Feminist Hero Caitlin Moran on How to Make Politics Rock and Roll Again

Caitlin Moran

Caitlin Moran Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images For Advertising Week

Speaking with Caitlin Moran is something of a fascinating challenge for two reasons: first, she speaks very, very quickly. Gilmore-Girls-on-speed speed. And second, she’s almost constantly saying very, very interesting things.

Our interview reminded me a bit of my favorite college lecture, a class on post-Civil War America taught by an internationally recognized scholar, who stood in front of the room and cycled past eye-opening theories and ideas so rapidly that I found myself taking notes purely through echo memory, always two sentences behind.

Caitlin would begin on a topic, and I would have a follow-up question in mind, but she would so effortlessly tangent onto a seemingly unrelated topic, and then a second, and then a third, that my questions were left obsolete and neglected. I could only listen in awe and be grateful for a working tape recorder.

If you haven’t heard of Caitlin Moran, I’m afraid you deserve to be publicly shamed. She’s a novelist, journalist, and screenwriter who’s been writing columns for over two decades in the UK—a hilarious, insightful feminist intellectual who writes about politics with the same clarity and ease as she does Benedict Cumberbatch.

Her newest book, Moranifesto, a collection of her columns from The London Times, shows off her tremendous range. This is a book that made me miss my subway stop in both directions (the first time I was reading about abortion advocacy, the second time I was reading about… Benedict Cumberbatch).

Cutting apart her answers into online celebrity interview sound bites (“‘Here are the problems with this society,’ Moran began, taking a forkful of Caesar salad”) took the power of it, the momentum with which she spoke and the force with which her ideas were communicated. It was stopping a golf swing midstroke and trying to start again from the middle.

And so, as a baby feminist writer, I feel I am in the right to give the stage—er, page— to Moran. If you’re anything like me, you’ll soon desperately want to read everything she’s ever written.

On her hometown, Wolverhampton:

MORAN: It’s in the middle bit, geographically the anus of Britain, and it used to be a proud manufacturing, working class city, and then Thatcherism came along in the 80’s and devastated it.

When you looked at the elders, you could tell they felt really guilty, the attitude they would have around the younger people would be like, “We’re really sorry, we fucked it up. When we were growing up, this was an incredible place to be, and you would have felt proud, and you would’ve had a job, and you would’ve had a community, and somehow on our watch that all went wrong, and now you’re being brought up in the rubble of what was once a great city, and we’re really, really sorry.” So you kind of always felt awkward around your elders because they were still rough hands from being in mines and factories, now sort of signing onto Welfare, all sort of broken and traumatized. It was very traumatized, as it is across the world in post-industrial cities.”

On culture and the West:

I don’t think it’s any coincidence that all the films over the past ten years have been about young girls in post-apocalyptic wastelands believing in things and keeping a band of people together and going on to save things, because I think we’re very good at telling ourselves the stories in advance that we’re going to need. We are telling our children, you know, just putting aside any politics: we know, economically, things are going to be shit for this generation and the next generation. This continual trajectory of people’s lives getting better generation by generation is gone, possibly forever, so the story-makers who are my age and older are looking at their children and need some way to prepare them for that. And that’s what all of these big Hollywood franchises are about: we’re trying to sweeten the pill and teach our children the skills they’re going to have to have, which sort of echoes with my childhood, of living in a civilization that will be past its best. There will be a sense that things are on the slide.

In 2008 crash, that’s what everyone was saying: in Western countries, our economies have been over-inflated like, up to 50% which is why we have such an incredible lifestyle compared to the rest of the world, and that everything was going to drop at least 25% and that would take two decades to happen, and there was no way to reverse that. And that is absolutely what we see, that is why poverty has grown, why income inequality had widened, why people have voted for Trump and for Brexit, that’s absolutely all down to the 2008 crash, that’s us sort of gradually realizing that the big dream is over. this is a new reality, and the first time you say that, it’s horrifying because you’re like, I remember how good shit used to be. But then you go, but that’s still going to be an incredible place to be. It’s still better to be in the Western world than anywhere else. This whole thing of “things are getting worse” —we’re still SO far ahead of the pack. It’s still okay! What we need to do, which we don’t have a narrative for, is coming to terms with the fact that we’re not the leaders anymore. It’s not our story anymore. It’s not the Western, white story anymore. It’s going to be other countries overtaking us, and we need to learn to let go, to let other people take over, and other people’s stories to take over, and that, because we are not in any way prepared to do that, is why Trump won in this country, and why we just voted for Brexit. It was a white, middle class vote just going, “I don’t want to be second rung anymore.” Second rung is GREAT when you consider how far down everyone else is! I’m happy to step down to a second rung. That’s what we need to do, and that’s what I think art needs to show. There’s nothing, in Classical mythology, nothing in any Freudian archetypes. Nowhere anywhere in history have we learned to deal with not being as good as we were anymore but being happy with that.

On hate crimes on the rise:

That is a classically observed trope that you will always see: when you’ve got massive wealth inequality, and the lower classes are really crushed, there is a proper underclass, there’s anger and energy here and it’s either going to go two ways. It’s either going to go up, to the 1% that have more wealth than any time in history, concentrated in tiny, tiny layer of society, OR you can direct it down. And the people who are up here, don’t want the energy to go up, of course they don’t want the energy to go up, so the only thing you can do with that energy is try to create a sub-subclass, which is where you see anti-Semitism, racism happening so fast and so violently, to try to create a false underclass to these people who are already on the bottom so you can go, “Okay, but at least you’re better than them.” So many psychological studies about what that mechanism is, that however bad things are for you, as long as there’s someone underneath you, you will feel fine. It’s the point when you feel you’re absolutely at the bottom that you will rebel. The absolutely triggering for a revolution is when you feel no one is beneath you, and if you don’t want a revolution, if you’re at the top, the most urgent thing you need to do is create a sub-subclass to make that energy go down. Or else there is inevitably, all the way through history, revolution. Studying history will tell you a lot about what’s going on.

On the Internet:

The biggest migration in human history in the last ten years has happened and we have not mentioned it anywhere. And it’s not the refugee crisis, which is 60 million people which is a big enough deal as it is. It’s the migration to the Internet. 3.5 billion people now, to a greater or lesser extent, live on the Internet. Our money is there, our banking, our social life, it’s how we find people—and this is where we learn to talk. This is where we learn our language. This is where we test our theories and ideas and see how everybody else is acting and in quantum cultural shifts, conversation changes this way or that based on the loudest voices, what’s allowed, what’s winning and what works.

And observably, our conversation has become emotional and game-ified—this whole thing of “I won the internet.” Trump is the absolute example of that. Basically the internet is the way California was during the gold rush: It’s mainly male, mainly created by men, 92% of coders are men, so we’re living in male-created environments, it’s mainly young men there—there aren’t many tribal elders on the Internet, we don’t have historical preceptors on the internet, no one is there going, “This has happened before.” Not many women there, not many people of color there, you know things like anti-Semitism, we can see all of the people who get trolled, the people who get rape threats and death threats, and we still don’t even know whether it’s REAL or not. The amount of times you get told that abuse on the Internet isn’t real, that cyber crime isn’t real.

If you look at the stats on cyber crime, it’s fucking nuts. One out of every ten people in the world will be subject to cyber crime, and the majority of times if you’re the subject of cyber crime the company, the bank, don’t even bother reporting it to the police, it just takes too long and there’s no point in doing it. So, crime isn’t really real there. Nothing is really illegal there, we don’t really know if it’s real or not. But yet half of the world’s population lives there. This is where we’ve learnt to talk—we have turned into something else culturally. Now the bad thing about that is you can see how quickly that’s happened and it’s no surprise that Donald Trump, a man with a massive internet presence has won this election because his is one of the tones that has dictated the way we talk, he is the king of this culture at the moment. So it’s absolutely logical he would have won this election, but it’s very clear to me—so many people have tried to look at the politics of it, I don’t think it’s politics, I think this is a cultural problem. It’s a cultural phenomenon. It’s the way he think, the way we talk, the way we relate to each other.

Things have changed so quickly because of culture and things can change equally quickly because of a cultural backlash to this, and that’s what gives me hope. Once you understand how a nuclear bomb works… A nuclear bomb works like this: just one cell explodes—one nucleus meets something radioactive like plutonium or uranium, just one atom is split, and then the power of that one cell exploding and splitting then knocks on ten around that and ten around that and ten around that and around that, all in a second, and you have Hiroshima, you’ve wiped out a city. That’s what culture is like: you have one thing that explodes and it affects things around it. Now we can see how that’s happened now in both Europe and America, but that means the solution to this could be equally as quick.

And we know it will happen culturally, we know it’s about the way people talk and make alliances, the way people come up with think tanks, the priorities we have in what we say in what we do, our language is incredibly important. Everything we say or do creates a difference and that’s why I have hope. The liberal despair at the moment—i’m going to wrap myself in a blanket and ignore what’s happening—it must be the absolute opposite of that. We have to stand up and go, No, in everything you do and everything you say. Keep doing things. Because, even if you’re not the atom that explodes, you might be next to the atom that explodes, or the one after that or the one after that. So make sure you’re just passing on that energy, you’re marshaling on this nuclear explosion.

Be part of an explosion. If you’re hiding in your house, you won’t be part of that explosion. You must go out there and pay your bit. If you have no ideas, just transmit other people’s ideas. That’s the beautiful thing about the internet and that’s what I try to do: transmit other people’s ideas, make a space where explosions can happen, make sure that the language you use means that other people can join in in that, and we just increase our chances, every day, of something coming along that is the equal to, or better than, Trump and the rise of nationalism in Europe at the moment.

On trolls:

None of them are as bad as my mother so that’s fine.

On white feminism:

I know what people are getting at with the whole “white feminism” thing, but for me, one of the laws of not being a massive dick is not labeling someone and writing them off with presumed behavior and assumptions on the basis of how they’re born. That is 101 of not being a dick. This is how I know racism is bad or homophobia is bad, because I will not write people off for the way they were born, and it’s the same thing with writing off white feminism: it’s not useful. Yes, obviously areas of white feminism are mainly concerned with problems of white feminism, but that’s true of any pressure group anywhere in the world. You’re not going to find a feminist Jesus who’s going to come along and be able to tell all of the stories of everyone in the world perfectly and without fault.

You know that’s some sexist fucking bullshit going around on there, because if you just turn it around and go, “Has one man ever come along and written a book or a TV show or a movie that solved, and represented, all the men in the world. No. No man has ever come along and written something that is equally applicable to a Muslim man or as it would be in a third world country as it would be to a white man in a first world country, or a third country. There is no feminist Jesus, there is no revolutionary Jesus.

Any political movement is a patchwork quilt: You do your bits, and you try to connect with other people who’ve done their bits, and then you try to solve the whole thing together, so yeah, there is going to be a white feminism patch, and if you’re woke enough to realize that generally, you’re going to be writing about your experiences and you’re not going to pass them off as the experiences of everybody else, and you’re going to be looking out for other people’s experiences, and reaching out to people, they can sew their patchwork quilt to your patchwork quilt, and we will soon make this huge super-feminist duvet that will change the world. But you see it time and time again, and this is what the Left always does, it’s not just feminism.

What the Left would always do is as soon as someone comes along who looks like they’ve got some of the answers, they’ll kill them by going, “You don’t have ALL of the answers, and here are three mistakes you’ve made along the way.” And this is why the Left, as a whole, is still a weaker political force than the Right, because the Right’s political belief, conservative values, are “We have power, and we’re going to retain power.” And it’s much easier to be a defensive position, which is what conservatives is, then the leftwing thing, of “We need to take power and we need to redistribute power.” That’s a much harder thing, because conservative is “We’ll simply carry on as we were.” The Left is, “No, we need to make a different future.” Instantly, its powers are split because it’s trying to do two things: invent a future, and it’s also trying to take away power and redistribute it.

So it’s much harder to be on the Left, and because it has no one single purpose in the way the Right does—the Right will normally gather around each other, they will defend each other, the Left, because it has two split purposes and because they are more argumentative, will immediately starting arguing with itself. Several of the books and films I’m working on are trying to tell the story of this, so the Left doesn’t keep doing this every 10 years and ripping apart a new generation of white feminists who were very young and made some mistakes and got ripped to shreds. Because they made one or two mistakes, like anybody would make mistakes in what they do.

And I can’t help but think part of the reason the Right is so resurgent at the moment is that there was a whole generation of liberals who saw a load of people being ripped to shreds on the internet and thought, “You know what? I’m just going to keep a bit quiet. I’m not going to say anything. There is now a climate of fear and unless I’m perfect, I can’t speak out.” And I think that’s one of the reason the Left is caught on the run at the moment: there aren’t many big, intellectual think tanks on the Left, there aren’t groups of people, because the Left has just spent the last ten years fighting about words and about concepts, and there’s a load of interesting things that need to be discussed within that, but absolutely destroying each other time after time? That we keep trying to build up the Left and then every time someone makes a mistake we smash them to bits means we are still arguing about semantics when the Right has now taken over most the western world. And that’s really quite noticeable.

One of the most important things to do as women is do everything you can to bring other people with you. And i think that’s often easier if you come from a working class background because there is that collectivism, that “I need to bring my other bitches with me.” Don’t do it because you’re noble; If I need to sell it to you, if you’re worried about it, do it for naked self-interest. We have been lead to believe there can only be one girl at any one time, and if there’s a girl a bit like me, I get the most criticism from feminists who are the most like me, because they think they will not get a job until I am destroyed. It doesn’t have to be like that. There can be millions of us. That’s how these things get perpetuated: you have to make sure it’s your business to bring as many girls as possible.

Game-fication is a way of bonding people together. It’s a performative act. You’re not really interested in criticizing your opponent’s politics—you’re doing it as a bonding thing to an audience. If you’re in the point-scoring game-ification of left wing politics, the key thing to remember is, they’re not doing this on the Right. The Right are not tearing themselves apart. While you’re still arguing amongst your small group, they have taken the levers of power.

On men as feminists:

It became a huge thing in feminism in the 1980’s to say men could not be feminists and stuff and it’s like, you cannot say that! feminism is an idea. There is no university of feminism. There’s no political party of feminism, there are no leaders of feminism, it’s just an idea. And the whole point of feminism is that equality only works if everyone believes in it. If everyone believes in equality, then we can all be equal. If only 27% of people believe in equality, we will not achieve equality. it’s an idea! Obviously you have to buy into it for it to work.

If every woman in the world became feminist—which is incredibly unlikely, but if 52% of the population became feminist and every single woman was, but we didn’t let men be feminists, we still wouldn’t have equality. Because 48% of the world wouldn’t be allowed to believe in equality! Of COURSE men have to be feminists.

On political progress:

Cultural progress should look thrilling and be exciting! The Right have seen the way you can sell an idea, you make it look exciting, you make it look transgressive, you be the thing that people want to do or say and don’t have balls to say themselves. They made it look rock and roll. They’ve observed what you do in rock and roll, and that’s how they’ve sold this alt-right thing at the moment. This is the baby boomer generation doing what they always do which is kicking against society, things are too proper, society is going to hell in a handcart, everything is too politically correct, the grown-ups are trying to crush you, like Hillary, and like, “Hey kids, come on, we’re going to say some rude words, we’re going to go ‘Fuck You to the man!’”

And now we have to go, we invented that, that is the liberal Left invented tropes of rock and roll and that’s how we fight this. We can’t go in there and be politicians anymore. It’s not politics. I can’t state that enough. This isn’t politics, this is culture. And culture is made by people. That’s what we do. We find a piano, we start making songs. The people make culture. And once you understand it’s about cultural change, then you realize how quickly we can change this.

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