Lena Dunham in Conversation with Caitlin Moran

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There are some pairings you only dream about wishing that one day they will come true (Jeremy Paxman and Paris Hilton anyone? Back when he was the Newsnight host and didn’t hate the BBC and she wanted all the attention in the world) . But there are other pairings you didn’t even think of since having so much amazingness together in a confined space would surely make the whole room explode. Like with Lena Dunham and Caitlin Moran.  Lena and Caitlin. Lens and Cats. When Lena met Caitlin.

I’ll definitely have what she’s having.

This Halloween event (coincidence? I think not) took place in the Southbank Centre. This part of London is beautiful. A very long time ago I used to work here and by the time I left that job I took the Southban for granted. Now as an occasional visitor I know just how lucky I was to work there. The area is stunning – especially on one of the warmest Halloweens of all time. My only contribution to Halloween this year was my beautiful orange scarf and ripped jeans. Does that even remotely count? Yes, yes it does.

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When I was buying these tickets I was seven hundred and something-th in the queue so but the time I was able to make the purchase I knew all the seats up close would be taken. This mattered not a smidgen as we sat down and waited for the best Halloween shindig to begin.

Now I love my signed books. I love meeting authors and listening to them talk and walking away with a signed book as a souvenir. If you are not like me and you don’t particularly care then you may want to skip the little moan I am about to have. The ticket price included a signed book – one that we could get signed personally after the talk. A few days ago I received an email from the Southbank Centre telling me that the books would be pre-signed. This was a disappointment but completely fair – after all there were near a thousand of us. But what they didn’t tell us is that the signature would be on a bookplate which would then be stuck into the book. That is not the same things as pre-signed. Not at all. But they didn’t say that in the email and that’s what made me angry. If they told me I wouldn’t have been so disappointed.

By the time the event started I was excited again. The room filled up really quickly and there was an anticipation in the air which was contagious. Then Caitlin Moran walked onto the stage. We all went wild. Her introduction was funny and centered on Lena Dunham’s work on Girls, the show which ‘makes you feel as if you are normal’. I’ve never watched Girls but after reading Not That Kind of Girl I think Lena writes incredibly. When she came on stage the cheering was deafening.

One of the first things she did was read from Not That Kind of Girl, a piece about the nude selfies her mum used to take and how her (Lena’s) work on Girls is an extension of that. As she sat on the chair to read she said, ‘my greatest dream is to be a woman who gets on stage with a guitar and sings. This chair is the closest I will ever get to that’ and that ‘despite your (England’s) reputation of uptight crustiness I feel welcome on a creative and breast level’. It’s good to know that someone still thinks of us as being open minded and liberal – with all the crap almost all politicians are spouting and the rise and rise of racial hatred in this country I was pretty sure that the whole world thought we were little shitheads.

But I digress. Once the reading was over Caitlin Moran and Lena Dunham discussed everything feminism – women in power, women with money, women and food, women and clothing. The audience, myself included, was constantly in stitches. Here are just some of the things I learnt:

  1. Both Jennifer Saunders in AbFab and Lena Dunham in Girls wore/wear clothes that are too small for them
  2. Lena Dunham was never given the opportunity to rebel against her parents because they were incredibly open when raising Lena and Lena’s sister.
  3. Caitlin Moran diagnosed Lena Dunham with hyper mobility and this apparently explains all of Lena’s behaviours and all of her art – ‘you’re entire art is a lack of collagen’ (Caitlin Moran).
  4. Torture doesn’t result in good art. It’s important to be happy.
  5. Lena Dunham was raised to believe that people should ‘suffer and profit in private’ and when she first started getting asked how much she earned, and how she spent her money, she found it incredibly difficult.
  6. ‘I think he [James May] is so handsome and so nice’ – Lena Dunham. I think no one in the audience knew if she was being truthful or sarcastic. I certainly didn’t.
  7. ‘It’s always brave to make something whatever your age’ – Lena Dunham.
  8. ‘My desire is always to normalise the female experience’ – Lena Dunham. 2014 is the year we take control of what we mean by normal.
  9. Lena Dunham’s three words to describe herself at that moment in time – ‘sleepy, invigorated, mad’.

Most of the conversation veered between seriousness and silliness – there was a whole section on Caitlin Moran’s imaginings of how Lena Dunham and Taylor Swift spend their time together and a far more interesting section on how Girls was one of the only shows to show menstrual blood (the prop guy in the first take of this scene made it look like a blood bath apparently.)

It was when questions were opened up to the audience that the racial criticisms Girls and Lena Dunham face were addressed. I was actually surprised that Caitlin Moran didn’t ask a question on this herself since it is such a huge criticism against the show. Very specifically Lena Dunham was asked if she cares when she hears that women feel excluded. Her response was twofold after she said that she really does care:

  • As she ages her show is growing and expanding, resulting in an increase of diversity in her show.
  • People need to see themselves or a version of themselves on TV (this was why she made Girls becase she never saw herself) but there should be some blame/responsibility placed on commissioning/broadcaster heads.

I agree with Lena Dunham especially on her second point. Studio heads believe that only white casts sell and while Girls is freakishly white for Brooklyn not all blame and responsibility should be levelled at Lena. It was then that Caitlin Moran stated a fact known by everyone, ‘this is a racist industry’. Then she said something which broke my Caitlin Moran loving heart – she argued that it might not be possible to be racist by omission.

This felt like to me to be the lynchpin of the evening – before this moment it was a fun, informative evening centred around powerful women. After this point I left feeling pretty sure that being brown and excluded is something I should be perfectly fine with.

If people choose not to hire women because they have vaginas, they are being sexist (and breaking the law) by omissions. They have chosen not to do something. Same when casting a TV show. If you choose to hire white actors then you have chosen not to hire any non-white actors. When your show is based in New York in Brooklyn this does sound suspicious. You choosing to hire white actors takes nothing away from the success or good you have done, but when you argue that you can’t relate to WoC I wonder how you view us because my experiences are freakishly similar to your own (surprise, surprise).

What really surprised me was that people clapped once Caitlin Moran finished stating her point on if you can really be racist by omission. It surprised me that so many people agreed. Does everyone actually agree or is this a get out clause for them to carry on excluding non-whites? I did laugh at Lena Dunham’s reaction to Caitlin Moran – this was this hasty disagreement made which made me realise that at least she understood the power (and not for good) of Caitlin Moran’s statement.

I didn’t really enjoy myself after this point – it’s never nice to be told that when you’re excluded from things it’s actually not a bad thing. Saying this I am very glad that a woman has reached such high levels of power. I am also over the moon that she is a feminist. I just wish that people stopped thinking as non-white women as being this unknowable thing.

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