Five stars, read in April 2018.
It is possible that, as an American under the age of 40, I have been so deprived of sensible and ethical political discussion that what seems like earth-shattering brilliance to me is just common sense to the rest of you. But as I read this book, Caitlin Moran officially became my hero/crush/hope for humanity, and I love her. Before, I’d thought she was just really funny and smart about feminism. I had no idea she was one of the wisest, most insightful people I’ve ever encountered with some of the best, most creative, and insanely reasonable ideas for how we should organize our societies to make things not just better, but fucking AWESOME.
As Moran points out, Western society has been structured pretty much the same way for several decades, without having gone through any upgrades. Planned obsolescence means that most of our gadgets are updated constantly, but our social structure has gone through zero “thoughtful, planned improvement[s]” in our lifetimes, and isn’t that actually quite stupid?
It’s kind of weird that, under market-led capitalism, we can get three hundred different kinds of latte but only one kind of market-led capitalism . . . It’s almost as if the current political system doesn’t see itself. It just believes it exists—that it sprang fully formed, via evolution, as the natural way of things. It doesn’t see itself . . . as something that was constructed by human beings—fallible, faulty human beings—and so therefore could be changed by human beings . . .
So, we’re due an upgrade. What would this upgrade be? Where will this upgrade come from?
Well, it’s us. If we’re talking about a basic upgrade of the operating system of the earth, there’s one huge, untapped resource which would allow a light-speed jump in progress—and it’s us. We are the big, obvious resource of our age.
And we are the key and unique resource of our age—for, in all of history until now, most of our processing power has gone to waste. Unless a brilliant mind was born into the fortunate circumstances of (a) being male, (b) not dying of a terrible disease before the age of three, (c) being able to afford education, and (d) being in a social situation—usually predicated on location and wealth—which enabled him to disseminate these ideas, then, without that, all this potential died with its owner.
This, then, is the ultimate argument for the urgency and necessity of equality. For equality isn’t some fabulous luxury we treat ourselves to when we’re rich enough—the legislation and infrastructure we get round to after we secure our economies, or wrangle our foreign policy. Equality isn’t humanity’s cashmere bed socks. It’s not a present we treat ourselves to, like champagne. It’s a fundamental necessity, like water.
The book isn’t entirely political; there are plenty of Moran’s usual fun and/or bawdy thoughts on things like how no one ever wants to go out, her (our) obsession with the song “Get Lucky,” defending hipsters, how printers are evil incarnate, how you can free yourself by acknowledging you’re never going to be a responsible drinker, and the exact amount of famous she is (35 percent). But for me, the aforementioned earth-shattering brilliance comes is in her vision of what society could become.
It’s hard for an honorable [person] to say that they wish to run for government without instantly being suspected of slight . . . evil. And that is, to use the scientific phrase, balls. There’s no point in us having a democracy if we distrust everyone who wants to engage with it officially.
She’s right, and is it cynical of me to suspect that people want politicians to be synonymous with corruption because they know they’re not good enough people to be true public servants and they don’t want to believe anyone else is, either? Does it feel a bit like we’re sabotaging our own political system because it absolves us of actually trying to do it right?
It is June 2019 as I am finishing this post, so it’s been just over a year since I read the book in May 2018. The post has been sitting in my drafts since then, and we’ve reached the end of what I’d written back then; now I just have a bunch of notes and quotes which I don’t remember well enough to be able to expound upon them.
What is the worst—the very worst—government policy can do to you if you . . . have enough money to have always thought of shoes as a necessity rather than a luxury? Push the highest rate of tax to 90 percent, and let the bin men go out on strike. Annoying—but not fatal. If you are generally secure, a government can certainly inconvenience you, make you poorer, or make you angrier—it can be, let’s be frank, a massive, incompetent, depressing, maybe even immoral pain in the arse—but you, and your family, and your social circle, will survive it. It is unlikely the essential course of your life will be much different under one government than the next, however diverse their ideas.
I think about the concept of blitheness all the time since having read this book; she explains it so well and once you think about it, you notice it everywhere. I feel like if I tried to pin down what makes a white person white, the answer would be blitheness.
Blitheness is different from optimism—which is basically a graceful digging-in, a silent vow never to give up . . . Optimism is saying, firmly, “Things will get better.” Blitheness is saying, easily, “Things never get that bad in the first place.” Churchill was, despite his depression, an optimist. Bertie Wooster, in his spats, blithe. Blitheness is telling everyone to tighten their belts—and it never occurring that some people just don’t have a belt.
She has fabulous rules for using the internet, which she points out is still very young, “like some bewildered Frankenstein’s monster waking up on the slab and lashing out—not knowing the power of its new arms and legs.”
Attacking anyone who isn’t perfect
Dismissing people as champagne socialists, posh bastards, etc.
Dismissing an entire idea because some people took advantage of it
The thing is, if we talked about abolishing everything that was abused, then where would we stop? We would have abolished the Houses of Parliament during the expenses scandal, and the Catholic Church when the pedophile priests story broke. Likewise schools—given the amount of abuse that has happened there, both state and private. We’d be talking about abolishing marriage . . . likewise parenthood, given the numbers of parents who abuse their children. The simple truth is, people will abuse any system.
Did we get rid of Wall Street because some people took advantage of it in a massive way that hurt millions of people and affected the entire global economy? No? Then we’re not killing welfare because some poor people have iPhones.
Rather than what seems like a minority having to spend time, energy, brain, and heart explaining why they’re “into” equality, the majority should be explaining why they’re not. You put the time into explaining why—in a world where every concept of justice, wisdom, progress, and rightness is a human invention—we still prefer the human concept of “some people being inferior to others.”
As usual, Moran has things to say about feminism that I’m not entirely certain I agree with, but at the same time, I’m pretty sure she’s right—like her thoughts on people “getting it wrong.”
Men didn’t stand at the bottom of Mount Everest, arms folded, waiting for Edmund Hillary to come down, then greet him with, “Yeah, nice one, Hillary—but when are you gonna invent the internet?” But this is what we do—time and time again—with our female pioneers. Understandably overinvested in any woman who does begin to succeed, we load a million hot, desperate expectations onto them, then enter a weird world where we become immensely peevish at a thousand things they haven’t done—energetically attacking wholly phantom, imaginary wrongs rather than taking a moment to be joyful over the stuff that, against all the odds, they actually did do. Imperfect but useful achievements which, even as we sigh over their failings, will inevitably be inspiring others to follow in their wake, with their specific quests. You know what—it really is okay if a woman comes along and does just a little bit of pioneering. Encourage childless university graduates to run global companies! Write brutally honest sitcoms about self-obsessed girls! Stand on stage in front of 250,000 people making them sing, “All the women who are independent / Throw your hands up at me”! Because, let’s face it—no one else is doing that. These are still hardly overcrowded arenas of activity.
So, on the one hand, definitely yes. She’s right—how could we possibly expect to make progress if no one’s allowed to take one step without taking all of them? On the other hand, I don’t think it’s accurate to refer to “wholly phantom, imaginary wrongs”—because the fact that people aren’t required to make more than one step at a time doesn’t mean they sometimes shouldn’t, or couldn’t—and where we really get disappointed is where it would have so easy to do that their decision not to do it is much harder to justify. There’s a lot of weight on both sides of the scale.
I love her suggestion of a moratorium on having opinions about women, and that we stop calling rape “sexual” assault when in fact it’s just assault the location of which is irrelevant.
Customs and traditions
Our world is formed by abortion
suddenly loving Hillary
Last week, I realized just why it is that women—particularly of my age and older—love musicals. And it’s very simple: it’s because classic musicals were the first feminist movies—way before we had The Hunger Games and Thelma & Louise. If you were raised on whatever movies BBC2 showed on rainy Saturday afternoons, musicals would be the only films you ever saw where you got to watch women actually doing stuff—instead of just “being.”
Why everyone should write a manifesto
Capitalism cares about wants, not needs
[People] are adamant when they say, “NOTHING CAN CHANGE. THE INTERNET JUST IS WHAT IT IS!”
People who, in 2013, who say, with utter certainty, “nothing can change!” are one of the more discombobulating developments of recent years. I’ll be frank—it does my head in to see someone who lives in a democracy, wears artificial fibers, drives a car, has a wife who can vote and children whom it is illegal to send to work up a chimney, saying, on the internet—invented in 1971!!!!—“NOTHING CAN CHANGE!”
Dude, everyone in the Western world lives an existence wholly defined by constant change—change that was brought about by people going, “I tire of people dying young. That sucks. I will invent antibiotics,” or “I have thought of a marvellous thing—global communication, via a glorified typewriter!”
It is a particular quirk of egotism/a lack of any sense of history or perspective to say, confidently and crushingly, “Things cannot change.” What someone who says “Things cannot change” means, more often that not, is “I do not want things to change” [emphasis mine].
There is a neat squaring of the circle when you notice that, on this issue, those who say “Things cannot change” are, in the overwhelming majority, men—and that the people they are trying to shut down who are saying, repeatedly, “Things must change,” are women.
And this is all particularly inappropriate when the conversation is about how, of all things, it is the internet that cannot change. The internet, which was invented, within our lifetimes, by hippies. Tim Berners-Lee, who gave away the coding for free, with the words “This is for everyone”—the sentence that was so astonishing and inspiring when it lit up the stadium at the Olympics Opening Ceremony.
In short, the internet was invented, very recently, for people, by people, and founded in optimism and idealism.
For this odd new groundswell of commentators to start claiming that the internet is inherently dark, cruel and cynical is a gross misappropriation of one of the wonders of the modern age. It misunderstands what it was, is and, most importantly, could be.
Shame on anyone whose argument basically boils down to saying that “The thing about the internet is, it’s a place where hundreds of anonymous men can threaten to rape women—and that is how it will always be.”
I’m obviously biased but I genuinely think this is an important book as well as a hilarious one. Moran is a brilliant writer who conveys complicated political and philosophical concepts in the language you’d use getting drunk with your best friend. Some of the ideas in this book could change the fucking world.