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Hello, I’m Bertie. This column is basically a place for me to call bullshit on girl related stuff that I think is dumb. While I appreciate the importance of girl talk, I’m not about to braid your pubic hair or send you the results of my latest smear test. Instead, I will pass on any remotely useful knowledge I happen to discover re: being a FEMALE. Trust me: I’m not a doctor, but I do have a Ph.D in pretty girl bullshit. PRETTY GIRL BULLSHIT #21: CAITLIN MORAN AND EVE BARLOW ARE GIVING GIRLS A BAD NAME
When I read the title of Eve Barlow’s recent blog post "WTF is WOC" (that’s "What The Fuck is Women Of Colour", by the way) I almost agreed with her. It was written in response to the cyber-uproar surrounding a very stupid tweet that Caitlin Moran wrote on Saturday regarding the representation of racial minorities in Lena Dunham’s (amazing) show Girls, and I too was unsure of why women had become the focus of what was essentially an argument about race. Lena Dunham deciding to write a TV series set in Brooklyn, which didn’t feature any non-white characters, was obviously an issue of racial representation, right? So why were so many people interpreting it as an issue of gender?
In the big swimming pool of annoying blog post opinions that I’m about to dive into, can I just give my two cents before it gets messy. For me, Girls is not necessarily racist, even if Dunham’s image of Brooklyn (which had a 65 percent non-white population at the time of the 2010 census, btw) is entirely Caucasian. This is because the racial landscape becomes a tacit comment on the characters – i.e. that these are girls who live abnormally sheltered lives. So far, so obvious.
According to Barlow, it’s absurd political correctness to demand that Dunham should alter the races of the characters she’s written into the series if their being white is important to the plot. Again, it’s difficult to argue with that; the show is already totally unrealistic, because everyone has trust funds and 1.5 metre long hair. There are huge swathes of the white population that aren't represented in Girls, either – frat boys or Italian-Americans, of which there are many in New York, and Republicans or people that know how to do laundry, of which there seem to be none.
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That doesn’t change the fact that it is really weird that all the characters in Girls are white. Honestly, my similarity to Hannah Horvath is uncanny (we both have straggly hair and alliterative names, LET’S HANG OUT, HANNAH???) and I too have spent a lot of time in Williamsburg (yes, yes, I know how impressed you are by that). The fact that’s it’s all white on the night, is just not true. Sure, rich white kids stick together in Williamsburg, but they also stick together with rich Asian kids, rich black kids and rich grown-up adults who buy them shots at The Jane. I’m not saying Dunham is racist (that’s the last time I’m going to say that, OK?) but there is an absence of racial diversity in her programme which is noticeably odd.
As that may be, it’s not a dereliction of duty on Dunham’s part – that’s the privilege (oh god, loaded word) of the creator. But there is a certain responsibility that falls to critics and journalists, for whom it would seem natural to explore this important decision. It’s the casual and public dismissal of the race issue by both Barlow and Moran – and their presumption that they’re speaking on behalf of all viewers of Girls (feminist or not) when they deem it irrelevant – that is kind of disturbing.
It is not racist to notice the colour of people’s skin, Eve Barlow, it’s called not being blind. When you say things like: “We don’t need to constantly pat ourselves on the back for living in a multicultural world, we can get on with enjoying it, enjoying being humans together,” it worries me that you think multiculturalism is essentially a suppression of all cultures and races under the catch-all banner of HUMAN. I’m a bit worried that you’re speaking for everybody when you ridicule the idea of under-representation, and I wonder why, as a white woman, you feel comfortable dictating The Final Say on the nature of racial representation in the media.
Maybe Caitlin Moran was right to respond to a tweet about the ethnic choices Dunham made in casting with the teeth-clenchingly bad (really, ew, it hurts my stomach to even think about it) “Nope, I literally couldn’t give a shit aboutit” [sic]. Maybe Eve Barlow really doesn’t see in colour; maybe race really is just a social construct and we should stop wasting our time being so “absurdly politically correct” about it. Race problems in America? Pffft, that is so 30 years ago, we shouldn’t even notice the colour of people’s skin any more. Women are all the same on the inside aren’t they, so we should stop weighing ourselves down with stupid, archaic ideas like that you can be held back by your race, and people should just grow up and DEAL WITH IT.
You know what’s really horribly wrong with having that perspective? Living in a world where we ignore each other's individual heritage and culture as a sort of botch-job attempt at levelling society is lazy and completely reductive. Both race – and racism – exist, contrary to what you might believe, Eve. They aren't conspiracies that have been planted there to distract everyone from the feminist issue. No, seriously. They haven’t.
Aside from that, why do I feel like Eve Barlow enjoys ridiculing concerns people might have that don’t tally with her own? The obvious fact is that, by openly undermining questions of under-representation in other minorities, you start creating a hierarchy of the world’s inequalities. Once you’ve done that, you’re drowning in shit creek my friend. Up to your fucking neck.
So here’s my issue. Caitlin Moran has dedicated much of her career to writing about feminism. She wants to take down the patriarchy, and that’s great, because everyone with two sides to their brain should know that feminism is about equality, and equality is good. But it’s precisely this huge endeavour to relieve society of its inequalities, which makes it so particularly disappointing to read of her indifference (and to be honest it was less indifference, and more annoyance) at the idea of opening a dialogue on what is a pretty common criticism of Dunham’s show.
Why the snide condemnation of other people’s concerns? And finally, why is there a compulsion, as displayed by Barlow, to link any criticism of a particular woman (or women) back to some faceless patriarchy that is determined to destroy intelligent, successful females, when it has nothing to do with gender? So what, it's the patriarchy's fault that Lena Dunham's getting flak for not writing her characters any black friends? Pffft.
I’ll leave you with Barlow’s closing statement, which pretty much ascertains that anybody who questions Dunham’s choice of an all-white cast is a puppet for a society which is intolerant of wealthy, white women with $3million book deals. It’s pretty wild:
“It sounds to me like the world has seen a prodigal, female, forward-thinking brainbox who has made a cool, relevant sitcom that’s actually saying something about my generation and decided to offload this centuries-old issue upon her in a bid to DESTROY DESTROY DESTROY.”
I'm sorry, did I ramble like an insane person? It's just that there are so many interwoven threads to this argument, and it’s kind of impossible to chase them all up properly. To sum it up: a) the jeering, contemptuous tone of these two writers is becoming all too familiar, b) it's becoming less and less representative of a growing number of people that they, explicitly or otherwise, purport to stand for, and c) their responses are bullshit.
Follow Bertie on Twitter: @bertiebrandes
Previously: Shut Up and Be Cute
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