On my holidays, I finished Eichmann in Jerusalem
and moved on to How to Be a Woman
. Oh, it's so tempting to say, from the sublime to the ridiculous, but unfair too. While I was reading Arendt
, a sense of awe built up in me at her absolutely perfect prose, the flawless construction of her sentences and paragraphs and arguments; how every sentence answered the one before and raised a question for the next one to answer; how subtle themes ran through and were never dropped; how the level of argument was intellectually rigorous and yet completely transparent; how her incandescent anger was at no time in doubt but at no time overcame her prose. And that in her second language!
It is a perfect book, if you ask me. She considers and deals with difficulties for just the right length of time for the reader to understand and follow them, such as her elegant dismissal of the 'anyone else would have done the same' defence - you are not put on trial for hypothetical crimes that others may or may not have committed, you are being put on trial for these specific crimes to which you have confessed (so there, Bernhard Schlink). Others have been furious with the book, and I can see why: she's unstinting on the sarcasm, and considerably more scathing about the State of Israel than I expected, though she most definitely supports the legal basis of Eichmann's trial and execution. And her savage indictment of the Jewish councils of Nazi-occuppied countries makes difficult reading, and I don't know enough history to know whether she is right to accuse elders such as the esteemed Leo Baeck of complicity in genocide. But oh, so beautifully written, and a wonderfully clear introduction into the world of 1960s Holocaust philosophy that I need to dive into. Harrowing, obviously, but (and this is in no way a noble thing to be saying) I've read worse.
And so to Caitlin Moran's pop-feminist bible for our generation
. Moran is funny, and smart, and bang-on my age, and is defending feminism in an accessible and lovable fashion, so it is mean to criticise too much. But oh, from the poised and pointed perfection of Arendt's prose to the jolly wobbly waffle of Moran's is a bit of a lurch. And, well. As I've said before, I'm becoming less interested in the cultural aspects of white Western feminism that she takes on, depilation and It bags and Jordan. It all seems a bit teenage, and it seems a bit too easy to bracket out, as Moran does, issues of violence and equal pay and serious discrimination from the start of her book.
It's not that I disagree with what she says, nor that I suspect she would take much umbrage were I to say (for instance) that actually, I don't think strippers are betraying the sisterhood, nor that fashion is a sinister sniper lurking ready to shoot feminism down. Moreover, she makes some very good points - she makes my point about Women's Work is Worthless, for one, namely that non-parenting work done by women might actually have some inherent value for the world at large
, something I very rarely hear said elsewhere. I also liked her robust defence of paying cleaners against the anti-feminist sneerers (because why should a woman feel guilty that she is paying a woman to do her cleaning? why is it her responsibility to feel the guilt rather than a man's?) Her tales of motherhood and abortion are direct and more honest and moving than almost anything I've read.
But it's still chewing-gummish prose, ephemeral meanderings pumped out to pad a few simple arguments which are a bit difficult to pick out of the fluff. Moran rather artlessly dismisses all academic feminists as more or less irrelevant, and then goes on to hero-worship Germaine Greer and Zoe Williams, both of whom, besides being very funny journalists when they try, have a pretty damned good acquaintance with difficult but important French feminism and later gender theories. What's more, the book does read somewhat as a straight It Gets Better video. Oppressed by the Beauty Myth as a teenager? Sexually harassed at the office? Treated like rubbish by self-obsessed men in your early twenties? Don't worry! Get married to a lovely man and you'll be grand! Her husband really does sound lovely, and Moran is very talented, not at all privileged and has made her own happiness - but still, her story is hardly representative. There's absolutely nothing there about lesbian life, apart from a fig-leaf 'I'm not cool enough to be a lesbian, honestly' throwaway statement. I don't mean to sound like an earnest 1930s sociologist demanding a treatise on The Lesbian Problem, but an acknowledgment that we're feminists battling our own battles too might be nice. Equally, nothing on women of colour, nothing on women who stay desperately poor. And while I've come to most of Moran's own conclusions about high heels, shaving, porn and the rest, not all women and not all feminists will, but we all need to fight the real battles together, including, f'rinstance, this terrifying new abortion bill in the UK.
In short: Caitlin, I'll get drunk with you and Lady Gaga in a Berlin sex club any time, but I'll turn to Arendt for my hero worship, if that's OK.