The news that you are scheduled to conduct an interview in a diner at 8 a.m. in midtown Manhattan is usually pretty dreary, unless your interviewee is beloved London Times columnist Caitlin Moran, and you have also just been informed that she has never, ever been to a New York City diner before. If you've read her book, "How to Be a Woman," just released in the U.S., you know that Moran's stance on something as basic as underwear ("I'm pro big undies ... Really big. I'm currently wearing a pair that could have been used as a fire blanket to put out the Great Fire of London at any point during the first 48 hours") is enough to make a person laugh out loud on, say, a totally packed transcontinental JetBlue flight. One could only imagine what she'd have to say about egg-white omelettes.
The oldest of eight children raised in a British working-class family, Moran grew up, by her own account, overweight, friendless, unreasonably optimistic and totally perplexed by the apparent requirements of femininity. Bras? Hair removal? Menstruation? What? And those requirements didn't end with puberty, she quickly learned -- they multiplied. Wearing high heels, putting up with sexism, obsessing about weddings and babies -- adult womanhood seemed to demand all of them. Until Moran questioned whether it really did, and wrote a book about that.
Charging from puberty onward to strip clubs, fashion, food and weight and role models with lots of capitalized words along the way, "How to Be a Woman" is high energy, hilarious, occasionally poignant and, in most cases, so true you want to shout, "YES!!!" (again in the middle of a JetBlue flight). Or a diner.
Over breakfast a couple of weeks ago, Moran spoke to HuffPost Women about goals for the book, getting her period on the "Today" show and what good porn would look like.
CM: I have no idea how this system works.
HPW: The first thing you need to know about diners is that the menus are completely overwhelming. So just tell me what you want, and …
CM: In Britain, you would just get maybe toast.
HPW, too enthusiastically: They have that!
CM: You wouldn’t look at the menu -- you’d just ask for toast. There wouldn’t be all of this stuff. What's Canadian-style bacon? Did I just drink your water?! I’ve got some sense of entitlement, this is terrible! Oh, there’s a fresh fruit cup. That won’t kill me, will it?
HPW: Are you worried about the diner killing you?
CM: Oh, no, not killing, no, I’ve just never eaten any of these things. What’s a "muffing roll"?
HPW: A what? A muffin? Oh, 'muffing / roll'? That’s a typo.
CM: A muffing roll ... That sounds kind of sexual. Cool. Yeah. I’m gonna get the fruit cup.
HPW: Do you get accosted in the street by women thanking you for this book?
CM: Yes. In London, literally.
HPW: It’s about to happen here. Are you aware of this? I mean, not here in the diner. Out there.
CM: I don’t know. It’s still just seems very weird that anybody would know about it in the U.S.
HPW: We heard about it last summer -– everyone said, “This is really hot in the U.K,” and we were like, “We’ll see."
CM: 'Cause we said that about Oasis, and that never really panned out.
HPW: So now we see that the hype was well-earned.
CM: Thank you very much. I do think I did try to do it with a big heart. I just think you should have a bit of a mission. In all those shows like "X-Factor" where people are auditioning for fame, they haven’t got anything to say. They just want to wave and see the audience wave back at them. I absolutely delineate the world right now between wavers and people who’ve actually got something to say.
When you really realize what that means, and you try to say something true, it's harder than you think. You try to write a joke, and you come across as klutzy and ditzy, and you go, “No, I’m actually not klutzy and ditzy. The joke’s not gonna be that I’m a klutzy and ditzy person -- it’s that I’m gonna work really hard, and I want to change the world and to be a bit of a superhero."
HPW: You recently said, "The secret is: You don’t need to keep it secret." Can you explain what that “it” is?
CM: Nearly every aspect of being a woman you have to hide. I was on the "Today" show [recently], and they put you in front of a glass window with all these tourists behind you, and I’d been in the dressing room with Stephen Baldwin and was about to go on, and I realized my period had started. And suddenly I’m on air in front of 6 million people just kind of thinking, I’m in a very tight pair of shorts -- is this going to show? There’s no equivalent for men.
You go to a film and see thousands of people being killed and blood spurting everywhere, but you can never see just a woman kind of like getting off a chair and realizing she’s just left a stain behind. That would be completely unthinkable. But that’s a normal thing -- you’ve not done anything wrong! That’s the "it!"
HPW: One of the arguments you make in the book is that porn isn't bad for women, but women deserve better porn and that it's up to women to make it. What would that better porn look like?
CM: I think it would be really woozy, really psychedelic. When I’m having sex, I usually see patterns and colors and amazing paisley, and it gets very synesthetic, and there are kind of key words and stuff, kind of like a mood board, like ... Pinterest! You know what I mean? Kind of a collage, much more touch screen, much more app for the iPad. If I had time, I’d make it.
Or it doesn’t even actually have to be that, just two people who actually want to f*ck each other! We need a bold pioneer who will f*ck someone that they love for a porno. That’s the new frontier. It would be genuinely revolutionary.
HPW: What did you think of "Fifty Shades of Grey"?
CM: It’s so badly written, but it’s generated millions -- it’s created a whole new market. [The existence of] very badly written pornography for women will now mean that there’s massive amounts of money in the pot for well-written pornography. The whole market’s open to talking about female sexuality now. It doesn’t even matter if it’s bad. We’ve opened the conversation, and we’ve proved that there’s a market.
"Bridesmaids" made millions at the box office and reminded people that women have different tastes and they do want to do slightly different things. So there’s this huge market of bright women who have money and are educated, and they’re standing there going, “I want to be culturally engaged! I have money in my hands, but no one is making anything for me! All I see is 'Sex and the City' redux.”
I love Lena Dunham and "Girls" because it’s not all about clacking around all day meeting your best friend for cocktails. It’s about being a bit broken, a bit spotty, being confused and doing weird, venal, stupid things that boys do rather than having to be glamorous.
HPW: Tell us about the sitcom you're writing.
CM: My sister Caz and I are writing it about the first half of the book. It’s called "The Big Object" because the lead character, she is the big object. She’s a fat teenage girl. And she’s got this theory about perspective: If she wears a big hat, then the perspective will make the rest of her body look smaller by comparison. And if they’re in a room, she doesn’t want to be the big object in the room -- she wants to make sure there’s always something bigger than her.
We wanted to make a sitcom to talk about teenage girls, because the teenage girls you see on TV, they're all texting, they’re all on Bebo, they’ve all got friends who they’re falling in and out with, they’re a bit sly, they’ve got to be sexy. You never see a scared, spotty, doubtful teenage girl who wants to be noble and has a quest and is trying to read books and trying to do something, who doesn’t have any friends and only hangs out with her sisters. So it’s a sitcom about that, and it’s really f*cking funny.
HPW: What impact do you hope "How to Be a Woman" will have?
CM: My ultimate aim would be that people will read it and go, “I agree with some of those things, but it made me think of this, and I disagree with it here. I want to write a book called 'No, How to Really Be a Woman' or 'This Is Actually How to Be a Woman' or 'A New Kind of Woman,'" and there would be a million more books like this. It’s template that I want people to go off and copy. Tell me your story, go out and blog about this, because you need every single woman saying what it’s like for them to be a woman. We need every single woman saying, "This is how it is for me."