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.