Who Is This Fabulous British Feminist You Never Heard Of?

What women really think about news, politics, and culture.
July 15 2012 10:11 PM

They Don’t Make Feminists This Outrageous Anymore

The drunken, furious, delightful life of Caitlin Moran. Her U.K. best-seller, How To Be a Woman, comes to the U.S.

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Next to that was a photo of Moran and her husband, a music critic and radio documentarian, taken on a windy beach shortly after they met. She was only 17 then; her face round, her smile wide and genuine. They married when Moran was 24; by the time she was 28, they had their two daughters. Such traditional choices seemed surprising for such a wild child. “It’s always seen as this binary thing with women,” Moran explained. “You’re either going to be rock ‘n’ roll or you’re going to be a housewife. It’s either cupcakes or crack. I wanted both. And I got it.” She paused. “Well, not the crack.” then added jokingly, “I quite liked crystal meth, though ...”

Moran’s oldest daughter, whom she calls Lizzie in her writing, is 11, nearly the age Moran was in the opening scene of How To Be A Woman. She clamored into the kitchen, dressed in a school uniform of a gray skirt, white blouse, and maroon sweater, searching for her copy of The Hunger Games. “I’ll tell you,” Moran said after the girl left, “the greatest luxury is to not make your kids as worried as you were. I would rather my daughters be unexceptional but happy. Though the thing is, that they are exceptional and happy.”

They are also feminists. As toddlers, Moran taught them to shout, “Thanks for that, the patriarchy!” whenever they scraped a knee. At age 8, when Lizzie questioned Barbie’s improbable curves, Moran had her draw pictures of what the doll ought to look like (“An outline that was kind of representative,” Moran said, “feet big enough to stand on and a mono-brow because Lizzie has a mono-brow. Hair on her legs. And she made one breast slightly larger than the other, so I was like, Thanks.”) For Halloween last year, the girls dressed as suffragettes.

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 Figuring out how to introduce them to her beloved pop music has proved trickier. “I didn’t want them to reject pop,” Moran said. “But the best stuff that’s being made at the minute is by women who aren’t wearing many clothes.” It’s not sexiness that bothers her—rock ’n’ roll is supposed to be hot—it’s the lack of variety, the soul-numbing repetition of one, wildly unrealistic porn-inflected ideal for women. “Adele is the only woman for years whose been allowed to get to No. 1 wearing sleeves,” Moran said. For awhile her politics bumped uncomfortably up against her passions. Then she found the funny. “What I finally came down to is that we would pity Rihanna,” she said. “I told my girls, ‘Look at Rihanna: She’s one of the biggest pop stars in the world. She’s really famous, really powerful, really rich. Yet in every single video she can only wear panties. Poor Rhianna! We’ll know when she is properly powerful and successful when we see her in a lovely cardigan.’ ”

 So many waves of feminism have washed up on America’s shores. Moran’s hopes for her own impact initially come off, like her book itself, as deceptively personal, the dreams of an awkward girl turned celebrity journalist. “I just want Tina Fey to be my best friend,” she said. “And Lena Dunham. And Oprah, too. I just want those three chicks to read it and say, ‘You did good.’ Just those three.” She paused. “And Roseanne Barr. Four. I only really want to sell four copies in America. If I can sell it to those four chicks … and Hillary. OK five. And Michelle Obama. OK six. If I could get those six women to read it …”

Each of those women has publicly struggled with the complexities of “how to be a woman” and, in doing so, expanded the possibilities. And that, in the end is all—and everything—Moran wants: for women to be able to truly define themselves, to author their own fates. “I absolutely do totally want a revolution,” she said. “Because I’ve got kids, and for my own peace of mind I need the world to change before they get out there. I totally need the world to change entirely so they can be safe and happy and never get to 17 and look in the mirror and say, ‘I’m fat and inadequate and there is no place in this world for me.’

"So that’s why I have to change the world. I have six years to make it into a feminist paradise so my little girls won’t get screwed up.”

Peggy Orenstein is the author of, most recently, Cinderella Ate My Daughter and a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine.