Writer, columnist and girl power advocate Caitlin Moran on why she’s using her fame to campaign against FGM – and why celebrities trying to do the right thing get a harder time.
Caitlin Moran is far from alone in her backing of worthy causes – plenty of celebrities are at it these day. If it’s not Victoria Beckham lending her celebrity sparkle to a worthy cause, it’s Emma Watson calling on men and boys to be feminists, or Angelina Jolie pairing up with William Hague to tackle rape in conflict.
Now Ms Moran is lending her support to a new campaign to end FGM (female genital mutilation) in one generation – called The Girl Generation – which is being launched in Nairobi, Kenya tomorrow ahead of the UN’s International Day of the Girl on 11 October.
Around 30 million more girls are believed to be at risk of FGM over the next decade on the African continent and, according to the campaign group Daughters of Eve, an estimated 23,000 girls are cut in the UK every year.
It is an appropriate campaign for the author of the popular books How to Build a Girl and How to be a Woman, and she has been vocal about it in the past. Speaking to Channel 4 News, the writer, columnist and witty Twitterer – with 513,000 followers no less – said that she initially had reservations about getting involved in an issue with so much cultural baggage.
I don’t want to go to premieres, I don’t want to get free handbags. I’ve got all this fame here, and this platform, and I try to pull up as many people as I can
“As a white western woman, for years this subject has confused me, because I feel, as a woman, that I need to go out there and support these girls that this is happening to, but you go ‘am I being a colonial imperialist here?'” said Ms Moran.
“I just sat down and thought about this and went, no this isn’t anything to do with any particular religion, or any particular country, or any particular colour: this is something that someone came up with. It’s not in the Koran, it’s not in the Bible, someone came up with this idea at some point. I think if FGM didn’t exist now, the chances of someone inventing it now in the 21st century are extremely low, and that is why I campaign against it.”
Worried about this issue? The NSPCC has a free 24/7 FGM helpline on 0800 028 3550 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
She acknowledged a healthy sceptism towards celebrities jumping onto causes, but said if you don’t use your fame, it’s like a “useless bag of gold that you can’t spend. I don’t want to go to premieres, I don’t want to get free handbags. I’ve got all this fame here, and this platform, and I try to pull up as many people as I can.”
The author has teamed up with Nimco Ali of the campaign group Daughters of Eve, an ambassador for The Girl Generation campaign, who says that society is at a turning point in its attitude to FGM, in realising that it is a form of gender violence against girls: not a religious or cultural practice. “My niece is the first girl in our family to be free from FGM,” said Ms Ali. “When you break the cycle of abuse once, you break it forever: Save a girl, save a generation.”
Ms Moran is a well-known vocal campaigner on women’s issues and champion of the working class, and told Channel 4 News that she still remembers what it was like growing up with little money in a Wolverhampton council estate. She hasn’t shied away from criticising government cuts to benefits and public services either.
I believe in optimism and not being cynical and just still trying to be a good person Caitlin Moran
But fast forward a few decades, and Ms Moran is now an influential voice in the British media, who has said in previous interviews that she didn’t send her children to state schools. “Imagine how annoyed I am that I can’t send my children to a state school?” she said. “You just can’t get your kids into a state school here… Would I like there to be amazing comprehensive education for everybody locally in this country? Yes. Do I write about it all the time? Yes. Could I get it? No. Have I made a fudgy compromise to make sure my children are happy? Yep.”
But she said that people hold different types of celebrities to different standards. “If you’re Jeremy Clarkson and your whole schtick is ‘yeah I’m just going to run people over and I want to be able to drive my car at 90mph and park outside a hospital honking my horn all day and night’, you can do anything you want and everyone’s like ‘nah he’s just Jeremy Clarkson, he’s not trying to save the world’.
“Whereas if you turn up and you’re kind of like; ‘well I’d like to talk about more serious issues and ways that we could do this, and helping people, and drawing attention to things that need to be done’, as soon as you make one mistake, everyone’s just kind of; ‘well that’s the end of idealism. We should all carry on being cynical’.
“And I don’t believe that, you know, I believe in optimism and not being cynical and just still trying to be a good person.”
But does she let the Twitter storms or any criticism bother her? If it does, she doesn’t show it: “I never leave the house,” she laughs.
“Nine times out of ten, when you think you’re having a nervous breakdown, if you simply have a cup of tea and a biscuit and turn off Twitter for 20 minutes, you find it’s actually fine.”