SOFIE HAGEN

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Why this hi­lar­i­ous comic’s a guilty fem­i­nist

AWARD­WIN­NING CO­ME­DIAN SOFIE HAGEN TALKS SEX­U­AL­ITY, SO­CIAL ANX­I­ETY AND GENDERNEUTRAL TOI­LETS WITH ROXY BOURDILLON

“If I feel ashamed, that is usu­ally a sign that I need to say it out loud”

Ifirst found out about Sofie via the must-lis­ten-to pod­cast The Guilty Fem­i­nist, which un­til re­cently she co-hosted with Deb­o­rah Frances-white. Her bru­tally hon­est comedic con­fes­sions of her many failed at­tempts to be a suc­cess­ful fem­i­nist had me in­ap­pro­pri­ately guf­faw­ing all over pub­lic trans­port. One of my favourite mo­ments was dur­ing a fun-filled game of I’m A Fem­i­nist But... when Sofie re­vealed, “I’m a fem­i­nist but I once said the sen­tence, ‘ What?! You’re a fem­i­nist and you don’t know the name Gloria Stein­berg?!’”

In fair­ness to Sofie, she only prop­erly dis­cov­ered fem­i­nism four and a half years ago, when she moved from Copen­hagen to Lon­don to pur­sue her bur­geon­ing stand-up ca­reer. Since then she has gar­nered rave re­views, telly ap­pear­ances and ac­co­lades in­clud­ing the cov­eted ti­tle of Best New­comer at the 2015 Ed­in­burgh Fes­ti­val for her de­but show, Bub­blewrap. She’s also be­come a pas­sion­ate ad­vo­cate of equal rights.

“Once you start learn­ing about it, you start see­ing it ev­ery­where. It sure ru­ins a lot of films and al­bums, but I would rather never lis­ten to Eminem or watch an­other Tarantino film if it means that I can join the fight. We don’t re­mem­ber Em­me­line Pankhurst for watch­ing a lot of ac­tion films.”

Ad­just­ing their en­ter­tain­ment choices isn’t the only chal­lenge fac­ing mod­ern- day fem­i­nists. For Sofie, the re­al­ity that not ev­ery­one shares her fun­da­men­tal view that all gen­ders are equal is a bit­ter pill to swal­low. “I have to use a word to sig­nify that I be­lieve in some­thing so ba­sic, some­thing ev­ery­one should be­lieve in: equal­ity. It hurts that I have to wear that badge.”

As a rel­a­tively re­cent con­vert to the cause, Sofie has plenty of ad­vice for other new­bies who are keen to ed­u­cate them­selves. “Every­dayfem­i­nism.com is every­thing. Start fol­low­ing fem­i­nists on Twit­ter, join fem­i­nist groups on Face­book. In the be­gin­ning, shut up and lis­ten. It took me two years of in­tense read­ing be­fore I dared to start talk­ing about it. It’s com­pli­cated and it grows rapidly. But once you get it, once you start talk­ing, you’re down­right chang­ing the fuck­ing world for the bet­ter.”

Now she’s done her home­work, Sofie is able to use her pod­casts and per­for­mances to high­light is­sues like body pos­i­tiv­ity, gen­der iden­tity and men­tal health aware­ness. In ad­di­tion to her con­scious­ness- rais­ing but punch­line- heavy ma­te­rial, the very fact that she’s out there in the pub­lic eye is an im­por­tant fem­i­nist act.

She re­calls her trou­bled teenage years: “Ev­ery sin­gle co­me­dian I saw on TV was a white, straight, cis- gen­dered male. Some­times I feel im­mensely sad that my younger self didn’t see a strong, fat, opin­ion­ated, hi­lar­i­ous woman talk­ing about how it’s ok to be fat, it’s ok to be dif­fer­ent and in­tro­verted and weird. It warms my heart that I might one day be that to some­one.” Al­though I’m far from a teenager (thank god), I still find it im­mensely em­pow­er­ing to see Sofie be­ing so vis­i­bly awe­some and so un­apolo­get­i­cally her­self.

Her cur­rent stand- up hour, Shim­mer Shat­ter, deals with her on­go­ing strug­gles with so­cial anx­i­ety (aged six she de­clared, “All peo­ple are too many peo­ple”). She’s thrilled that the show has struck a chord with so many. “Af­ter­wards peo­ple come up to me and say, ‘ I brought my friend so they would un­der­stand my world’.”

She goes out of her way to make her shows as “anx­i­ety free” as pos­si­ble. Venue toi­lets are al­ways genderneutral and she in­vites au­di­ence mem­bers to con­tact her in ad­vance with any per­sonal anx­i­ety-proof­ing re­quests. “It’s a show about anx­i­ety so

it al­most felt coun­ter­in­tu­itive not to make sure that anx­ious peo­ple could en­joy it. I need to sit by a wall or in a cor­ner. I would love to be able to ac­cess the room be­fore so I can find my seat first.”

One thing she hasn’t yet ex­plored much on­stage is her pan­sex­u­al­ity, but be­ing at­tracted to women has al­ways felt nat­u­ral. When she was 15, a friend came out to her as bi­sex­ual. “I, be­ing a twat, laughed and said, ‘ So what? Ev­ery­one feels like that!’ I am at­tracted to ev­ery­one, re­gard­less of gen­der, and I have fallen in love with ev­ery­one.”

De­spite this, she ad­mits, “Most of the bi­pho­bia I have ex­pe­ri­enced has come from my­self. I feel like I haven’t earned my pan­sex­u­al­ity yet”. She de­scribes a nig­gling in­ner voice that chas­tises her: “You have not kissed enough women, your hair and finger­nails are too long.”

“I un­der­stand that this is aw­ful and I am work­ing on it. I also think a lot of peo­ple feel this way. How many of us have tried to kiss a beau­ti­ful girl when we were teenagers only to have the boys from your school call you an at­ten­tion-seeker? As if I did it for them. I never did it for them.”

For one episode of The Guilty Fem­i­nist en­ti­tled Promis­cu­ity, Sofie chal­lenged her­self to cre­ate a chart of all the peo­ple she’d slept with. “I re­alised that for some­one who iden­ti­fies as pan­sex­ual, I had never slept with a woman. It was one of the most in­ti­mate things I ever said on­stage. It made me feel vul­ner­a­ble and ex­posed.” That didn’t stop her from speak­ing her truth. “If I feel ashamed, that is usu­ally a sign that I need to say it out loud.”

Al­though Sofie has now of­fi­cially left The Guilty Fem­i­nist to fo­cus on other projects, her new pod­cast, Made Of Hu­man, is equally fas­ci­nat­ing. In it she talks to friends in­clud­ing Su­san Cal­man, Kather­ine Ryan and Mae Martin about how they man­age to func­tion as hu­man be­ings. But have all the soul-search­ing heart-to- hearts helped her fig­ure life out? “I quickly learned that oh, no one has any idea. We are all just stum­bling through, blind­folded, hop­ing for the best. I talk to some of the coolest peo­ple I know and no one has got their shit sorted.”

One of the ways Sofie copes is by find­ing com­fort in com­edy. “I whole­heart­edly be­lieve that it was one of the main things that kept me alive dur­ing my teenage de­pres­sion.” She seems to have come such a long way since those bleak years. I ask what she would say to her younger self now and, as with so much of what Sofie says, her re­sponse is heartwrench­ingly can­did and ul­ti­mately in­spir­ing: “They don’t care about you. The teach­ers who tell you that you are too un­in­tel­li­gent to get an ed­u­ca­tion, the nurse who tells you that you should lose weight, the ad­verts that tell you what to buy to look pret­tier, the fuck­boys who tell you that they are not at­tracted to you, the girls who tell you that your clothes aren’t cool enough. They feed off your in­se­cu­rity and money and need to feel ac­cepted. Ac­cept and love your­self and you’re all set. Fuck them. Love you.”

“Ac­cept and love your­self and you’re all set”

Over­com­ing sex­ism and so­cial anx­i­ety: fem­i­nist co­me­dian Sofie Hagen.

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