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Deborah Frances-White's guilt-free feminism

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Known for her success in recent years with the Guilty Feminist Podcast, Oxford graduate Deborah Frances-White has become quite the feminist celebrity. After growing up in Australia as a Jehovah’s Witness, Deborah broke free from its patriarchal restraints and pursued a life in the arts, an industry heavily dominated by men. 

Image credit: Linda Cooper

As part of Oxford’s prestigious comedy improv groups, Frances-White developed a keen interest in comedy, which has led to the successful podcast we've all been hearing so much about. But just why is it so popular? 

Uploaded to Spotify every Monday, the podcast begins with Frances-White’s iconic introduction, which from the first episode to the present day, has remained the same: 

“Welcome to The Guilty Feminist, the podcast in which we explore our noble goals as 21st Century feminists and the hypocrisies and insecurities that undermine them”. 

This appears a tad wordy and pretentious when written down like this, but the way in which Frances-White executes this introductory welcome is comedic, engaging and completely honest - outlining from the beginning the exact intentions of the podcast, with no strings attached. 

The podcast has thrived in the past three years, with almost 50 million downloads. Women have been craving this relatable approach to fighting for equality. Feminism is one of the most important movements to have evolved in the last hundred years, but can seem scary and unattainable when taken too literally. I do not mean to say for one second it is a joke, but it shouldn’t always be taken overly seriously - it should be discussed in a realistic and relatable way, like all things, and in this sense Deborah Frances-White has hit the nail on the head with the tone of her podcast.

Each of us are guilty of succumbing to some of the most non-feminist stereotypes around, and we feel terrible for this. Ignoring people you know in the street when you have no makeup on as you don’t want them to see you is a classic, or wanting to hide the fact you’re on your period from people as if it’s not happening to over half the population every month. These are just two of the endless feminist confessions from Deborah and her panel guests every week.

A not-so-perfect approach to woman’s equality is what makes this podcast thoroughly relatable for the average woman, who of course from time to time is going to have not particularly feminist feelings and then feel very guilty about it. In her recent book, also named The Guilty Feminist, Deborah perfectly articulates what we all tend to feel on the matter: “Every day of my life, I’ll wake up and not be perfect. I’ll always do and think less-than-feminist things until the day I die.”

Frances-White’s podcast covers a vast array of topics, ranging from stereotypical feminist issues such as periods and motherhood to sexual assault and orgasms, as well as more abstract topics of love, regret, hope, and generally being brave. This confessional and witty 50 minutes of Frances-White and a variety of guests makes for an honest community of people listening to people about their feminist wavers and wobbles. 

Special episodes are also dedicated to specific current issues regarding women. For example months ago, after the explosion of more than 90 women coming forward with sexual harassment allegations concerning the former Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, Frances-White dedicated a special episode entitled “Weinstein Culture” that addressed the serious concerns of women’s safety and vulnerability in Hollywood. 

Kristine Ziwica, a Women’s Agenda Magazine writer and a special guest on this “Weinstein Culture” episode, describes the Harvey Weinstein allegations as the “crest of a wave” as the hundreds if not thousands of women who have suffered in silence may now have the confidence to come forward. She talks about how over the past year the number of women coming forward with allegations of sexual abuse from the likes of Roger Ails and Bill O’Riley (both influential figures at Fox News) and numerous cases in Silicon Valley have increased drastically ,and ends this extensive list saying “basically, women are pissed!”

Listening to someone who considers herself “a behind the curtain feminist”, who campaigns and writes for women about women, makes Ziwica an inspiring addition to this episode.

There is something very listenable, when in the same podcast someone can mock the patriarchal powers of Hollywood whilst maintaining the seriousness and delicacy that such an issue requires. 

Image credit: Daniel Hambury

On a more upbeat note, on the centenary of women’s suffrage, Frances-White offered listeners a celebration with special guests including actor Samuel West, who talks of his admiration and support for women and men’s equality within the arts, and indeed all sectors of life. The celebration included poetry, performances and speeches, voicing the appreciation of generations given a chance at suffrage due to the actions and devotion of figures such as Emmeline Pankhurst and Emily Davison. 

It is important to mention that although a predominantly feminism-focused podcast, Frances-White is of course promoting diversity and inclusion. Almost one 140 episodes in (at the time of writing), and Frances-White’s diverse selection of guests have included hilarious comedian Rosie Jones, who has cerebral palsy, black English opera singer Nadine Benjamin, and current mayor of London Sayed Khan, to name a few. The normality of this multiplicity week after week creates an open community where nothing is too outrageous, and diversity is whole-heartedly celebrated. 

"My way of making themes on-limits is to invite a broad section of people. I prefer majority representation because I learn so much more. Trans jokes can be made but if you’ve got no experience of being trans, then let trans people make them," Frances-White says.

An avid supporter and volunteer for the safety of refugees, Frances-White also uses her podcast to promote aid, contributions and awareness of the refugee crisis currently a foot in Calais. This is not in a half-hearted manner - in fact, Frances-White is heavily involved with Amnesty International, taking the role of Ambassador in 2018 and organising rallies in Calais, which she often attends. 

Perhaps a bold statement, but I think this is exactly the sort feminist community that will rid the world of women’s degradation; women and men understanding ideal feminist goals, taking a step back and examining just how realistic they are. The neautu of the Guilty Feminist lies in realising that some issues are just a given wrong and should be seized with anger and action (such as the disgusting abuse of women in Hollywood), whilst accepting that some day-to-day wobbles such as wanting to wear makeup shouldn’t be seen as anti-feminist. This balance and acceptance of our imperfections is key to the future of feminism, and Deborah Frances-White is doing a wonderful job advocating this.

I truly believe her to be a wonderful and honest feminist icon, even if a slightly guilty one, who is paving the way towards women’s future equality as well as the equality and justice of everyone else too. 

Lead image credit: Linda Cooper

Listen to The Guilty Feminist here.




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