Caitlin Moran: I'm crushing the demons of those boys who called me a fat Gruffalo
It’s no coincidence that the Glasgow Film Festival had Caitlin Moran’s new film as its closing night premiere on International Women’s Day.
The event had been celebrating female filmmakers, culminating with a day of programming which featured films made by or featuring women.
How To Build A Girl, written by Moran, and adapted from her autobiographical novel of the same name, is like a guide for young feminists, about a working-class teenager desperate to escape her life who creates an alter ego in order to fulfil her dreams.
While the film lays bare many of the hardships experienced by teenage girls, Moran tells Sky News she believes now is actually a great time to be female.
“Five hundred years ago we were being burnt as witches, 120 years ago we couldn’t vote, we couldn’t own property, the amount of jobs that we could have were limited, so every day is better than the previous one,” she says.
Moran says the story’s protagonist, Johannna – a misfit teenager who becomes a music critic – was written in response to not seeing anything on screen she could relate to.
“In art you can invent future kinds of women that then you watch as a teenage girl, going, ‘oh, that’s what women must be like’, and it’s not, it’s girls like me who were scared teenagers who weren’t that sassy and didn’t have the big comeback.
“I’ve got to 44, I can now write a teenage girl who is sassy and does have a comeback, and then my teenage girls are watching that going, ‘oh, that’s what teenage girls are like, so that’s what I’m gonna be’.”
Moran says it is about reflecting reality through art.
“That’s why that feminist saying ‘I cannot be what I cannot see’ is the most important thing, and that’s for me the driving thing in art – create the things that we want to be.
“Let’s invent futures, let’s invent new kinds of girls, because you make the dream a reality.”
The film, like the book it’s based on, is set in Wolverhampton in the 1990s – a time before social media.
However, many of the themes seem extremely current, including the importance of being kind – something that has been widely discussed in terms of online behaviour since the death of Love Island presenter Caroline Flack.
Moran says she believes social media is an experiment and we are all its unwitting participants.
“There’s never been a time in the history of the world where the entire world can be together in one place and talk to each other unmediated.
“Previously, you’d have to be at a magazine, you’d have to have some kind of fame or platform. Now everyone can talk to each other, so that’s basically the start of a form of a global consciousness.
“And because that’s never happened before, it’s basically in an infant phase. The internet is like a big baby, it has these rages, it gets really sad about things, it’ll hit people that it loves.”
Which means, she says, that the online world could really do with some decent parenting.
“I really believe that the internet possibly needs a couple of official mums just sitting on it. And when things get nasty, she can just come in and go, ‘You’ve all just got overtired, I’m closing down the internet for an hour and you’re all going to bed’.”
Despite being well aware of the negatives, the writer is optimistic things will improve.
“We’re starting to see the fallout of having a completely unregulated platform where anonymous people can drive people to mental illness or death, and we will not carry on with it like that, I’m sure we’ll change things.”
And Moran has also come up with a potential solution herself.
“I’m constantly astonished that there hasn’t been a rival to Twitter invented where no one can be anonymous, everybody has to be registered.
“All you’d have to do is have, like, the 10 most famous Kardashians out of the thousand Kardashians going: ‘We’ve invented this new platform, no one’s anonymous, the motto is Be Kind, we’re all going there now, we’ve all posted a picture of our bums’.
“Bang! Ten billion people would immediately go to that new platform and Twitter would be out of business.”
How To Build A Girl is largely autobiographical and despite some mortifying moments being depicted on screen, Moran is delighted to see her teenage self immortalised on film by the Booksmart actress Beanie Feldstein.
“It’s like I get to relive my life with someone much cooler doing all this stuff, which somehow makes it look like I did it on purpose, which it didn’t really feel like at the time,” she says.
“It’s a brilliant vindication, and so much of art is – you either do it because you fancy someone, you want to show off to them, or because you want revenge on someone who chased you across some wastelands while shouting, ‘you fat Gruffalo’.
“I very much come from the second camp, so finally having the movie on screen with someone so beautiful and brilliant playing me just means that finally the demons of those boys that called me a fat Gruffalo have been crushed.”
How To Build A Girl will be out in UK cinemas on 3 July