Women: the bloody, funny truth
By writing about menstruation, female masturbation, abortion and childbirth, Caitlin Moran is on a mission to reclaim the bloody, messy business of being a woman, one gag at a time
ENGLISH JOURNALIST, author and big-haired poster girl for feminism Caitlin Moran is sitting in a Dublin hotel explaining why she’s had to relinquish the Mooncup as a form of sanitary protection. The last time she used this natural alternative to tampons and pads was in the Norfolk guesthouse of film-maker Richard Curtis and writer Emma Freud. It was a bit of a horror show by her own, almost certainly exaggerated, account.
“I used one for two years, but the Mooncup just wasn’t protecting me any more. I ended up leaving blood splattered all up the walls and the floor of the guest house . . . I trashed that place so badly,” she says cheerfully.
Afterwards, thinking she might be able to frame previous guests for her bloody crimes against bed linen and carpets, she quizzed Curtis and Freud about who was the last person to stay there. “I was hoping it was someone like Pete Doherty. They said it was Gordon and Sarah Brown. I realised there was no way I was going to be able to pass off a bloody set of footprints on Gordon and Sarah Brown, and I also decided to go back to tampons.”
She is in Ireland to promote her latest book, Moranthology, an entertaining collection of her journalism – she has three columns a week in the Times and last year was named interviewer and critic of the year in Britain. In Moranthology she visits a sex club with Lady Gaga, goes on the batter with Doctor Who and Kylie, and holds forth on everything from Downton Abbey to Boris Johnson, from internet trolls to Kate’n’Wills. If you are a fan of common sense, comic writing and pop culture, buy it immediately.
The book is a brilliant follow-up to How to Be a Woman, Moran’s memoir and feminist manifesto, which was an instant hit when released two years ago. In it, the 37-year-old railed hilariously against the insidious shrinking of women’s underwear, the mass removal of female genital hair, and fake tan. Another of Moran’s big themes is reclaiming the bloody, messy, “secret” business of being a woman. She wants to encourage other women to talk openly about subjects like female masturbation, misogyny, abortion, childbirth and menstruation.
‘The idea of what’s normal has to change . . . all that blood is not going away’
She chats breezily about turning Richard Curtis’s house into a blood bath not to get a reaction but because “it’s what every woman goes through – sometimes we leave stains behind . . . People have said that I am brave to write about this stuff, but that’s just nuts, because it’s so normal. The best thing women have said to me has been, ‘I read your book and I felt normal’.”
She has a great riff on the movie There’s Something About Mary and that iconic scene where Cameron Diaz scoops up semen in her hand, which she puts in her hair, confusing it for gel. “A much more likely thing to happen in real life is that Cameron Diaz would get period blood on her hands and put it in her hair, but you would never in a million years have that as a key scene in a movie or as the poster.”
Because movie-goers might be disgusted? “God, a woman with blood in her hair! That’s her own fluids. It’s normal. Apparently it’s not disgusting to have Ben Stiller’s semen in her hair, but it would be disgusting to be covered in her own menstrual blood. The idea of what’s normal has to change . . . All that blood is not going away.”
Although not as well known here as she is in Britain – there are posters of her all over London at the moment – in certain female circles she is the crush du jour. Is she enjoying the experience of a lot of women thinking they’d quite like her as their best friend? “Women are giving me a lot of power at the moment,” she says. “I don’t mean in a way that I am going to take over a country or kill anyone, but when people say, ‘I love your book,’ that makes me feel good, and that empowers me to write something more extreme and a little bit more political.”
She holds no truck with faux modesty. “People ask me a lot if I want to be a role model for young girls, expecting me to go, in the manner of a Jane Austen character, ‘No sir, I am so shy, I would never wish to live up to such an honour, prithee.’ Well balls to that. I am ready to lead.”
She’s written extensively on her background, which is sort of a British midlands version of Angela’s Ashes, but with a TV. She was raised with her seven siblings in abject poverty on a council estate, with a middle-class hippy mother and second-generation Irish musician father. None of the Moran children attended secondary school and instead were what she calls “self-educated”, rather than home-schooled, which meant a potent mix of television (the TV series Bottom and The Young Ones are seminal Moran influences) and daily trips to the local library, where she read everything from Baudelaire to Ballet Shoes.
‘I don’t want people to think I am doing this for personal glory or to get my rocks off . . . I genuinely want to change the world’
As a girl she felt “friendless, fat and ugly”, and she started writing to make friends and make people fancy her, and get her family out of poverty. “When I realised I could write I said to myself, ‘I am going to ride this one talent like a pony all the way down to London town and see if it can change my life.’ ”
She won a writing competition at 13; wrote a novel, The Chronicles of Narmo, at 14; and was named the Observer’s young reporter of the year at 15. By 18 she was presenting a music TV show and writing a column in the Times.
Moran is a walking, gurning stand-up routine, funnier than most comedians you will meet; sharper and more engaging than many talking heads on the heavyweight current affairs shows she dismisses as being “made for the boys”. She regularly turns down requests to appear on Newsnight and Question Time.
“I have almost 300,000 followers on Twitter: if I want to make a point I can go there . . . I don’t want people to think I am doing this for personal glory or to get my rocks off, which is what it can look like on TV.
“I very deliberately try to stay out of people’s faces. If you want me, come find me, in the newspaper or my books or on Twitter. When you go on TV you land uninvited into living rooms.”
She is on a mission, but she’s not out to annoy people, which is why she employs humour and silliness in her writing.
“Even if you are very against what I am saying I will take you very gently along with me,” she says.
“I don’t want to win an argument: I want to change your mind. I am not doing this to w**k off. I genuinely want to change the world. So my message to women is: if you are trying to change the world don’t be angry; make it fun and cool so people want to join in.”
Referring to the feminist furore over Naomi Wolfs book Vagina, she says she’s against the idea that there are certain books a woman “shouldn’t” write. She thinks Fifty Shades of Grey is badly written, for example. “But there’s lots of terrible books written by men and nobody says anything.
‘Women are dealing with the same stuff all over: my bra is too tight; I don’t know if I want children’
Having said that, when addressing the absence of abortion in this State she says it’s “inhumane”. In one of the most memorable chapters of How to Be a Woman, Moran wrote about her own abortion. If more women were open about their experience, she believes, it would have a dramatic effect.
“If every woman who has ever had an abortion went on strike for a day, people would see how necessary it is . . . The reason in America they can talk about changing legislation around abortion and contraception is because woman aren’t talking about their abortions, so men can say, ‘I don’t know anyone who is having abortions.’ If women talk about it then you can’t shame them any more. I want to make it normal and natural and talk about the benefits of women being in control of their fertility.”
Moranthology features another powerful article she wrote on the subject, a piece that moved an 89-year-old man, a previously staunch opponent of abortion, to email the Times saying Moran had changed his mind.
Her influence is far-reaching. To her surprise, How to Be a Woman has hit a chord with women in Sweden, The Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. It was released last month in the US, where it has stayed in the top 10.
“I thought it was a local little book, but it turns out women are dealing with the same stuff all over: yeah, my bra is too tight; no, I can’t tell when he’s being sexist; I don’t know if I want children.”
She lives in north London with her rock-critic husband and two daughters, who are the inspiration behind her attempts to create a “feminist Utopia”.
Moran wants to make the most of this time, conscious this wave of popularity won’t last forever. She is working on two screenplays with her sister, Caz. One, The Big Object, is a comedy for TV about her adolescence; the other is a movie script for How to Be a Woman. The next film she writes after that will be “the first ever feminist action movie”.
‘People understand myth more than anecdotes, and so you reach more people’
It’s inevitable that she will have to give up some of her columns in the the Times as she concentrates more on writing fiction. Dickens and Orwell are her two literary heroes, and the plan is to imbue her left-wing socialist politics in novels as they did. She says nonfiction “will only get you so far”, that “you have to take control of the stories”.
“I’ve studied the careers and works of Dickens and Orwell. They had this social conscience which came from their background. They also knew their journalism and nonfiction would only sell a certain amount. When you write Great Expectations and you write Animal Farm, then that becomes myth and people understand myth more than anecdotes, and so you reach more people.”
She is already planning her novels, a trilogy spanning 10 years. “I’m making notes on my iPhone all the time, planning them out. I want to read these books so badly: that’s the reason I am writing them.”
After our chat she heads off to be adored by a mostly female audience at Eason and then to The Late Late Show, wearing the same clothes she wore – denim shorts, opaque tights, jacket decorated with deer – when she got on the plane that morning.
She will reveal live on air that her armpits smell of soup, and she will swap her Doc Martens for fellow guest Rosanna Davison’s stilettos, politely resisting getting into a slagging match over the model’s topless photo shoot for Playboy. We should stop, she says at one point in the interview, having so many opinions about what women do and let them get on with being the women that they choose to be. Whether that’s Naomi Wolf getting misty-eyed over her vagina or Davison getting them out for the lads. Or Caitlin Moran on a mission to change the world through truth-telling, sublime writing and endless gags.