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Building This Girl

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By Becky Dudley

How many times have you been surrounded by people stood on chairs, proudly proclaiming the words ‘I AM A FEMINIST’? Personally, that would be once – last Thursday, myself and over 1500 people did just that. Why? Two words: Caitlin Moran.

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Unfamiliar? Caitlin Moran is described on Wikipedia as a broadcaster, TV critic and columnist, as well as being a very vocal feminist. She’s also one of my heroes. This time last year, I was an angry teenage feminist who felt like the last one of her kind. It was through reading How To Be A Woman (Moran’s second book) that I realised I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. It was that that gave me the courage and direction to be louder about how I felt – it was that book that set me off on the direction to Powered By Girl. In many ways, I feel I cannot thank her enough.

Admittedly, there is not all praise. There have been complaints of Moran being homophobic, racist and transphobic. For every person who sees her as an inspiration, there will be another who sees her as a damage. I’m not going to defend her against any of these complaints or allegations, because it is not my place to. What I will say, however, is that Moran has done a huge, huge amount for publicising the idea of feminism, and for getting people to talk about it and see it as a more positive thing. From my experiences, I would say that her intentions are good.

Caitlin Moran’s latest venture is her novel, How To Build A Girl. To promote this – and feminism in general – she’s touring, reading excerpts from her book, making people laugh, doing book signings and selling merchandise to raise money for women’s charity Refuge. The Bristol show sold out fairly quickly; I was thrilled to be able to get a ticket!

It began unassumingly enough- a big stage that rather dwarfed the table and chair placed in the middle. However, as soon as Moran entered I began to wonder if the stage was big enough for her massive personality. Within ten minutes of Moran’s entrance (to rapturous applause), she read out the section of How To Be A Woman instructing the reader to stand on their chairs and declare themselves a feminist – resulting in the experience detailed in the opening paragraph. However, it didn’t stop there. Proving how quick modern technology is, Moran had photographed and tweeted the picture within seconds, before continuing with the show.

For those who have read her books or heard of her elsewhere, you will know that Moran prides herself on the more unmentionable subjects, and her show was no different – it contained all sorts of details about periods, masturbation, sex and poo, punctuated with frequent swearing. Though not to everyone’s taste, I revelled in it. There are so many seemingly taboo subjects that women are frowned upon for speaking about, whilst men are given free rein – having overheard far too many conversations about males and their masturbatory habits, it was refreshing to hear a woman discuss all the things we aren’t ‘meant’ to.

Another thing I took from the evening was Caitlin Moran’s comments about confidence. Seeing her up there, seemingly at ease on stage with an audience of over 1800, I would never have thought that she could have been anything but confident. However, she described how, when she was younger, she almost didn’t go to an important meeting because she didn’t think she could do it. How did she overcome it? She pretended she was Courtney Love, and ‘faked it till she made it’. As she said, it’s what everyone else is doing.

Near the end of the show, Moran pulled up her top and got her stomach out to demonstrate what she calls ‘a feminist smile’. Remember that this is a woman approaching her 40s, with two kids. She is not the stereotypical size 6 that the media wants us to believe has the monopoly on showing skin. She is human, with all the imperfections that come from life. And yet, over 1800 people applauded her stomach. When surrounded by body-shaming and depreciation, that was a hugely empowering moment.

After doing her whole show standing (despite the chair and table placed strategically on stage), Moran left to a well-earned standing ovation. Meanwhile, the audience were left to rush out to the queue for the book signing, which snaked right around the venue. I was stood two people behind a woman wearing a No More Page 3 top. Bearing the words ‘fake it till you make it’ in my head, I told myself I had Caitlin Moran’s confidence, tapped the woman on the shoulder and asked for a high five. Five minutes later, the two of us and another passing woman were ranting aboutPage 3 together. I stuck with the first woman and her friends for the rest of the queue, and had several more conversations with people triggered by our tops. By the time we reached Caitlin Moran, we decided that a group photo was a must, and Moran was more than happy to oblige- after all, it was she who said, during her show, that she loves how the book signing queues help to form the revolution.

As for my personal encounter with Caitlin, I cannot speak more highly. When faced with a very overwhelmed crying 17-year old who kept thanking her, her reaction was to hug me a lot, and to tell me how ‘f*cking awesome’ my clothes and smile were. I asked her advice about a decision I’ve recently been agonising over, and she was more than happy to talk to me about it and to give me advice that I know I will follow. I couldn’t believe how much energy she had, nor the way she genuinely cared about each and every fan that she spoke to.

Overall, it was a truly amazing night, and I came away feeling just like I did when I first read How To Be A Woman: empowered, inspired, and very much part of the feminist revolution.

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