The Guilty Feminist
On the development and growing success of a feminist podcast – and how I evolved with it.
'The Guilty Feminist', a British podcast created in late 2015 and hosted by comedian and author Deborah Frances-White, explores “our noble goals as 21st-century feminists and the hypocrisies and insecurities which undermine them”. Every week, Frances-White, together with a guest co-host, interviews a small panel on themes such as women in music, disobedience, sex education, suffragettes and climate change.
When I first came across this podcast in January 2018, I was in the stressful (and, as many of you know, existential-crisis-provoking) phase of finishing high school and was losing my sleep over what I was going to do after graduation. For some reason, I went through the comedy podcast section on Spotify (subtle product placement my friends) in search of some light-hearted distraction, and ended up finding so much more than that.
At the time, I had never really had an in-depth encounter of the concept of feminism- this topic was never discussed in school or among my friends, and hardly with my family. Because I didn’t know what the concept entailed, but had noticed the negative stigma connected to it, I think I would have been hesitant to call myself a feminist at the time. How things have changed.
In the beginning, I remember feeling invited into a positive environment, while realising how strange it was for me to virtually be in a space in which a discussion group was only comprised of women and non-binary people (there have only been a handful of male guests so far). For once, it wasn’t just that one woman sitting on a panel of (white, straight, cis) men. I could relate to and was thankful for debates on typically female experiences, often overlooked by mainstream media, and felt a sense of belonging thanks to the audience I heard reacting in the background.
Every episode starts with a few statements beginning with “I’m a feminist, but…”, in which the participants humorously admit to actions or opinions contradictory to feminist values, completing the “guilty” part of the podcast. One example would be “I’m a feminist, but one time I went on a women’s rights march, and I popped into a department store to use the loo, but got distracted trying out face cream. And when I came out the march was gone.”
This also showed me that there is no perfect version of feminism, and that feminists don’t have to be perfect or experts on every topic. I feel like the worry of being called out as not feminist enough to call yourself one can be a barrier as well, which of course is very counterproductive.
In the first episodes, at the time presented by Deborah Frances-White and Sophie Hagen, the two hosts set themselves challenges according to the theme of the next recording. Initially, these challenges were focused more on overcoming individual struggles and insecurities (for example by posing nude for an art class or eating alone in public), however as they became more confident in taking up space, in defining and expressing their beliefs, their focus shifted more outward, reflecting on a bigger picture of patriarchal power structures and intersectionality. Slowly but surely, the topics and guests became increasingly diverse, covering the connectedness of feminism with issues concerning people of colour, the LGBTQ+ or disabled community and other marginalised groups. This motivated me to actively make an effort in shaping the media I consume, from the movies I watch to whom I follow on Instagram. Over time I discovered some awesome humans (go follow Madame Gandhi and Blair Imani!), creating my own little feminist bubble of inspiration.
I came to understand the power of language and the patterns of oppression subtly manifested in our choice of words. I became more aware of the speed at which different genders in my surroundings would speak, or how often I apologised for unnecessary reasons. I learned new vocabulary, using the term non-disabled over able-bodied or talking of sexual orientation instead of sexual preference (because preference implies a conscious choice) and decided not ever to use a binary “ladies and gentlemen”. Even during our welcome week in Sciences Po there were a few things that caught my attention, for example that speakers referred only to “he/she” and not “they” after confirming our university to be an inclusive space for the LGBTQ+ community.
All these conversations I was listening to gave me food for thought on how I navigate my daily life, how I talk and carry myself, how I take up space. It is still difficult for me to express and defend my opinions because I didn’t grow up in a debating culture and often doubt my competence on a subject. If I am not 100% sure of their validity, my thoughts will not be turned into speech, often leaving me frustrated by the regret of words unsaid. But I’m working on it, and I believe that these outspoken and political female voices of unapologetic humour have built my confidence considerably. The fact that Deborah Frances-White has become more vocal on paper, in shows, in interviews, was also reassuring for me, because I therefore recognised that the ability to speak up does not come overnight.
Today, The Guilty Feminist is letting actions follow its words, with projects and collaborative campaigns on period poverty, abortion rights, refugee support and more. It has collaborated with Amnesty International for “Truth to Power Hour” and launched the “Joyful Resistance”, a movement intending to create small, inviting communities aiming to take a stand for diversity and feminism.
Over the past year, I have undergone my own “feminist awakening”, becoming aware of feminist issues and their intersectionality, recognising my privileges, reflecting on the problems we face in this world. I still have so much more to learn, and am glad to be on a campus where there are so many opportunities to explore and discuss these topics. Now, I will make it my challenge to become active, to being an engaged ally and to making our voices heard.
Whether you don’t identify as a feminist, are an activist, or don’t know anything about the subject, I recommend you to give this podcast a listen and would be curious to know what you think of it!