Sunday, 14 October 2012
I had never heard of Caitlin Moran until last year when my best friend bought me a copy of her book 'How To Be a Woman' for my birthday. I loved the book, I thought it was hilarious and I like to think even though more than anything it's about her life, that she made the ideas of feminism more accessible to people who haven't quite grasped what it's about- even my husband read it, and he never usually reads any feminist books I read.
There was some backlash about the book despite mainly positive reviews- her use of the word 'retard' in one chapter of the book and also referring to transgender people as 'trannies'. To be honest, when I read it I didn't really think of the consequences of those words- I am, like Caitlin Moran, a privileged, white, straight cis woman. It's only been in about the year or so that I've become more aware of the importance of the rights of transgender people and read more about disablist language. I've never been disablist, in fact my brother is autistic so I've seen many disabled children at the specialist school he had to go to as a child and I sometimes volunteered my time at school helping the disabled children in the school next door. I just never realised how much language could be considered disablist, I think a lot of the words are used so commonly, that most people wouldn't realise. This blog post on The F Word really helped make me more aware.
Anyway, a lot of people contacted Caitlin via Twitter to explain why these words were wrong and rather than see what they had to say, she blocked people. However, recently I read an interview where she states that the word 'retard' was a quote of her 13 year old self, and she is aware that the word is no longer acceptable- apparently she did issue an apology and the word was pulled (I can't verify this as my copy does have the word) and that she hadn't been aware of the terms 'cis' and 'trans' before as some of her friends do refer to themselves as 'trannies'. She was happy that Twitter helped educate her on this matter. (I have to admit I hadn't heard these words until this year either). I'm not sure where the blocking people comes into this but I think she came across very well in the interview which you can read here
The plot thickens though, as she recently offended more people. Caitlin was going to interview Lena Dunham, I don't know much about her apart from she is a film maker. Someone tweeted Caitlin saying
“what a surprise @caitlinmoran loves lena dunham. white feminists who ignore the experiences of WOCs have got to stick together guys!!!” (WOC is women of colour)
which I think to be honest was a bit unfair. The same person tweeted her again this time asking.
"did you address the complete and utter lack of people of colour in girls in your interview? i sure hope so!”
to which Caitlin responded, "Nope. Literally I couldn't give a shit about it."
which of course led to much uproar, understandably.
Looking through Caitlin's Twitter feed, I don't really think she meant that she 'doesn't give a shit' about women of colour or that she is racist. I personally think she just didn't think it was relevant to that particular interview, that she doesn't think Lena Dunham is racist for not including women of colour in her new t.v show and overreacted, which is very easy to do when you're feeling defensive and on the internet it's not always to be clear about what you mean. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that makes it okay. It definitely doesn't make it okay to block people when they try to explain why representations of WOC is important. I think she ought to make a public apology instead of trying to avoid the issue.
I think it goes back a bit to the post I wrote not too long ago about Amanda Palmer, sometimes we hold certain people in such high regard (in Caitlin's case as a public representative of feminism) that we forget that they are human and make mistakes- or do things we don't agree with. Just because someone says or does one thing we don't agree with doesn't automatically make them no longer a good person. Of course it depends on what they did- and maybe in Caitlin Moran's case how they react to it. So let's not expect people to be perfect human beings, but Caitlin, please think about the words you type as well as the words you speak- words on the internet are there to be seen by millions of people all over the world. You may know what you mean and that you didn't mean it the way people are reading it, but unless you own up and say "I'm sorry- I didn't know that word could be used in an offensive way" or "I'm sorry that you took it this way- but I meant it this way..." then all you do is creating yourself a reputation I'm sure you'd rather not have. It's okay to admit when you don't know about something and it's okay to make mistakes- but acknowledge them.