"I'm a Feminist but..."
Winner of 2016 Writers’ Guild Award for Best Radio Comedy for her hit BBC Radio 4 series Rolls the Dice
Edinburgh Fringe regular, screenwriter – and now, author
What is The Guilty Feminist? Following her podcast of the same name, stand-up comedian Deborah Frances-White’s autobiography/political treatise does, in Deborah’s words, “explore our noble goals as Twenty-First Century feminists and the hypocrisies and insecurities which undermine them” – and if you’re a listener of the podcast, I really hope you emphasised undermine them in true Frances-White fashion.
(For anyone that knows me, this book is right up my street and I am buzzing at how excited and OTT I can be while gushing about this book. So *breathe* here we go…)
I am gutted to say I only came across The Guilty Feminist as a concept/podcast/religious experience (I’m only half kidding) a few weeks ago. I recently had the pleasure of doing some work experience at a publishing firm. Nervous, excited, and buzzing to be working somewhere that doesn’t require me to mop floors or lay and relay tables, I walked in on the first day to a very big, very shiny building that gave me a little card to buzz through all the security gates and found a book on my allocated desk. I was told it was mine, if I wanted it. If I believed in a superhuman moralistic deity, I might say she was smiling on me that morning.
Not only did I get a free book, it was a book on feminism.
I know some people are going to see the word ‘feminist’ and switch off immediately/not even click on this blog-post for fear that the insatiable liberals have taken over the mainstream. If you are that person, firstly I’m impressed you’re still reading (thank you!) and secondly, I ask you to take a second and consider who the President of the United States is right now: the liberal left have not taken over. We are failing if it is even remotely possible for that giant Wotsit to be in power and why we most definitely do need feminism if he or any other person like him is remotely permissible in a morally conscious society. So yeah, my first point. Feminism most definitely did not start and end with the suffragettes, jumping under horses or burning our bras. It is needed, it is relevant, and it is intersectional.
Frances-White and The Guilty Feminist brand make feminism approachable and FUNNY. Too much about political commentary is overly serious, moralistic and shaming of those who don’t say the 100% right thing immediately all the time. One little mistake on the left and you can be ‘cancelled’ quicker than Roseanne Barr’s outdated sitcom.
Separated into three parts, The Guilty Feminist addresses ‘How We Got Here’, looking back at the history and earlier waves of feminism including those amazing suffragettes of the early 20th Century, ‘Now We’re Here, What Do We Do About It?’ and ‘All Change!’, looking at how people of all genders can be better feminists taking into account everything feminism has already achieved and what we still drastically need to work on.
One favourite chapter of mine: “Finding Your Inner Obama (Michelle, of course).” Frances-White equates the oomph and power and intelligence of Michelle Obama in this chapter to everyone’s best self. Be as empowered as you can be, whatever that means for you and no one else. I love that.
“But it’s in industry, politics, academia and medicine where feminism needs us the most to say, ‘I can. I want to. I’d be brilliant’.”
“People call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.” – British author and journalist Rebecca West
“Yes is dangerous. No keeps you safe. No is Friends re-runs and thinking about writing a blog and staying in a relationship with insidiously sexist Sam… No is easy.”
These are some of my favourite moments in the book - they are purely personal for me and I think that's a lot of what the book does. It feels intimate, approachable, friendly - like that feeling you had that you thought no one else would understand and maybe it meant you're not such a good feminist after all - it's okay.
I’ve been deemed by mostly people who are not my friends (and one teacher) to be a ‘rabid’ feminist probably since I was about seventeen and discovered politics. I’ve had guys (they were like sixteen) ask if that means I don’t shave, as if your political stance has anything to do with your body hair. I’ve dated guys who most definitely were not feminists. I’ve kicked myself for being academic and for wanting a good job, and I used to idolise Andy in Devil Wears Prada when she ditches the high-flying job to return to her underachieving, inferiority-complex boyfriend. (I was young.) The point is feminism has been a part of me since I was old enough to realise inequality existed and, for me, it is most definitely a journey rather than something I’ve achieved already. I am learning. I don’t know anywhere near as much as I want to. Feminism is one of those wonderful things that keeps evolving; it’s not a constant. First wave feminism understood very little about any other genders except ‘female’ and most definitely wasn’t intersectional. I aim to be a white feminist that doesn’t fall under ‘White Feminism’. Deborah Frances-White does the same.
So, while this may sound very ‘self-helpy’ in that way that a lot of readers like to cringe, I really found the book empowering. There is a power in the community that The Guilty Feminist podcast has created and a pride in acknowledging that, “Yes, I do care about equality and no that isn’t weird and shameful.” But The Guilty Feminist allows us to be imperfect, to not always say the right thing and to give other people who are trying to be allies the space to learn too. If feminism is always angry, it will alienate and frighten. Deborah Frances-White cleverly brings together the issues that really matter with just enough humour to make the subject manageable.
I thoroughly suggest you have a read.
In true Frances-White fashion, I’ve done a few of my own “I’m a feminist but...'s”:
I’m a feminist but I find myself hesitating before I tell people my tattoo is politically motivated just in case they judge me.
I’m a feminist but I’ve allowed someone to tell me I’m not ‘wife-material’ as if that’s an insult.
I’m a feminist but it’s taken me nearly twenty-one years to say I’m intelligent, I am going to be a writer and whoever I end up with is just going to have to deal with that.