got writers’ runny bottom.

Have you seen Girls?

Oh my God, have I seen Girls? I live in Girls. I am Girls. I'm going to interview Lena Dunham because I'm so obsessed with her that I could cry. I love her.

Watching Girls has just given me renewed courage. I just love what she’s done. She's just realized that often a reaction shot of her lovely big round face is enough.

how-to-be-a-woman-book
“How to Be a Woman.” By Caitlin Moran. 320 pages. Harper Perennial. $15.99. ()

There are some definite similarities between the two of you—your style and humor and so forth.

I like to think it’s the triumph of the round-faced girls. It’s always been about pointy-faced women. Everyone in Sex in the City has a pointy face. Now I think it’s kind of time for the doughy-faced woman to rise. The doughy-faced woman has been forced to sit on the sidelines of culture for too long, and it’s now time for us to stand up with our big round faces like the moon and say we have things to say, too. We have a round-faced agenda we want to push.

If you want your perfect feminist British fucking revolution where people go on Slut Walks dressed as Virginia Woolf, waving Penguin Classics in the air, then you go and have that revolution.

And what’s that agenda?

There’s a realization that I came to writing the book: that often so much of being a woman is about keeping secrets. True things about being a woman—bleeding, masturbating, being pregnant, giving birth, the way that we get obsessed with relationships, bad boyfriends, having sexism happen to us—they’re all things that we try to keep secret. You’re supposed to cover all that stuff up and sort of deal with it quietly on your own. Not let anyone smell your smells or see your stains or know the bad things happening in your heart or the things that confuse you. And you’re kind of led to believe that if you're ever truthful about all these bad things, you’d be kind of socially ostracized, and people would point at you and you would be punched in the street. The thing that I've realized and I think Lena Dunham has realized is if you actually do say these things nothing bad happens. People don’t have a go at you and you aren’t socially ostracized and what actually happens is all these women go, “Oh, that’s really fucking funny and that happened to me.” And that’s the only thing that happens. The secret is it doesn’t need to be a secret. You can be socially accepted and tell the truth about what it is to be a woman.

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Caitlin Moran discusses her book.

People here are also calling you the British Tina Fey.

The only reason that would be difficult is because I would want to have sex with myself. I just love her so much. I had written How to Be a Woman before I read Bossypants, and I just thought, God, any woman who can make you cry laughing describing a cervical smear gone wrong is a proper comic genius. She makes me bark laughing. And she’s just a brilliant combination of very clever and very silly which nearly all of my favorite comedians are. She just doesn’t take the idea of being a woman seriously at all. She’s not trying to be dignified and sexy, which is always such a relief.

I'm writing the film and the sitcom with my sister, and every so often if we’re stuck for inspiration we both look at a picture of Tina Fey for about five minutes. On one occasion where we were really badly stuck, we tore a picture of Tina Fey in half reverently and ate it in order to try to absorb her powers. And sure enough, about five minutes later, we cracked the gag. So even her picture, when eaten, Tina Fey is very powerful.

The word feminism can be a little complicated in the U.S. Is that true in Britain as well?

Yeah, that whole idea that there’s only one kind of feminist ... I wrote a column about the Slut Walks, where loads of old feminists all piled on and went, “Oh my God, look at you young feminists. You’ve got to be sort of sexy to make a point. Why does it always have to be about sex with you? Why do you always have to dress up sexy?” I kind of went, “Hey, wait, hang on. This is someone else’s revolution now.“ This is how these girls want to do it. The revolution doesn’t always look perfect. If you want your perfect feminist British fucking revolution where people go on Slut Walks dressed as Virginia Woolf, waving Penguin Classics in the air, then you go and have that revolution. This is how these girls want to do it.

Well were you worried about there being any kind of feminist backlash to the book?

We were worried when we came out that people might seize on the chapter about abortion and that might cause a massive hoo-ha. That was sort of the only thing we were worried about. because the thing is, I mean, all the way through I just tried to be as reasonable and polite and commonsense as possible and to be inclusive as possible as well. I haven’t put anything in there that most normal women wouldn’t have experienced. Everybody menstruates. Hopefully everybody masturbates. Everybody has a bad ex-boyfriend. Everyone has fallen in love with someone imaginarily in their head. I've literally not had anything bad said about it, apart from angry readers on Amazon who said, “Oh, she just goes on about herself too much.” It's like, yeah, it’s an autobiography. Thematically that’s kind of necessary.

I just tried to write it with a big heart. Like a big sister going, I just want to talk to any lady out there who is a bit confused and feels a bit pressurized and kind of go, hey, I'll tell you a thing or two, I'm 37, it all works out. Don't sweat the small stuff. Have a wank. It will all be OK.