Caitlin Moran holds up a heroine for feminist cause
Men were outnumbered by women by a ratio of roughly one to 30 as feminist icon Caitlin Moran launched her latest book at Islington’s Union Chapel. Around 850 women and 30 men witnessed Moran confirm her status as the rock star of print journalism earlier this month.
The Times columnist and bestselling author proved she is no less compelling on the stage than on the page for the opening night of her first live tour, coinciding with the launch of novel How To Build A Girl.
In just five minutes, she had the entire crowd standing on pews shouting “I AM A FEMINIST” – because everything, she assured us, is more fun standing on some sort of chair.
(Also, as Moran advises in How To Be A Woman: “because if you can’t, you’re basically bending over, saying, ‘Kick my arse and take my vote, please, the patriarchy.’”)
No doubt the incongruity of a church backdrop was not lost on the 39-year-old – who lives in Crouch End – as she discussed women, men, pop music and BBC Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch for an anarchic 90 minutes.
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Highlights from her feminist bible How To Be A Woman and her columns and interviews compilation Moranthology were relived, but the biggest hit was an extract from her first novel for adults, centring upon a character called Big Cock Al.
“We’re all pretending to be someone else,” Moran muses – not wholly unconnectedly. “‘Fake it till you make it’ is a fabulous motto.”
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This phrase forms the premise for the writer’s new coming-of-age story, which she insists is pure fiction though dedicated fans might sense a touch of the autobiographical. Set in the 1990s, the book sees depressed Wolverhampton teenager Johanna Morigan reinvent herself as a wild child inspired by her heroes.
“At that age, you feel bad because you are going to be the child that your parents have made you,” Moran says. “So you go out there and find a pop song, a book or a film and you slowly start building yourself with culture. That’s the first big grown-up, bad-ass thing that you do; you basically become a mother to yourself.”
Styled as a pastiche of Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole diaries and The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, the novel explodes into life as a 16-year-old Johanna – renamed Dolly Wilde – becomes a music journalist and starts meeting her idols.
Intriguingly, Moran’s own role models appear to permeate her personality. Her delivery ripples with the confidence of singer Courtney Love – whom she famously interviewed for Melody Maker magazine in 1994 – as well as the self-deprecating humour of Judy Garland and a David Bowie-esque social consciousness.
Both in print and in person, she marks herself out with ironically tenuous yet somehow convincing comparisons: “the idea of women appearing on any current TV panel show is like women using urinals – you can do it but they just aren’t made for us. They make us look awkward and we end up pissing on our shoes!”
But Moran rejects bitterness in favour of a burning enthusiasm for change – “I have two daughters and I’m on a race against time to make the world f***ing brilliant for them” – which seems central to the feminist icon’s appeal; along with an amazing tolerance of women whose actions are said to oppose equality.
“Whenever I say that I’m ‘anti’ something, it doesn’t mean that I hate people who do it. My problem is not that some women do some things – it’s just that generally it’s all that’s happening. We need more choice,” she professes.
Teenage girls – and boys – could do worse than to learn from Moran’s approach.
How To Build A Girl is published by Ebury Press price £14.99.