We talk about feminism a lot here. And we strive to do so in a way that is inviting, and not shaming. Because feminism is not a contest. We’re all striving to be the best people we can be, to be progressive, to be thoughtful, to be aware of our blind spots. And sometimes we fail. But this does not make us a failure. It makes us human. Gracefully dancing along the contradictions and conflict of contemporary feminism are comedians Deborah Frances-White and Sofie Hagen, with their girl talk-centric podcast The Guilty Feminist.
With humor, resilience and occasional fury, Frances-White and Hagen tackles issues that impact modern women, from public space (think manspreading and catcalling) to porn, the pressure to apologize, to exercise, and to appeal suitably feminine. The format is a recorded live show, which features an attentive audience (think clapping and laughing) a special guests (often comedians, always women), who share their stories—some silly, some traumatic—alongside the captivating co-hosts, in an earnest and joyful effort to build a community of feminists who won’t be silenced by rape culture or patriarchal bullshit.
For instance, in the ‘Public Spaces’ episode, the clever co-hosts and their guest (Irish comedian Alison Spittle) share stories of fighting back for seat space against manspreaders, calling out a man who physically pushes Spittle for being “in the way,” and pushing back against a homophobic cat-caller with diverting facts (“fact mace!”). With each anecdote, I chuckle along with the studio audience, and sigh with relief. Because even if I’ve not had these exact experiences, hearing that other women—in this case an Australian Brit and a Danish Londoner— also see the sexism hiding in plain sight is a steadying consolation, assuring me that I’m not mad, and I’m not alone.
It’s easy to fall into the rapid-fire back-and-forth between Frances-White and Hagen, who share an effortless camaraderie and charming chemistry, whether discussing the “challenges” they’d assigned themselves in casual activism, or tease about their less-than-feminist moments. (“I slut shamed myself!”) You feel like you’re out at coffee with two dazzling smart, insightful, and funny girlfriends. And this sense of bonding is so intense you want to share your stories too! Then comes the jaunty piano music to bridge that transition from one dwindling conversation to a fresh one, and you’re (cruelly) reminded that you’re not in the room where it happened.
The Guilty Feminist offers a moment to breathe and reflect on issues big and small. Their two-part episode that’s Post-Trump Victory was especially soothing to my raw nerves, reminding me that while there is a lot of awful, we—the women who refuse to shut up and go back to lives of oppression and anonymity—will be heard, whether the old, white, cis-gender and power-hungry men like it and especially if they don’t.
But best of all, it’s easy to fall for the show, as every episode of The Guilty Feminist begins—like the best coffee dates with girls do—with juicy and ludicrous confessions, like:
“I’m a feminist but I haven’t got a ‘This is what a feminist looks like shirt,’ in case people go, ‘Yeah, it was kind of obvious.’”
“I’m a feminist but, I wish my feminist butt was smaller. And less hairy.”
“I’m a feminist but while I think about 5% of my day, thinking about gender equality, I spend about 71% of my day practicing how I would dance, if Idris Elba was watching.”
And perhaps my very favorite of all:
“I’m a feminist but yesterday I shouted at a close male friend I love, who seemed to be defending comedian Doug Stanhope’s stance that Johnny Depp couldn’t possibly have hit Amber Heard because, ‘He knows he wouldn’t do that; he’s a nice guy,’ by shouting at my friend: ‘You don’t know what happened. And you’re co-creating an environment in which women are too afraid to come forward. And if you’re not going to be on our team, as my friend who I love, and if you’re not going to be a feminist, then I give up and there’s no point in me doing The Guilty Feminist podcast, or even trying anymore.’ And then I cried until he apologized. (In response to a laughing audience) It worked!”
Comedy as challenging and cathartic as this is rare. And so Frances-White and Hagen give frustrated feminists a true gift with a podcast that’s brilliantly both.
Kristy Puchko warns listening to this podcast in public may lead to Ursula the sea witch style cackling. But to her, that’s more of a pro than a con.