Jackie Frank and Caitlin Moran. Photo: Rachel Rebibo
An unlikely hero
Jackie Frank: You are best known for your “manual”, How To Be A Woman, which has sold more than a million copies in 26 countries. One review said the book basically argues for more joy, more female happiness, and encourages us not to beat ourselves up. Please explain.
Caitlin Moran: I just get this sense that men wake up in the morning and go, “My name is Dave. I’m putting on some trousers. I’ll get into my work clothes as comfortably and quickly as I can and then I’m going to go fishing or play football or have some fun and sit in my shed.” Men are just enjoying their lives brilliantly, as they should. Women wake up and they are immediately like, “Oh no, I shouldn’t have eaten carbs last night; I feel a bit bloated; I feel a bit too fat; my hair has gone triangular; I haven’t got anything in my wardrobe; I haven’t done my pelvic floor exercises; I haven’t booked my child’s birthday party.” We see ourselves as a list of problems and we are not concentrating on the main thing, which is joy. There will never be another you and there will never be another me and there will never be another moment like this – and that’s the thing we’ve got to remember.
JF: Your childhood was very unconventional. You grew up in the West Midlands, England, and you stopped going to school at 11 because you came from a hippie family. Can you give us a potted version?
CM: We were educated at home by our parents. There were eight of us in a three-bedroom [public housing] unit and my parents were breeding German Shepherds at the time [for money]. So it was quite crowded and smelt of poo a lot. We were supposed to have lessons, but [instead] we sat around all day for four years watching musicals and eating lumps of cheese on a fork, which we called “the cheese lollipop”.
JF: Was it an advantage not to go to school?
CM: It worked very well for us because
we became so panicked about our future; we all just educated ourselves. I went to the library every day.
JF: So fear drove it?
CM: Yes. That was why I started writing my first real novel when I was 13. I thought, “I’m screwed. My only future job prospects are either working on the cheese counter at the local supermarket or being a prostitute, and given that I share a bunk bed with my sister and she made it very clear that she would be very unhappy if I brought clients back, I’m going to have to find a third career, and that is writing.”
Confidence and role models
JF: You’ve written about being overweight as a child and having no friends. Do you worry about weight now?
CM: It’s really interesting. I’ve found that the more powerful I’ve got, the less I care about how thin I am. I think a lot of it is not just down to gender; it’s a lack of power. Since I’ve become wealthier and more successful, I dress less femininely. Before, I’d go to a meeting with blow-dried hair and a really lovely dress and be quite meek and mild. As soon as I started earning money and having any power in the room, I’d just be in jeans and wearing the same anorak I wore at Glastonbury and was able to go, in a polite way, “No, I don’t think that’s going to work.” The things that are supposed to be masculine are actually the things to do with power.
JF: You had your first novel published at 15, yet you’ve talked about being under-confident. Were you really, and how did you overcome it?
CM: Oh, God, yeah, totally. When I was 15, I had to go down to London to sell my novel and have a big meeting. Because we were very poor, I didn’t even own a coat. I was wearing a dressing gown and a pair of shoes I had bought from [an op-shop]. I had my hands on the handle of the door to go into this meeting and I thought, “I don’t know what to say in there.” Then a tiny voice in my head went, “Pretend to be someone who does know what to say,” and that was it. I pretended to be Judy Garland in the musical where she just comes in and is charming to everybody. Fake it till you make it.
JF: Do women have to work harder at that than men do?
CM: We’ve got fewer role models. You see fewer confident women. In most films, still, you have a pretty girlfriend who comes in when all the guys are having fun. Or there’s the mum, or someone who gets killed in order to give the heroes something to avenge. The amount of times you see a woman competently and brilliantly doing something and talking about her life with her friends – and it not being to do with some guy – is still nuts. They recently tried to compile the 50 greatest lines in movies spoken by women that aren’t about guys and they could only get to 20. There is a brilliant saying by a feminist writer, “I cannot be what I cannot see.”
JF: Australia recently had its first female Prime Minister and I’m sure you saw what happened to her. After that, a lot of women said they wouldn’t go into politics …
CM: The reason women get so much abuse on the internet is because men are being angry [towards us]. Anger is just fear brought to the boil. If men are scared, getting angry and trying to drive you off, it’s because they know women are the coming force. They are trying to stop you. It is like a form of emotional terrorism. Trying to scare women off the internet. Out of the public domain. Out of politics. Out of the gaming world. Out of the media. There does have to come a point where you have to go, “No, I’m not going to give up. I will not go. I will claim my half of the world.”
JF: And female success is still linked with looks – that women are only fit to be seen and heard if they look a certain way. Whereas with men, it doesn’t matter …
CM: Again that’s down to power, and that will change. For me, that’s so much the value of Lena Dunham. She turns up on that red carpet, dressed like [she’s mental]. She’s got – I say all of these words lovingly – fat upper arms, she has a schlumpy posture, she is wearing things that most stylists wouldn’t or shouldn’t have put her in, [but] I love that. She chooses stuff because it’s comfy and a lovely colour and she loves it. Whenever I do a photo shoot or TV, I always do my own make-up. I never have a stylist. There is a big value in seeing a woman who looks a bit rough. Every time I see a shiny face or a bit of acne or smudgy eyeliner or a shirt that clearly wasn’t ironed or insect bites all over someone’s foot on television, I’m like, “Hooray!”
Jackie Frank and Caitlin Moran. Photo: Rachel Rebibo
Brazilians and beauticians
JF: What have you learnt about marriage?
CM: Be polite. We are very, very polite to each other. I’ve been with my husband for 20 years and we’ve had about four arguments in that time. We are very scared of offending each other. We even say thank you after sex …
JF: No way!
CM: We go, “Thank you very much, that was lovely … ” [We say it] in an amusing way, but at the same time, just, “Thanks.” Like, I still can’t believe it’s free!
JF: Not for everybody.
CM: I appear to be on some kind of discount. Don’t alert him to the fact that there are wives who are paying for it.
JF: Can we talk about your pubic hair?
CM: Oh, God, absolutely. Yes.
JF: There’s a section on pubic hair in How To Be A Woman, but I love the line: “Lying on a hammock, gently finger-combing your Wookie whilst staring up to the sky is one of the great pleasures of adulthood.” What’s your view on Brazilian waxes?
CM: Anyone who wants to do it, do it. For some women, that is what will suit you the most and that’s how you feel happiest.
JF: Looking like a prepubescent child?
CM: If you want to, yeah. I’m not prescriptive about anything. Anyone can do whatever they want. I tried [a Brazilian] once. I found it impossibly itchy. It looked like a child’s vagina. I stopped. But, again, it’s down to you. I felt awful that as a teenage girl, the first thing that happens when you transition from being a child into a woman is you start growing pubic hair. In a world where you’re only seeing waxed vulvas and vaginas, you feel like you’ve got a problem. You’ve got a secret. You’ve got something you’ve got to get rid of. If you go and talk to your beautician about what age they get girls [coming into their salons] asking to have Brazilian waxes, you will be horrified. That’s when you have to go, “Grow up ladies, we owe the little girls some kind of solidarity here. Let’s not make them think they have a problem.”
The future of feminism
JF: One of the books you have planned is called How To Be Famous. I’ve heard you have some fantastic fame stories, including one about Lady Gaga …
CM: Yes, going to a sex club with Lady Gaga was pretty incredible. She said, “Other people buy diamonds with their money, I buy privacy,” and she proved it that night. She came off stage [and] there were paparazzi in cars waiting to chase her, [so] she had five security guys block the road. We got into a black SUV, and no-one followed us. We went to a sex club where she DJ’d and got off her face and walked around with no clothes on, [but] no-one took any photographs of her because she had security there. She went around and talked to everybody and said, “Please don’t take any pictures of me,” then bought everyone a drink. Not one picture came out from that night and that was at the height of her fame.
JF: What do you say about those, like Sheryl Sandberg, who have been criticised for talking about feminism from a position of wealth and privilege?
CM: Feminism works like a patchwork quilt. We all do our little square and we stitch it together. If you are waiting for a super feminist to come along, if she fucks up once, everyone will go, “Oh, that’s feminism over and done with for another decade.” But if we are all doing it together, we can never break it. Feminism is as strong as whoever is taking part in it, which is why I invite you to come and be a feminist now. Come and make it stronger. Come and take part in the quilt. We’ve got booze. You can wear whatever shoes you like. It’s going to be a riot!
This interview appears in our April issue, on sale now.