An open letter to Caitlin Moran


About a month ago, an NPR headline caught my eye. “Not a feminist? Caitlin Moran Asks, Why Not?”; I mean… I’m a hardcore feminist and I lie at the intersection of a lot of oppressions. People have long lamented that feminists haven’t been able to make a very big dent into the mainstream media and popular culture. So this could be good. This could be real good.

There are a lot of things about your interview that I love. I was really surprised by how much our experiences with puberty and dealing with normative pop culture overlap, even though we have radically different upbringings. It was shocking, seeing how the kyriarchy can work in the same way though we’re countries and cultures separated.

But to be honest, that’s not what this letter is about. I want to have a talk, with your consent, from feminist to feminist. I want to talk about some parts of your interview that made me cringe, and that made me feel excluded from your conversation.

I should make this part clear: all of the comments I’m about to make are based on this one NPR interview. I was just able to borrow “How to be a Woman” from a friend. I’m trying to read and understand it as fast as I can, but this letter will still mostly focus on the convo with Terry Gross. I’m banking on the assumption that the interview was a fair representative view of your views.


You’re right; more people should be feminists. But one of your premises, I think — that all or nearly all women (or others who have benefitted from feminism) are feminists is wrong. It reminds me of an ideological position that bell hooks herself tore down. You can’t be a feminist if you in one way or another hurt other marginalized groups.

Feminism is a conscious lifestyle choice, one that has to be re-examined constantly. It’s not the default state for (nearly) all women in society. This statement of yours, which seems to be such a huge part of your thesis, just doesn’t seem to ring true:

So here is the quick way of working out if you are a feminist: A: Do you have a vagina? And B: do you want to be in charge of it? If you said yes to both, then congratulations, you’re a feminist.

My first problem with the assertion is that, well… I’m a woman and a feminist. I also lack a vagina. You seem to be using “has a vagina” as shorthand for “woman” and that strikes me as horribly cissexist. It was alienating to hear that sentiment from a “feminist consciousness-raising session,” and it made me feel as if I’m not welcome in the conversation, as if my input isn’t welcome in the struggle to maintain and expand reproductive rights.

My second and biggest problem, though, is this: a racist woman is not a feminist; she doesn’t care about helping women, just the women who look like her and can buy the same things she can. A transphobic woman is not a feminist; she is overly concerned with policing the bodies and expressions of others. A woman against reproductive rights — to use bell hook’s own example, and an issue close to your heart — is not a feminist; she prioritizes her dogma or her disgust over the bodies of others. An ableist woman is not a feminist; she holds some Platonic ideal of what a physically or mentally “whole” person should be and tries to force the world to fit inside it.

These women can vote, teach, command, program, draw, read to their hearts’s content, because of advances made by feminisms. That can’t be denied if you’re being at all intellectually honest. Feminisms have helped them a lot in their life and they would not be where they are without the work of many activists before them. But they themselves are not feminists. Feminisms are not compatible with every single ideology out there.

Supporting feminism has to mean supporting all women out there and being a true ally in their fights to end their marginalization, but so few people understand the huge variety of women out there. There are women of color, lesbians, trans* women, poor women, fat women, disabled women, neuroatypical women, asexual women, genderqueer women, genderfluid women…

And I’m not sure that your words always seemed to embrace that variety. During the first part of the interview, when you described what feminism means to you, you seemed to be coming from a financially secure, white, straight, cis standpoint and it was really disconcerting. In promoting your feminism, you white-washed the horrible, sordid history of feminist movements.

That attitude is really dangerous. It leads to toxic, bigoted comments such as these. And yeah, they’re real quotes. A woman of color posted a submission on a wonderful anti-racist site about how mainstream “feminism” seems to be dominated by white, cis, privileged women… and then a bunch of irate (white) women tried to shout her down, proving her right:

Yeah you should probably shut the fuck up about putting down feminism as a white privilege. Black oppression through slavery in the West is a ~500 year old phenomenon. The oppression of women, EVERYWHERE, is a several thousand year old phenomenon. Just saying. (source)

Black oppression is as old as the compass, female oppression is as old as fire. Comparatively, you’re a young whippersnapper telling a hardworking old person to move for YOUR seat on a bus. Wise the fuck up to a line you shouldn’t cross. (source)

We need to encourage the spread of feminism, but we can’t really forget about its past. We need to reclaim the word feminism, but a great deal of that work has to be directed at reclaiming that word from ourselves and from our pasts.

[B]ecause ‘feminism’ is a dirty word and a dirty concept — not because we should be ashamed to be trying to make the world better but because we fuck that ideal up every day in feminism’s name. Our ideology’s only as good as what we do with it, after all; we can claim to be intersectional and inclusive until our faces turn purple, but that won’t change the fact without constant reassessment of our priorities, ‘feminism’ tends towards racism, xenophobia, classism, cissexism, transphobia, and more. (source)

  • Some early suffragettes used racism in their rhetoric to justify their gaining the right to vote. They said that the whole of the white race should be given suffrage before black men — good job throwing Black women under the bus, girls.

  • The second wave of the feminist movement was similar, as it focused mostly on the straight, middle-class, cis, white experience.

    • Thus Womanism split off from the mainstream feminism movement. It became a movement centered on the experiences of Black women and other women of Color.

    • Janice Raymond published the toxic as fuck book, The Transsexual Empire, thus alienating trans* people — mostly those on the trans-feminine spectrum — from radical feminism. Her strain of bigotry lives on in the hate cult known as trans-exclusionary radical so-called-feminist movement.)

    • There was a lot of infighting between straight and lesbian feminists. Some claimed that fulfilling relationships could only occur in woman-woman relationships. Many straight victims of sexual abuse attempted this because of their scars from their abuses, and the idea had mixed results at best.

      There were also many straight women still under the spell of homophobic religious dogma who claimed that men-woman relationships were the only valid ones. Because of the overall societal power imbalance between straight and queer people, they had more clout to enforce this for a while.

    • Many feminists in trying to reduce the stigma around sex contributed to an atmosphere of sexual compulsion. Things like the statement, “sex is good and everyone should have it” alienates people on the asexual spectrum. Dan Savage, for example, has not only internalized this idea but also extended it, making it a point to say that the responsibility of a partner is to try out any sex act as long as it is “safe and sane.” (yay ableism)

And so I have to wonder what you meant when you said,

You know, unless you’ve actually gone and handed in your vote to parliament or, you know, to the White House, you are a feminist, and you live in a feminist world. The first world is feminist.

If we’re trying to recruit into the feminist movements, then we should at least be honest about what that means, for everyone involved. In a world where the access of poor people to gain access to reproductive services, where trans* people have had to be sterlized in order to gain treatment, where ridiculous “men’s rights movements” and “white pride groups” exist, where John Mooney and others were able to campaign for so long in favor of genital surgeries for intersex children, where we spend more money on warfare than on education, we do not live in a feminist world. We live in a world that’s more feminist than it was a few decades ago, but we do not live in a feminist world.

It’s our job to change that.

61 thoughts on “An open letter to Caitlin Moran

  1. “Some early suffragettes used racism in their rhetoric to justify their gaining the right to vote” – The alliance of Susan B. Anthony et. al. with some white supremacists was in response to African-American men throwing women’s suffrage under the bus, not vice verse. The point wasn’t “we should be able to vote and African-Americans shouldn’t” it was “African-American men got the vote and we didn’t”. It’s a complex and shameful piece of the history of both movements, in which women of color were abandoned by all sides, but the simplification you offer is misleading.

    • Wow. Do you know anything about history? This has to be one of the most delusional self-serving things I ever read. Please educate yourself.

      You deserve all those thumbs down.

      Ugh.

  2. “The first world is feminist.”

    Imperialism much? There’s revolutionary feminism going on in the so-called “third world”. The first world is currently exerting military pressure on the rest of the world to exploit it, and that to me is the opposite of feminist.

    • Yeh, that is exactly what I thought. Us brown women in so called “third world” countries are always treated as powerless bits of flesh that need to be rescued by white women (notice how White Man’s Burden has been shifted to White Woman’s Burden). We are brainless zombies, without any agency of our own.

      And these same feminists would have no qualms about calling for military intervention in “third world” countries, without acknowledging the disastrous effects that Western intervention has had in the past, and the harm it is STILL instilling (e.g. Cold War era intervention in Afghanistan).

      Truth is, we have revolutionary feminists who work within our communities, in grassroots movements, to make lives for women better. And so many of so-called third world countries had voting rights for women a long before the West did.

      I’m not saying we live in a rosy world, where women’s rights is perfect. But I am not longer standing for this Imperialist bullshit that spews from these so-called feminists.

      • You are using “third-world” incorrectly. African countries for example is predominately third world as does not mean poor but means that the countries politics do not fall under first world (democracy) or second world (comunism) and therefore they are third world. It does not refer to a standard of living.

        • That is ridiculous. India is labeled as “third world”, but is the world’s largest democracy. Being democratic has very little to do with these labels.

          These labels of “first world” and “third world” are used as neo-colonial labels on poor countries, to allow the West to see us as simple representations of where to interfere and which countries can be defined as suitable to give monetary “aid” to (translate: suffocating debts and a set of rules to hand over political and economical sovereignty). It is almost always only used to describe countries which are ex-colonies of Western Europe.

          Nowadays the term “developing country” is considered more appropriate; but, as you can see by that Caitlin Moran quote, the idea of a “third world” is still very much rampant, and creates the same images of powerlessness and poverty in the eye of the West.

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  4. “You can’t be a feminist if you in one way or another hurt other marginalized groups.”
    I’m sorry, but you can. If you advocate for the equality of women you’re a feminist. That’s the definition of feminism.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think addressing racism, ableism etc.is AS IMPORTANT as addressing discrimination against women. Intersectionality is extremely important. But the above sort of what is “true feminism” rhetoric has been exploited way too much by many people. People keep churning out their own version of feminism which marginalizes the rest. In this case it’s justified, but you get my point. So lets not get carried away here. That’s my opinion.

    PS: Fully agree with what @Amy said. I’m sick of western, especially white, feminists ignoring feminism in the “third world”.

    • You can call yourself a “feminist,” but you won’t be a very good one. After all, if you call yourself a feminist and contribute to a racist/queerphobic/ableist/etc culture, you’re hurting some women in the process. A feminist who’s okay with hurting other women, or throwing them under the bus, isn’t all that effective.

      Lesbian women exist, trans* women exist, women of Color exist, poor women exist, women with disabilities exist, women in non-western countries exist, and so on.

      …and to be honest, I have absolutely no problem marginalizing people like Catherine Brennan, Germaine Greer, and such from current feminism. We have to accept that they’re part of feminist history, but also acknowledge that they’re not the kind of activist we aim to be.

    • oh i see so only a certain KIND of woman should be helped by feminism? don’t make excuses. also what are these “versions” of feminism you refer to? because i hope you’re not referring to womanism lol

      • Just a few of the versions of feminism which exist:
        <sex-positive feminism
        <liberal feminism
        <radical feminism
        <ecofeminism
        <third-wave feminism
        and, among many others,
        <intersectional feminism.
        And where does any of that comment refer to helping only certain kinds of women? In the contrary, I see only inclusiveness, of all 'kinds' of women.

  5. Great article. I think every Caitlin Moran/Lena Dunham/Kathleen Hanna in feminism needs to read this (there are so many. Jesus).

  6. I love this article. There is one thing I’d really like to point out though; it is very difficult for people that aren’t disabled, trans*, etc. to truly grasp and understand the issue of addressing such groups. When white, middle class, cisgender, hetero surroundings and upbringing are all you know, that’s all you really know. While this does not mean that the issues presented in the article are to be minimized, it means that the focus should not be vilifying feminists who don’t have the perspective that other women do; the focus should be seeking to educate the mainstream.

    Moreover, having actually read Caitlin Moran’s book, I think it should also be mentioned that the quote regarding feminism and vaginas was taken out of context in the article. The point of it was that many cis-hetero women have a slanted view of what feminism really is in their head. They think about Andrea Dworkin-esque feminism and bra burning 60s feminists. This clearly is not so. Moran’s purpose in that quote was to point out to these women that feminism has evolved. It’s not longer about escaping the kitchen and refusing to make sandwiches; it’s about taking charge of our bodies and ourselves.

    P.S., I’m a feminist with Asperger’s Syndrome.

    • So feminism has ‘evolved’ from ‘us’ escaping the kitchen and taking charge of ‘our’ bodies, as long as the ‘us’ in question is someone who has a vagina? Oh, well that’s okay then. :-P

      The only context in which the use of ‘vagina’ as a synecdoche for ‘woman’ would not be cissexist is one in which it’s being critiqued. Is Moran doing that? Because if she’s not, regardless of anything else she might be trying to achieve, she’s reinforcing cissexist ways of thinking, and implying that feminism is for women with a certain type of body (in this specific case, one with a vagina).

      • Again, you’re misinterpreting the message. The purpose of said quote was to put feminism into a different perspective for cis women. In talking to people around me, I’ve heard lost of cis women say “I’m not a feminist because of [x]“. The variable usually is related to some preconceived misconception.

        At the same time, this book was not necessarily directed towards anyone besides cis women. The title was “How to be a Woman”. Moreover, the book was not about feminism alone. Much of it was memoir based, if you recall. In fact, it was more of a memoir than a feminism manual.

        While I am not saying that there aren’t flaws with this book (there really are), there are some contextual details that need to be pointed out in analysis.

        • Oh, and btw, you missed these quotes:

          (On her childhood cheery disposition: “I have all the joyful ebullience of a [r-----.]” [Page 5.]

          (On burlesque dancing): “… it has a campy, [t-----], fetish element to it.” [Page 175.]

          Mod note: Slurs, even when quoted, are not okay. You will either censor them out or not reference them at all. Do not trigger bystanders in the conversation.

          I’ll have an explicit comment policy up in a few days.

        • “At the same time, this book was not necessarily directed towards anyone besides cis women. The title was ‘How to be a Woman’”

          Trans women are women too. Why wouldn’t they want to read a book called “How to be a Woman”?

          • In fact, from the title alone, trans women would especially be drawn to a book called “How to be a Woman.” Many of us are seeking “the right way” to be a socially conscious, right-thinking woman. It’s truly disheartening to read:
            Step 1: Have a Vagina.
            Step 2: See Step 1.

          • I personally am not attracted to a book called “How to be a Woman” because who the fuck is some random writer to tell me what being a woman is about?

            I live being a woman, every damn day, after all.

          • As I mentioned much earlier (and I feel this is really often forgotten), not everybody is as enlightened as you are or as Nyux is or any of the mods here. Not everybody has the understanding that there are other demographics that feel underrepresented. Not everybody is perfectly politically correct in every way. While it is necessary to be understanding and respectful of everyone, it bears repeating that part of this is educating others.

            The description of the book furthers the demographic:
            “Though they have the vote and the Pill and haven’t been burned as witches since 1727, life isn’t exactly a stroll down the catwalk for modern women. They are beset by uncertainties and questions: Why are they supposed to get Brazilians? Why do bras hurt? Why the incessant talk about babies? And do men secretly hate them?

            …How To Be a Woman lays bare the reasons why female rights and empowerment are essential issues not only for women today but also for society itself.”

            It bears saying that I don’t think that there aren’t problems with this book. I’m saying that Caitlin Moran defined (and most certainly alienated) certain demographics.

            Most writers have to define a demographic to truly narrow down on a topic.

          • Perhaps (by which I mean ‘Obviously’), I made the same mistake of generalizing from my personal experience. I know that when I was desperate for information back when I first started to come to terms with my own trans identity, I would have gladly reached for a book from a feminist author titled “How to Be a Woman” and I would have been terribly disappointed to read ONLY VAGINAS NEED APPLY. My sincere apologies for any offense.

        • This is absurd. Of course not everyone is educated about issues pertaining to oppressed groups to which they do not belong. But Caitlin Moran isn’t “everyone.” She’s a well-known author claiming to publicly represent feminists as a whole. What sort of responsible author/activist doesn’t do everything they can to understand the movement they’re supposed to represent. Thanks to the hard work of bloggers like Nyux and others, this information is finally readily available for those who look. The least she could do is a Google search.

          (And just to head off your “but she doesn’t KNOW she needs to do the research, it’s not like she hasn’t been called out before. Check her Twitter, particularly the Tweet about WoC and “Girls.” TW for racism.)

          Is her book titled How to be a Cis Woman? No? Because nowhere in the description of her book nor in the article this letter is addressing do I see anything which specifically marks her target demographic as cis. (And even if she were speaking only to cis folks, that’s really no excuse. Don’t cis folks need to hear about trans* issues, too?)

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  8. Asking a question like “do you have a vagina” doesn’t favor cisgender white women, it tells them to wake the fuck up. Every transwoman I know is very in tune with feminism. They don’t need to be reminded that they are feminists. In my experience, it’s far more common for cisgender women to take their privilege for granted and actually believe that feminism is irrelevant to their lives.

    • Please put a space between trans* and woman. It’s not as if transwoman is a new noun of its own; trans* is an adjective describing certain women.

      Asking a question like “do you have a vagina” doesn’t favor cisgender white women, it tells them to wake the fuck up.

      …no, it favors cis women, and I think that it’s ridiculous to think that trans* women by and by agree with feminism.

      Transphobia — just like misogyny — isn’t a lesson plan, it doesn’t necessarily nudge people towards feminism as an ideology. It’s just an oppressive condition.

      • I apologise if i’ve misunderstood your meaning here, but as far as terminology goes, ‘transwoman’ and ‘transman’ are both terms that i have seen used, and believe have some currency. Their efficacy or accuracy may be questionable, but they do exist, and are used.

        Not that i disagree with the rest of your point. I have known trans* people who have expressed deep prejudice; i think it is misguided to suggest that being trans* automatically makes a feminist.

  9. “one of your premises, I think — that all or nearly all women (or others who have benefitted from feminism) are feminists is wrong.” — moran does not say this. the blogger misconstrued moran’s words. instead, moran argues that women /should/ be feminists because feminism has brought us so many great things.

    when moran says, “So here is the quick way of working out if you are a feminist: A: Do you have a vagina? And B: do you want to be in charge of it? If you said yes to both, then congratulations, you’re a feminist.” she is not being very clear. i inferred that she means that a woman who wants to be in charge of her own vagina — /and believes all women should be able to as well/ — is a feminist. but this is not specified. the blogger is assuming that moran didn’t mean this and doesn’t back it up with quotes. btw, i believe one can be racist and still think that any woman should have power over her own vagina just because she’s a woman, however you define “woman,”
    regardless of race.

    “Supporting feminism has to mean supporting all women out there and being a true ally in their fights to end their marginalization” – i agree with part of this: not in supporting all women, since many are sexist, but yes in being a true ally in their fights to end their marginalization. separately, moran is clear in her support of ending sexism in general against women, so i’d say she agrees with the 2nd part of the sentence i just quoted, just like i do.

    “you seemed to be coming from a financially secure, white, straight, cis standpoint” — yes, but for half her life she was working class. it was pretty bad, according to her essays.

    “In promoting your feminism, you white-washed the horrible, sordid history of feminist movements.” — what is she referring to here? moran insists that sexism has been around forever, that women have been screwed over by men for millenia. i will say that she mentions how women can now vote, etc and doesn’t get into racial or other issues. she’s focusing on privileges that now benefit all women, such as voting, regardless of race or sexual orientation. that’s my interpretation.

    “You know, unless you’ve actually gone and handed in your vote to parliament or, you know, to the White House, you are a feminist, and you live in a feminist world. The first world is feminist.” (moran) i don’t understand what she means here. i think i need more context. i’d have to listen to 32 min of an interview and i’m not going to do that now, but i will later. Re: “The first world is feminist” — yeah. NO. agreed. dunnow what that’s about. i think she’s making a general comparison to the middle east and other uber-misogynistic regions. still, i don’t buy it.

    maybe the blogger can revisit her letter after reading the book, because she is extrapolating a whole lot from one short interview…

    • The problem is that Moran is making it sound like being a feminist isn’t work. Feminism is action, not just feeling. “Believing” in women’s right doesn’t do too much good unless I actually do something about it. The “vagina test” also makes it sound like reproductive rights it the ONLY feminist issue.

    • when moran says, “So here is the quick way of working out if you are a feminist: A: Do you have a vagina? And B: do you want to be in charge of it? If you said yes to both, then congratulations, you’re a feminist.” she is not being very clear. i inferred that she means that a woman who wants to be in charge of her own vagina — /and believes all women should be able to as well/ — is a feminist. but this is not specified. the blogger is assuming that moran didn’t mean this and doesn’t back it up with quotes.

      I agree, you’re giving Moran the benefit of the doubt while I am not. I’m just looking at what Moran said directly, and I don’t feel like putting words in her mouth. If you think she meant “and believes all women should be able to as well,” you back yourself up with quotes.

      btw, i believe one can be racist and still think that any woman should have power over her own vagina just because she’s a woman, however you define “woman,”
      regardless of race.

      Sure, that’s true, but that doesn’t make you a feminist.

      “you seemed to be coming from a financially secure, white, straight, cis standpoint” — yes, but for half her life she was working class. it was pretty bad, according to her essays.

      I know. She talks about her poverty in the interview, after all, and in the book. Her past doesn’t change the views she’s expressing now.

      “In promoting your feminism, you white-washed the horrible, sordid history of feminist movements.” — what is she referring to here?

      I mean that Moran’s version of feminism seems woefully unaware of all the different conflicts that have gone on between “feminists” and people of color, lesbians, trans* people, and so on. She read lots of feminist thinkers when she was young, but she doesn’t seem to have remembered anything about the history and evolution of feminism as a movement or an ideology.

      i will say that she mentions how women can now vote, etc and doesn’t get into racial or other issues. [emphasis mine]

      That’s sort of the problem. Racial issues are women’s issues, and thus feminist issues. Women of color exist, after all, and we have our own problems. Same goes for disabled women, queer women, and so on. Her book, supposedly a mainstream introduction to feminism, completely leaves any woman who is not white, financially secure, straight, etc. in the dust.

  10. There is a problem with an attack like this–an attack on a writer (based on an interview) for not being inclusive enough seems a little silly. A book would have to be a tome to include everyone, and an interview would take days. How could anyone speak to every other experience? When men do it, they’re accused of “mansplaining,” so how could one woman be expected to do so?

    I’ve actually read the book (and I heard the same Fresh Air interview) and I assure you that the context of the vagina-centered quotations lie clearly in the current cultural climate that has forced attention back to reproductive rights. I’m confident that Moran in no way intended to make anyone without a vagina feel excluded from feminism. And frankly, the culture at large should be concerned about the attention being put on lady parts.

    As a college professor, I find many young women are hesitant to embrace the term “feminism” because they feel that it implies man-hating and militant. With the book, Moran tackles a challenge that I tackle all the time: To convince young women (and men) that feminism still has work to do, that only the vocal minority of feminists hate men, and that they shouldn’t turn their backs on feminism because it has benefited them (they are in college, after all) and, here in the States, politicians are taking steps to turn the clock back on the women’s rights forty years.

    For the blogger to point out all the non-mainstream examples of people who have benefited from feminism seems to be missing the point.

    • [A]n attack on a writer (based on an interview) for not being inclusive enough seems a little silly. A book would have to be a tome to include everyone, and an interview would take days. How could anyone speak to every other experience? When men do it, they’re accused of “mansplaining,” so how could one woman be expected to do so?

      To be quite honest, that sounds like a bit of a strawman argument.

      When I take her to task on being exclusive, I mean that she does not seem to act as if any experience other than hers (or people like her) is either valid or worth talking about.

      (On her childhood cheery disposition: “I have all the joyful ebullience of a [r-----.]” [Page 5.] (source)</a

      ^ Those are not the words of someone who treats other people’s experiences with respect.

      That is what I criticize her for.

      I’m confident that Moran in no way intended to make anyone without a vagina feel excluded from feminism.

      Then please explain why Moran saw it fit to use the t-word in her book.

      (On burlesque dancing): “… it has a campy, [t-----], fetish element to it.” [Page 175.] (source, same comment as above)

      For the blogger to point out all the non-mainstream examples of people who have benefited from feminism seems to be missing the point.

      I don’t particularly think that it is missing the point. Moran’s idea was that if you have benefitted from feminism, you not only should be, but are a feminist. She talks about feminism like an opt-out ideology, not an opt-in one. She’s wrong, and I use those extremely common “non-mainstream” scenarios to illustrate why.

    • @Du: YES. I’m a white, gay, cis lady whose three white, straight, cis younger sisters are ashamed/angered/turned off by the word “feminism,” because our Catholic, conservative mother is a Phyllis Schlafly devotee. After reading the book, it’s clear to me also that Moran is not being intentionally exclusive here. She banks on the understanding of queer/trans/other marginalized groups as being more sympathetic/tuned into the movement, slash NOT BEING IN NEED OF CONVINCING THAT THEY ARE FEMINISTS. (And how could she not assume that? If she’s spent any time on the internet and observed discussions like these, she would see thoughtful people having thoughtful conversations about how they can help improve things for everyone.) The people who need convincing are often those like my sad, sad Republican mother and sisters: women whose privilege has afforded them the luxury of being “above” such “angry feminism,” above the struggle for power or status. Those women who need convincing often are straight, white, and wealthy, and have been misled into thinking that committing to feminism requires 1) anger, 2) hatred of men, 3) abandonment of a “traditionally” feminine appearance. Moran is just trying to reassure those silly, skittish people that hey, all feminism means is that you have a basic respect for women.

      @Nyux, it is great to look out for the underdogs/those often left out of the conversation and I applaud your desire to do that. But it’s counterproductive to attack those who are very obviously on the side of Right. And I agree with what @mumaboutthehouse said below: that by making this a very academic argument (and shaming people about the proper punctuation/spelling/spacing of words in the comments section, which they might be trying to use for the first time – give them some credit for being brave enough to participate in the discussion, for chrissake), you’re excluding more people than you’re including.

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  12. This was a very interesting letter and I agree that the past atrocities involved with the movement of feminisms need to be engaged with. However, I do not think its right that we put the full burden of representation on anyone. We can only speak from our own place and space so of course Caitlin Moran is going to be speaking from “a financially secure, white, straight, cis standpoint”. The author of this letter finds this “really disconcerting”. I’d call it honest. Also, once they’ve read How To Be A Woman I hope they’re realise that actual Moran grew up in severe poverty. Yes there are problems with her idea that “everyone with a vagina must automatically be a feminist” stance (where does this leave blokes?!) but I also think that she, all of us, can only speak from our own experiences. It seems to me that the most important thing we can do is to become aware of the views of others, and seek to educate ourselves and become more open and honest with and about one another.

    • It seems to me that the most important thing we can do is to become aware of the views of others, and seek to educate ourselves and become more open and honest with and about one another.

      I agree completely with that completely, and it’s quite beautifully phrased.

      My problem with Caitlin Moran is that she didn’t seem to care about other people’s experiences. She uses the t-word, for example, in her book. Lately, there’s been a huge controversy because she said some racist and homophobic things on her twitter feed.

      I still call her actions and her writing both disconcerting and ignorant, I’m afraid, though I wish I didn’t have to.

  13. a beautiful and thoughtful argument, unlike many of Caitlin Moran’s. any person who claims to be a feminist should acknowledge and respect the viewpoints and experiences of all members of oppressed groups, not just the ones they identify with. thankyou!

  14. In saying if you have a vagina you are a feminist I’m not sure Moran was saying this was the only group able to be feminists. In fact I’m sure in her book she quotes her husband as being the best feminist she knows. In this statement she is trying to encourage readers to adopt the feminist views that should be held by all – but definitely by women. Feminism should invite people in not shut them out by having a strict criteria of beliefs you should adopt to join. As moran says the foundation is wanting to have control of your own vagina. When did believing in equality become an exclusive group for those that only live a certain way and agree with the loudest voices? Also it must be clear she is not excluding women or a certain race or ethnicity. Also whilst not supporting theses views why can I not be a feminist and a racist? I can be a homophobic and anti racism. i can be a pro choice Catholic. Yes I see the argument that you are not completely ‘for’ all women if you are a racist feminist.. But what woman is for all women. We are as varied as the cultures/societies families we are born in to. Prejudice doesn’t make sense that’s why it’s prejudice. I am mixed race and am anti racism but I am still capable of racism. I could be against racism and still pro patriarchy. There is diversity out there and whilst prejudiced views are not for me I would welcome somebody to an anti racist community wishing to move away from racism but who was still homophobic for example. By knowing people i can seek to change/develop their views. In making groups exclusive with extreme views I encourage prejudice. I can’t help but think that some voices of the feminist movement are doing exactly what oppressed groups always do which is attack themselves by being internally prejudiced excluding the “I haven’t decided yet” the “I don’t know-ers” and more importantly the “my views aren’t as extreme yet-is this for me-ers” of which there are many

    • Feminism should invite people in not shut them out by having a strict criteria of beliefs you should adopt to join.

      Feminism is the movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.

      You must at least subscribe to that idea to be a feminist. There is, in fact, something you must live up to in order to have a positive feminist effect on the world. Feminism is not compatible with every single ideology out there, and to claim so is laughable.

      Also whilst not supporting theses views why can I not be a feminist and a racist? I can be a homophobic and anti racism. i can be a pro choice Catholic. Yes I see the argument that you are not completely ‘for’ all women if you are a racist feminist.. But what woman is for all women.

      First off… me; I’m a woman in support of raising the condition of all women, and of all people. I know many people who feel similarly. It’s disingenuous to act against a feminist ideology by saying, “not everyone is good enough, let’s take what we got.”

      “Feminism” + transphobia ignores how trans* women and trans* men are pressured into subscribing to hyper-femininity and hyper-masculinity respectively, for example.

      “Feminism” + classism, for example, ignores how even after Roe v. Wade, without proper insurance coverage, it can be impossible to get an abortion; it ignores that women of color are more likely to face judgment for being poor even though white people access welfare more (ooh, an intersection with racism, who would have guessed?).

      “Feminism” + homophobia, for example, ignores how lesbians are over-sexed by a patriarchal, heterosexist culture.

      Need I fucking go on? Because I can. There are tons more oppressions to list.

      You will always leave some women behind if you subscribe to oppressive ideologies and try to call yourself a feminist. You are not achieving the requirements needed to act in a positive feminist way.

      • Firstly it’s so bizarre to me to have what appears to be an academic debate by taking text and removing it from the context in which it was meant to be understood. I AGREE with where you are coming from and share your values. But these are not the values of the masses. so to take feminism forward it needs to look at how people reach the varied perspectives they reach with understanding with the aim of getting as many people round the table as possible to express their different views on what feminism is for them. the definition of feminism provided provides huge scope for different shades in oppinion and expression. we are not all the same. for example i have spoken to people who have just found out that feminism exists. they may hold prejudiced views on other things that they have no idea are prejudice as is it out of the context of their experience. For example homophobia in some parts of the world (not rightly) but doesn’t exist as a prejudice because it is so ingrained in to the culture that it is not ok in the same way that child sex offences are viewed here in western culture. I would NEVER excuse these beliefs but I can not turn to another woman and say she is not a feminist because her culture has not given her the opportunity to embrace it as I have. I am passionate about fighting all prejudice. The pejudice that exists within feminism is one area.
        I didn’t mean you are not for all women in simple terms. I am for all women but not what all women believe. How can I be. One woman expression of her relationship with being a woman is hers. I don’t own it and neither does feminism. I am open minded and liberal but I have prejudices and these prejudices impact as much on women as they do on men. I am complex and human.
        You can be a feminist at the beginning of your journey in to feminism and find power and strength from calling yourself a feminist without being enlightened to all the prejudices of the world and without standing in support of all women you have never known and have yet to meet. Some people’s worlds are perhaps not as broad as others.
        If you reduce people to academic arguments (reduce not disregard) you ignore the diversity no text or thesis could ever cover.
        You are closing feminism off to those with education and privilege and if you close the door you are shutting out the voices of women who really need to be heard and creating further insecuroty in what it means to be a woman who supports other women. oppression reduces the confidence of women..no?

  15. I had to google what the “T-word” and the “R-word” were because I honestly couldn’t work them out from the context… and am a bit staggered that Moran used them. It doesn’t take a great deal of reflection to grok that those terms are offensive. I would have expected more from her.

    But then I remember: Being oppressed does not make a person enlightened; it does not confer virtue, or a capacity for empathy. Sometimes it just makes a person more entrenched in their self-absorption.

    There’s nothing special about fighting your *own* oppression — that’s just self-interest. Until a person is ready to extend to all people the same freedoms, dignity and respect they claim for themselves, they should be careful about thinking they are progressive.

    • Exactly!!! I don’t even know how people can say “Some people can be racist and feminist, homophobic and feminist”. Are you serius? Of course you can’t! All opression ideologies are totally incompatible with feminism. And anyone who read Moran’s book, twitter feed and interviews can tell that she may mean well but ends up excluding WoC, trans people, poor women. Being a black cis woman from a third world country I can honestly say feminists like Moran and Lena Dunham contribute to my opression almost as much as non-feminist people. It is not only the white, cis, ablebodied, straight, financially secure woman that suffers. How hard is it to understand that we must fight for ALL women?

  16. Pingback: Patronizing won’t help anything: tips about being an ally | Life as Improvisation

  17. Pingback: Is Caitlin Moran A Bad Feminist? « Female Gazing

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  21. 1) Feminists struggle against the existing male-female power differential in society.Whatever puts us in a “female” or powerless and abused position is irrelevant. It isn’t a physical vagina – or a mix of genitalia – that makes a person male or female. Gender is ultimately revealed by the position we hold in society. Such biases also affect men – studies show an amazingly strong correlation between height (six foot or above) and CEO status among the Fortune 500. The same goes for U.S. presidents – with the added bias toward those with a full head of hair.

    The feminist movement was begun by white upper middle class women because they were at that time the ones who had the education/knowledge and power to make a stand.True upper class women are seldom bothered with such things because their wealth buys them immunity from most power differentials. Women of color and other minorities know that early feminists were actually slow on the uptake. The power train of inequality has a much longer and more brutal history for female minorities whatever their ilk.

    The current crisis for feminism is the seeming inability to fight back against a media saturated and media brainwashed electorate. I know very aware young women today who are wholly ignorant of their own mysoginistic behavior toward themselves and others. If feminists thought cultural training was a problem in the past, well, welcome to the brave new world. The average five year old has watched more hours of TV than it takes to get a bachelor’s degree. While many young women consider themselves enlightened, they have neither the interest nor the ability to empower themselves.Or even foolishly claim there is no need to do so.
    I believe radical militant feminism needs to be reborn and relaunched in a most aggressive manner. Take civil disobedience to the max:

    1) Form interstate anonymous groups that can be called upon to investigate and mete out swift justice for violence against women. Let a man have fear in his heart if beating a woman or raping a woman even enters his mind. The legal system has never and will never appropriately address these issues. And it looks as if we are losing any ground we ever won.

    2) Form the same kind of groups to provide abortion, mornuing after pill, and any other form of needed reproductive assistance. The most wealthy and educated women need to give back to society by helping to ensure that women’s rights continue to move forward.

    Apologies for any typos. Texting from a cell phone and this site acts up if I try to make corrections.

    P.S. Physically I match the media ideal for a female.The face, the body, it makes no difference. And I have also achieved the highest level of education (PhD). Again, it makes no difference. If anything, I am more disappointed and disillusioned than most.

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  23. I want to thank you for this post.. I read “How to Be a Woman,” a few years ago and I enjoyed the book. I was curious to see the reaction people had in the States. After the controversy with Lena Duhnam’s “Girls” cast containing no POC, I was extremely disappointed with Moran defending Duhnam and not even attempting to understand why WOC were pissed off. I found your critique to be thought provoking and captured how I felt as well.
    I also want to thank you, for showing me how my language might exclude others from feminist conversations when I don’t intend it to. I look forward to reading more of your posts.

  24. I wish I could find better words at the moment…but it’s not in the cards and I can’t let this post go by without commenting and sharing…this is the BEST piece of Feminist writing I’ve read in a while. Fuck. Yeah.

  25. Wonderfully written, Nyux. However, I find an error in your argument promoting the errors in someone else’s argument. You say:
    “Supporting feminism has to mean supporting all women out there and being a true ally in their fights to end their marginalization, but so few people understand the huge variety of women out there. There are women of color, lesbians, trans* women, poor women, fat women, disabled women, neuroatypical women, asexual women, genderqueer women, genderfluid women…”

    Specifically, I think you are erring as soon as you say:
    “Supporting feminism has to mean supporting all women”

    You’re right. A vagina and the desire to control it doesn’t have shit to do with feminism, but I think you’re wrong in saying that supporting feminism and supporting all women are synonymous. It’s a categorical error to say that:
    “supporting feminism = supporting all women”

    It’s more along the lines of,
    “supporting feminism = supporting the femininity that is oppressed in our society”

    And I think this is why the movement isn’t publicly recognized currently as well; there is 50% (or a little less, but most of the men aren’t on-board) because they’re consistently told that sadly mistaken line,
    “If you are a feminist, you support women.”

    “If you are a feminist, you support the emancipation of femininity.”

    And, every human has feminine and masculine traits, so you technically are supporting humankind, feminism is a sort of pre-requisite to humanism and a pre-requisite for people to become “Fully Human,” as Virginia Woolf would say.

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