On Friday night instead of donning garb and heading out to party, I went to the Southbank Centre to hear two feminist icons in conversation. Asking the questions: celebrated Times columnist Caitlin Moran; promoting her new book Not That Kind Of Girl, prolific polymath Lena Dunham.
Tickets reportedly sold out in 12 hours. “Even Stephen Fry couldn’t do that,” quipped the Southbank Centre’s artistic director in her intro.
Summarising Lena’s successes, Caitlin spoke of her “sheer fucking ladyballs” and her prodigious effect as a writer, actor and producer on the show Girls, which internationally made girls feel that they are normal – “I can see me!” Caitlin emphasises.
8x Emmy nominated and 2x Golden Globe winner Lena wrote her book in antidotal chapters and on Friday night she read from the chapter about her mother / selfies / nudity. Perhaps most revealingly, she explains in response to critic’s exclamation at her bravery at stripping off (she half-jokes – I bet Blake Lively doesn’t come under this questioning) “it’s not brave to do something that doesn’t scare you.”
There were a lot of nodding & smiling & clapping moments, but here are a few more of my favourite soundbites from the evening:
Caitlin asks Lena “when was the last time you were anxious?” “About 10-15min ago,” Lena replies. The Call The Midwife crew is in the audience thanks to Lena’s tweeted special request. Miranda Hart waves in a queenly manner towards the stage. “What if they don’t feel the magnitude of my gratitude?” Lena asks sincerely.
Continuing on the anxiety theme, Caitlin asks “if we were calm, would we create as much?” An oft-pondered question, Lena quotes her father in response – “Fear isn’t what keeps the plane in the air.” Her Dad said that by worrying we can’t prevent what’s challenging in life. In fact, Lena explains, the things that threw her weren’t what she would have thought to worry about at all.
On the criticism Lena received when the sum she received for her book deal was announced: There’s a moral dimension to earning so much money and entertainers are paid unfairly when you consider doctors and nurses and teachers. But being questioned for how much you earn is a feminist issue – guys don’t have to deal with this. She gets anxious “lest I be seen buying shoes I don’t deserve.” Recalling how she once saw a male celebrity who she won’t name “wasted in the airport on a golf cart” she deadpans – “that must be a fucking pleasure.”
Discussing food and appearances and women’s complicity, Lena laughingly brings up the Daily Mail article that recently came out: “The Daily Mail said I had debuted a noticeably slimmer face. I was enraged from a feminist point of view, and also like thank you. [...] Every time I’m cat-called – it’s horrible and it’s validating and that combination is super dark.”
Caitlin asks, to the audience’s delight,”is being friends with Taylor Swift as much fun as it looks?” “I want to tell you guys it’s not,” Lena pauses, “but it really is. She’s so rad. She has an amazing amount of control over her business. I can’t say enough good things about her… She smells amazing.”
Lastly, towards the end of the evening an audience member poses the question about the lack of diversity in Girls. Lena answers “there’s a lot of criticism I don’t are about (being called fat, etc.) but I do care when women say they feel excluded.” She goes on to explain how she didn’t feel capable of representing everyone’s experience. “The problem of representation in TV is people need to see themselves on television, but more women need to be in positions of power in the industry to bring their story to television.”
Caitlin then jumps in to defend Lena: “You have to look at who’s commissioning. It’s a predominantly straight, white male industry. [...] To be racist by omission? That’s a big word we use for serious things. Can you call a person who’s written something semi-autobiographical about their experiences racist?” Getting the final word, Lena says “this is a conversation we need to have and if I’m the one that has to take one for the team to start the conversation I’m all in.”
I can’t sufficiently express how much the evening got the brain juices flowing and all done with wit and poise. It’s kind of cringe to think I’m just another person in the 2000 strong audience from one event on the book tour, but what can I say – girl crush to the max.