Caitlin Moran’s protagonist in her new novel, “How to Build a Girl,” is (as the title implies) a work in progress. But she doesn’t need anyone’s help — especially not when it comes to sex.
Johanna Morrigan’s gluttonous embrace of the world extends to her libido, uncommon in books about 14-year-old girls and not because that impulse isn’t there. And it certainly didn’t wait to be awoken by a man, a criticism Moran has leveled at many of the current entries in the YA genre.
“How to Build a Girl” reclaims the joys of the feminine experience. At the book’s U.S. launch in Brooklyn, Moran discussed what’s wrong with sex for women (of any age) and modern female protagonists.
Another kind of teenage girl
“This book is about many things, but the main thing is that it’s a filthy book — it opens with a wank. Basically, I wanted to write about a horny teenage girl I don’t see often in popular culture, [to] reclaim the word ‘slut.'”
What’s missing by omitting women’s perspective
“In this book [the first in a trilogy], Johanna doesn’t feel confident enough to let a man give her pleasure. She’s never seen a man making a woman come. So she doesn’t even know where that would happen in the sex; she’s worried that if he tries to make her come with his hand that it might take too long, that she’d be known as a hand-wearier.”
The sex you have should be your own
“Girls feel that if you’ve said yes at some point to sex, then you have to see it through, it’s almost like you’ve done some kind of contract and you’ll be seen as a disappointer if you back away. The two most powerful words you’ll learn as a girl are yes — and no.”
What really happened in ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’
“I know a lot of people who are in the BDSM community, there are reasons why you’re into that sex, and why it pleases you, why it satisfies you, why that’s what you need. But she clearly doesn’t have the psychological makeup or background. … Basically, she’s smacked repeatedly with a hairbrush in exchange for an iPad and a ride in his helicopter.”
How porn warps women’s view of sex
“This is something I realize that I had done, and as soon as I’d realized it I was horrified, but if you’re a woman, very often, you’re not kinda going, ‘I’m having sex,’ you’re thinking what he’s thinking. You’re going, ‘Wow, I must look really good doing this, he must be really enjoying that.’ And that’s because female sexuality has been mediated through the male gaze. Because of pornography, women are lying there being a porn director in their head, never thinking about what they want to do next.
“That’s why [Johanna] starts off with a wank — the first thing she does, you realize that she is in touch with her own sexuality, that she knows how to please herself.”
Even when things go wrong, maintain perspective
“Almost without exception, all the sex that [Johanna] has is awful. Because if you are sleeping around as a teenage girl, almost all the sex you will have will be awful. … To write a fairly funny, accessible book about the realities of having sex as a teenage girl, you have to realize early on that life divides into two kinds of experience: The first one is awesome experiences, and the second one is terrible experiences that will later make amazing anecdotes.”
Who is a feminist?
“I’ve become sick of being in public areas and meeting young girls who just go, ‘I’m not a feminist.’ And I have to reply to them, ‘OK, I absolutely accept you saying that, that’s absolutely fine. Because:
- I presume that you were not educated equally to boys when you were a child.
- I presume you did not go to university.
- I presume that if you had any type of employment, which would be from the very limited realm of jobs available to you, that you gave it up when you were married; or that you carried on while you were married but you gave your pay packet to your husband.
- I presume that you are the legal property of your husband, that he could have you put in a mental asylum or make you his sex slave, and that your children would belong to him;
- that if you were raped or sexually assaulted, that would not be seen as a crime and you would not see the perpetrator go to jail;
- and that you do not vote
If that’s the life that you’ve lived, great, you’re not a feminist. If that’s not the case, and you’ve lived a life in the opposite way, I have some news for you: You have lived a feminist life in a feminist world, and you are a feminist. And you’ve lived that life because of the people that came forth and did a lot of f—ing heavy work: They marched, they starved, they were force fed, some of them died, they drafted legislation, they kept marching, they didn’t stop until you’ve led the life that you’ve just had that leaves you free to spout ignorant stuff like ‘I’m not a feminist.’
It’s the only time I’m ever rude, that I always end that rant with, ‘If you think you’re not a feminist, bitch, buy a dictionary and look it up.’”