Maybe two weeks ago you read on Twitter, or Tumblr, or the Guardian that British writer Caitlin Moran said some messed up stuff on Twitter. Maybe last week you saw that Bitch magazine was involved, and that I had “killed” an interview with Moran after her tweets. Watching this story spread from various outlets, I felt like I should go ahead and clarify where I was coming from before more speculation went up.
Here’s a section of what Moran originally tweeted:
We had a short Q&A with Moran slated for the upcoming issue of Bitch magazine, which was due at the printers very soon. After seeing the tweets, and Moran’s lack of response to her critics, I told the interviewer (Lorraine Berry) that I no longer wanted to run the interview. She took the interview to Salon, where the content was less about the interview itself than the “controversy” surrounding it.
Below is the tl;dr version of why I didn’t run the interview. It’s what I sent Lorraine while she was working on the Salon article. I know Lorraine tried to present multiple sides of the issue, but I understand—because I am an editor and my job is deciding what goes in a magazine—that she did not make final editorial decisions.
Moran’s tweets topped off some uncomfortable asides I found in How to Be a Woman—jokes about devastating wars in non-Western countries, flippant use of the word “tranny,” burlesque is cool/burqas are bad—and confirmed a nonintersectional feminism I don’t want to support. Moran’s lack of public accountability didn’t help either.
Moran, of course, isn’t the only person—nor the only feminist—who has this problem. Lack of self-awareness, privilege-denial, and “literally not giving a shit” about the representation of women of color are symptomatic of the mainstream feminism movement right now. Bitch doesn’t always get it right either.
Did I want to cut a slated magazine piece a week before we went to press? No, but it would mean running something unexamined instead of casting a critical eye. Moran’s words hold so much weight because she’s emerged as a popular advocate for feminism—and the media has helped position her that way. We opted out this time.
I had about a week to send the winter issue of Bitch to the printer. I was juggling MIA articles, proofreaders with food poisoning, and a house guest, so coaxing an explanation from Moran was not at the top of my to-do list. (Luckily, outlets like The Frisky, xoJane, and Jezebel—Anna Breslaw, you spelled my name wrong, btw—have provided the space Moran needed to explain herself, and she didn’t have to wait til December to do so.) Now that Moran has explained herself (by saying that asking Girls’ creator about the show’s lack of diversity would be as “dumb as asking ABBA, ‘Why aren’t one of you black?,’”) it’s just confirmed that, had I had six weeks before press, “pressing her on intersectionality” would have been a fool’s errand.
(Also, regarding “censorship,” “silencing,” and “policing”: The reason anyone knows about this “kerfuffle” is because I told Lorraine she could take the interview somewhere else, which she did. And can you really “silence” someone who has two books out, regular columns, is published in the Times and the Guardian, has nine times the amount of Twitter followers Bitch Media has, and furthermore has plenty of websites and fans willing to post, summarize, and selectively quote her? Asking for a friend.)
Another misunderstanding seems to be that this is about Caitlin Moran speaking for all women. Moran implies her critics would be more valid had she called her book How to Be ALL Women, which, please don’t! That is a terrible title for a book. But also that just isn’t the point. There’s not some feminist litmus test to make it into Bitch. In fact, we are far from infallible, and I, one more white cis gendered feminist swimming in privilege, have mucked up in the past and will probably muck up in the future. But, as I told Lorraine, Moran’s words have a lot of clout because she’s emerged as a spokesperson for contemporary feminism, and the media has had a big role in positioning her that way. Not running an interview with her in Bitch seemed like a very clear-cut way to stop that trend on our part. I underlined that because it is a big reason why I didn’t run it!
However, that still doesn’t excuse Moran or her defenders. Mainstream feminism (and we include Bitch in this category, by the way) has been fucking up for too long for this kind of willful ignorance to keep happening. Why is it that Moran’s defenders are all white cisgendered women? In fact, to paraphrase Stephanie Phillips, if someone who is not white says something is racist, they are not doing it for shits and giggles.
Just yesterday, “A Defense of Caitlin Moran” went up at the New Statesmen’s Vagenda section. The authors erroneously posit that “intersectionality” is an exclusionary, elitist practice, and they also appropriated Flavia Dzodan’s words (“My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit”) without attribution. As Lianne De Mello put it, this “obsessing about the use of one word risks missing the point, and worse still actively dismissing the views of people of colour and others.” (See some other responses here and here.) While not all of Moran’s defenders twist the discourse this badly, this is still basically what you sound like: me first, other people later. Feminism should be the other way around, it needs to start from a place of intersectionality, not run away from it or come up with bullshit excuses.
The weekend that Moran Tweeted The Tweets, I did take time off from magazine production to click around for coverage of it (as one does on the interwebs). As I read posts like this and this, I didn’t just think “Screw this Caitlin Moran interview,” I thought, “This is what I would rather be publishing.” Here were pieces that took a thoughtful, critical perspective on pop culture (which, yes, includes other feminists), that went uncomfortable places, and, well, weren’t unapologetically racist. So I hope that clears things up a bit.