It was announced this week that Caitlin Moran’s sitcom, Raised by Wolves, has been cancelled by Channel 4 after two series. This is a colossal shame, not only because it was a funny, innovative and niche comedy, but because, as Moran herself puts it, it is “currently the only TV series in Britain by and about working class woman, which is pretty damn poor.” I can only agree. The middle class-dominated British media has lost a gem, and no writer from a wealthy background will be able to recreate the experience that Caitlin Moran and her sister Caz illustrate so profoundly and comically in Raised by Wolves.
The authenticity of an oppressed group combining humour and politics to convey the unique difficulties that they have suffered is unusual in TV. As a culture we often, wrongly, expect those with the privilege of a platform to incorporate the struggles of the marginalised or disadvantaged; a practice that Moran herself has discussed in her essay, ‘Women Keep F*cking Things Up’. Moran suggests that asking why Lena Dunham’s first series of Girls failed to include “a single non-white character” is in fact to ask why Dunham hasn’t been able to “simply and inclusively address the concerns of everyone of the 3.3 billion women on earth.” We can’t expect one woman’s work to represent the entire female population, the argument goes.
Now, I must say that I see Moran’s point. Moran also practices what she preaches – she doesn’t remonstrate Dunham for only including girls from wealthy backgrounds. While Girls is obviously predominantly white with a distinct focus on the middle class, it’s OK that Dunham wanted to write a sitcom about her own experience: that of wealthy Caucasian girls. It’s also more than OK – it’s extremely progressive – that Moran co-wrote a sitcom about her experience as a poor Caucasian girl.
Lena Dunham and Caitlin Moran have both been criticised for “white feminism”. Often this is because they don’t accommodate for the experiences of BME women in their narratives, either on page or on screen. While this is true, and disappointing, it isn’t necessarily an unhelpful exclusion.
A white woman wouldn’t have the understanding required to convincingly, helpfully or appropriately construct the experience of a non-white woman. And, importantly, there are more than enough talented black and minority ethnic (BME) women to write about their own situations. We should make sure that BME feminists have their own platforms on which to discuss their own issues, rather than expecting white feminists to have the ability or mandate to replicate their voice. The same is true of the working classes. To lose Raised by Wolves is to lose a rare and important occurrence of working-class feminists having total control over their own stories.
For these reasons, I will whole-heartedly support the “f*cking gigantic plan” that Caitlin Moran has for her sitcom. I will #upthewolves as a gesture of both artistic and political support for what she is doing. I will, as Moran herself does in her YouTube announcement about the dropped show, write #upthewolves on my tits. If I can find a non-abrasive felt-tip pen I’ll even write it on my labia, if that’s what it takes. Gash-tag #upthewolves.
So, having offered to brand my genitals in the name of Caitlin Moran’s project, I have just one favour to ask her in return – and yes, it does concern “white feminism”.
In How to be a Woman, Moran wrote one line that jumped right off the page and slapped me – a half-Indian girl – in the face. One line that she must rethink if girls of Indian decent are to completely endorse her endeavours. I ask her to address this single, sweeping line: “I know absolutely that I don’t want to go to India, or be blonde, or fire a gun.”
Now, you are allowed to just-not-want to visit India. That is allowed. I know, in my heart of hearts, that I don’t want to visit North Korea, or Magaluf, or Chessington World of Adventures. But I don’t need to have studied Geography past the age of 13 to tell you that India is composed of 29 states and home to over 1.2bn people. It is religiously and politically diverse; it’s multi-lingual and multi-ethnic. You don’t want to see any of it? You don’t even want to explain that decision? You don’t want to meet one of its 1.2bn people on their own soil? You want to write this in a book which you know young Indian girls might read? Dismissing a whole country is not in any way the same as bleaching your hair. To compare knowing that you don’t want to go to India with knowing that you don’t want to fire a gun is to implicitly associate visiting the country with facilitating a culture of violence. This may be unintentional, but this is what you’re doing.
Rhetoric of this kind will discourage Indian girls from writing about their own upbringings because they will see their culture as “at odds” with feminism. Declaring, in a book called How to be a Woman, “I know absolutely that I don’t want to go to India” is tantamount to including this as a condition of feminism (“Wanna join the equality movement? Give India a wide berth!”)
If a juvenile Caitlin Moran had heard Germaine Greer say, “I know absolutely that I don’t want to go to Wolverhampton” in an instructive, feminist work, despite all of young Moran’s own reservations about the place, she may have questioned her instinct to use it as the setting for her later feminist comedy. She would have been demoralised.
So, Caitlin, I will unreservedly throw myself behind Raised by Wolves and its hopeful future. But we need to make sure that all girls from all backgrounds that are alien to the mainstream British media have a chance to talk about their upbringings, laugh about them, and weave them into their own feminist narrative. Do we have a deal?
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