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Have you ever wanted to give a book a hug? That’s the feeling elicited by the works of Caitlin Moran, who became a global feminist phenomenon with her books How to Be a Woman in 2011 and How to Build a Girl in 2014. Before the friendly firebrand launches her new book of political and pop-culture essays, Moranifesto, at Strand on November 29, she spoke to us about post-election blues, NYC margaritas and Woody Allen.
Hello Darling, you’re alright?
Is this still a good time?
Yeah, absolutely. I’m just engaged in the increasingly fruitless task of trying to write a funny column every week for the Times in a world where Donald Trump has won an election. So join me in the pits of despair with a chain smoking habit that will probably kill me. Hooray!
They keep showing the news at my gym, which defeats the purpose of working out to try and feel better.
It makes you want to lie down on the treadmill and let your head be sucked into the mechanism.
What was it like watching the U.S. election?
All we’ve got on our side is a kind of feeling of schadenfreude, because given Brexit, we’ve already been quite stupid, so we’re a couple of months into your level of stupid now. All we can keep saying is, “At least this shit is 2,000 miles away.” In my case at least, I’m white. Thank God for that [laughs]. Were I any nearer or any darker, I would be very, very despairing.
The chapter in Moranifesto about New York made me feel happy to be here.
You realize that some cities are kind of worlds of their own; they’re options for the future that we could expand out worldwide. That’s why every tourist who goes to New York takes away with them the seed of: “WOW! Things could be done a different way!” You have millions of people getting on with each other in this incredible place where everything feels possible. That’s a great template for the future—this gives me as much hope as Star Trek. The most amazing moment I had was two years ago. I was at a Mexican restaurant, ordering the most incredible margaritas…because you know how to do a Margarita in America. If you try to have one here, it’s like lime juice with an ice cube in it, and someone going: fuck you! So I got the bill and realized I hadn’t gotten my purse, and I must have left it on the subway bench. I went back and it was still there. Everything I’d ever been led to believe about Manhattan had proven to be entirely untrue. Maybe people thought it was a bomb. In which case: thanks, Osama Bin Laden for making people suspicious about packages. That worked out well for me.
One of the issues of this election was that people aren’t communicating. Do you worry that your writing won’t reach the right people?
Ninety percent of the energy that goes into writing is trying to write in such a way that I catch people off guard. I work for The Times, and over 20 years, I have been asked roughly 47 million times why I don’t work for the The Guardian, which is a more left-wing paper. Well, there’s no point! The privilege of working for a [Rupert] Murdoch–owned newspaper that is read by the establishment is that I’m probably the only gay-loving, Marxist, raised-on-welfare writer that they’ll ever read. A lot of writing is masturbatory and done for fun of it, whereas I want to fuck your mind. That’s the best game to be in, man; that’s why we invented words! That’s the whole point!
Photograph: Courtesy Lucid Representation
Since you wrote How to Be a Woman, the term feminism has become more popular, and many worry that it’s being misused.
The purpose of writing the book was to get that word back into currency. I’ve been reading pieces lately with titles like, “Did Feminism let Hillary down?” and the thing is, there’s no such thing as “feminism.” There’s no University of Feminism. It’s what we turn it into. It’s a dream. It’s a wish. It’s a concept. It’s a communal patchwork effort, which is why even if people pay the vaguest lip service, that’s spreading that idea like a positive virus. With things like female Ghostbusters out there, girls think they can bust ghosts now. It is involving more people in the idea that women have something to contribute to the world, and look great in jumpsuits.
That movie is fucking awesome.
I loved Ghostbusters. Me and my sister five years ago went: what’s the next film we should work on? We were in New York, sitting under the 30 Rock building before interviewing Tina Fey, smoking cigarettes and drinking vodka from a paper bag, and we just wrote down the word LADY GHOSTBUSTERS. Just like: it’s gotta be. We wanted [Melissa] McCarthy in it.We were going to get Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Then Paul Feig came along and stole it, and we were so angry!
You and your sister produce a TV series about your childhoods, Raised by Wolves, and you’re prepping for the film version of the autobiographical How to Build a Girl. What’s it like working on multiple incarnations of yourself?
It’s a Woody Allen deal. He’s made a career out of neurotic Jewish guys tackling love and mortality and existentialism. My version is always going to be fat, white, working-class girls obsessed with sex and wanting to change the world. Because we’re not really often served those kinds of roles. If you write a list of the stories about those kinds of girls, there’s not that many. And I feel fairly comfortable in saying the world could probably handle three or four. Writing about teenage girls is key for me, because we still don’t know what women can be yet, as we have had 100,000 years of patriarchy. We have no idea what women would be like if they had made themselves outside of these structures and these constraints. If you look at the massive rises in eating disorders, anxiety and medication in teenage girls, clearly a generation of girls are looking at the job of being a woman and going: I don’t want to apply for that. That looks horrible. However amazing you are, you’re going to get torn down for being fat, for wearing the wrong shoes, for being shrill, for being strident, for being weird, for fucking too much, for not fucking enough, for wearing the wrong clothes. When our children are becoming depressed and self-harming, that is something very wrong with society that I would suggest a lot of lighthearted films by me will solve.
I’m trained from your book to not ask what you are wearing when we do an interview.
I can tell you now: it’s a second hand fur coat and a pair of boots, because I have been sitting in my back garden smoking for the last three hours. I look like a member of Game of Thrones. I look like Jon Snow, but with cigarettes.
Caitlin Moran is at Strand Book Store on Tue 29 7–8pm; free with book purchase or $15.