Win­ning the ar­gu­ment, one joke at a time

In the three or so years since she launched The Guilty Fem­i­nist pod­cast, Deb­o­rah Frances- White’s funny and frank ex­am­i­na­tion of gen­der politics has been down­loaded 60 mil­lion times. As a live show comes to Scot­land, the co­me­dian and cam­paigner talks to J

The Scotsman - - FEATURES -

I’ m a fem­i­nist but I love a cos­tume change dur­ing a pho­to­shoot,” would be a fit­ting start to this in­ter­view with Deb­o­rah FrancesWhi­te, the woman be­hind The Guilty Fem­i­nist pod­casts. The co­me­dian and pod­caster is apol­o­gis­ing about the time it’s taken to do the pic­tures be­fore speak­ing to me, be­cause un­like most co­me­di­ans, it’s a process she ac­tu­ally en­joys.

“A lot of them are ‘ oooh, don’t pho­to­graph me’, they hate it, but not me. And yes, there was a cos­tume change,” she says. She can’t con­tain her ex­cite­ment about her cos­tume for the forth­com­ing Glas­gow show ei­ther, but more of that later.

If fem­i­nism ever suf­fered from an image prob­lem – and clearly it did, given the num­ber of women still adamant they’re not ‘ fem­i­nists; even though they’d like equal pay, or clar­ity on con­sent – then FrancesWhi­te and her tribe can be cred­ited with mak­ing it more user friendly, dare we say giv­ing it a make- over. But

most of all, with their pod­casts and live shows, they’ve put the funny into fem­i­nism.

Cre­ated with co­me­dian Sofie Ha­gen at end of 2015, The Guilty Fem­i­nist pod­cast is one of the most lis­tened to in the UK, with 60 mil­lion down­loads in three years, and this year was nom­i­nated for Best Com­edy Pod­cast at the Bri­tish Pod­cast Awards. Recorded in front of a live au­di­ence, the 147 ( and count­ing) pod­casts fea­ture stand- up from Frances- White and a panel of guests, the likes of Gemma Arter­ton, Hannah Gadsby, up­skirt­ing cam­paigner Gina Martin, Leyla Hus­sein of the Dahlia Project and Jo Brand, with spe­cial episodes fea­tur­ing The Win­drush Gen­er­a­tion and Suf­fragettes.

Each pod­cast kicks off with “I’m a fem­i­nist but” jokes that high­light hypocrisy de­spite good in­ten­tions, so Frances- White obliges.

“I’m a fem­i­nist but one time when I went on a women’s rights march, I popped into a depart­ment store to use the loo, got dis­tracted try­ing out face cream, and when I came out the march was gone.”

She con­tin­ues:

“I’m a fem­i­nist but once when get­ting on a light air­craft from Bos­ton to Cape Cod the pilot asked my weight in front of ev­ery­one in or­der to de­ter­mine how much fuel to put in the plane to make a safe cross­ing, and I lied by 20lbs, en­dan­ger­ing my life, that of the pilot, the other pas­sen­gers and a Bor­der Col­lie that was along for the ride.”

“I’m a fem­i­nist but I some­times fan­ta­sise about be­ing dom­i­nated by fa­mous fic­ti­tious misog­y­nist Don Draper from Mad Men. If only he met ME I would make him whole and heal his pain.”

Hu­mour is cen­tral to the Guilty Fem­i­nist ethos, un­der­cut­ting the se­ri­ous na­ture of is­sues, from in­equal­ity to in­fer­til­ity – even a dis­cus­sion about up­skirt­ing is up­lift­ing. For Frances- White hu­mour isn’t so much a weapon to smash the

pa­tri­archy, more a de­vice to dis­arm it by tick­ling its funny bone.

“I had a man write to me that he lis­tened to the show be­cause he hated fem­i­nists and wanted to see what the en­emy was up to, but had to ad­mit 18 months later we’d worn him down. He lis­tened for 18 months! Be­cause he said it was funny and made him laugh. He said the com­edy drew him in, then he let his ar­mour down and said he was learn­ing some­thing. He said some­times what we say still an­noys him, but to keep say­ing it, be­cause it’s work­ing.”

Not that F- W doesn’t think there aren’t grounds for anger and frus­tra­tion.

“Lis­ten, anger is a per­fectly valid re­sponse to ex­clu­sion. If the suf­fragettes hadn’t got an­gry we still wouldn’t have the vote. When peo­ple are ex­cluded, some go away, some get an­gry, and the third re­sponse is to learn to charm your way past the bounc­ers, be­come in­flu­en­tial, the Oprah Win­frey, Ellen degeneres Michelle Obama re­sponse – just be so charm­ing and charis­matic, as­sume you’re in­cluded then start to in­clude oth­ers.

“So the ‘ I’m a fem­i­nist but’ in­tros sum up ev­ery­thing about the pod­casts,” says F- W. “It’s the idea that we’re all hu­man, other peo­ple feel th­ese things too. It’s say­ing, this is my hypocrisy, this is my self- para­dox. Be­cause our val­ues and ac­tions don’t al­ways meet. We say some­thing’s im­por­tant, but then we might stay on the sofa and binge a load of Net­flix. ‘ I’m a fem­i­nist but’ is a space for peo­ple to come to­gether and say we don’t have to be per­fect to change what we don’t like in our world.”

As for feel­ing guilty, whether it’s a Kar­dashian habit or think­ing “still got it” af­ter a wolf- whis­tle, why does Frances- White think fem­i­nists are tor­tured by guilt?

“I think women are so­ci­etally pres­sured to feel shame, like if you’re bril­liant in your job you’re made to feel guilty ‘ cos you’re not with your fam­ily, and you should feel guilty when you’re with your fam­ily be­cause you’re not work­ing hard enough. Then there’s fem­i­nism on top – are you on the women’s march, are you in the # Me­too move­ment, are you paving the way for the next gen­er­a­tion? It’s re­ally easy for fem­i­nism to be­come an­other thing to feel guilty about and when we feel guilt it turns into shame and you have to carry that weight around.

“You go on In­sta­gram and look at peo­ple jug­gling the school run with a big ca­reer, do­ing some­thing for young women in busi­ness, speak­ing in their kids’ school about con­sent, and think oh god, I’ve just watched four episodes of Love Is­land back to back.”

Frances- White’s fem­i­nism is the in­clu­sive kind, the pod­casts pro­vid­ing a space for women, men and non­bi­nary peo­ple, an ac­knowl­edg­ment that “it’s not ex­clu­sively women who are hav­ing a hard time, and some women have much nicer lives than

some men. In our fem­i­nism we take that into ac­count.”

As well as the pod­casts and live shows, there’s her book, The Guilty Fem­i­nist: From our noble goals to

our worst hypocrisie­s, pub­lished last year. In it she ex­plores her themes at greater length, yet still with a light and comic touch; from pa­tri­archy to porn, from say­ing no to say­ing Yes to The Dress, and point­ing out that the hunter- gath­erer so­ci­eties that ex­ist now aren’t pa­tri­ar­chal, so why as­sume they were in the past?

This month The Guilty Fem­i­nist is on the road, with live shows that in­clude a date in Glas­gow. In Au­gust the pod­cast will be recorded twice in Ed­in­burgh and also dur­ing the Fes­ti­val, The Guilty Fem­i­nist teams up with Amnesty Internatio­nal for the Se­cret Po­lice­man’s Tour, with co­me­di­ans and mu­si­cians.

“The live Glas­gow show is a mega cel­e­bra­tion of women and a place to be joy­ful and laugh. We’ve got singers, co­me­di­ans and will be hav­ing a chat, Gra­ham Nor­ton style, with peo­ple in Glas­gow who are do­ing things to make life bet­ter, fairer and more cre­ative for women, and men.”

“The re­sponse in Scot­land is al­ways fan­tas­tic. We love the en­ergy and the … com­pas­sion. As some­one who has lived in Eng­land for a long time, I al­ways feel a warmth when I come over the bor­der, a kind­ness and open­ness to fem­i­nism. I think it’s be­cause Scot­land has al­ways had a strong spirit of fight­ing for change, for equal­ity, that’s in its DNA. So Glas­gow’s a cel­e­bra­tion of want­ing the world to be a bet­ter place and I re­ally want to re­it­er­ate, ev­ery­one’s wel­come.”

Grow­ing up in Aus­tralia in a fam­ily of Je­ho­vah’s Wit­nesses, FrancesWhi­te left for the UK on a gap year, went to univer­sity here and stayed. Her years in the re­li­gion and how she left formed her com­edy show at the 2012 Ed­in­burgh Fringe. Af­ter start­ing out in im­prov, she found her love of talk­ing to the au­di­ence grew into stand- up which moved onto Ra­dio 4 then mor­phed into the pod­casts, and the book. She’s also writ­ten the script for a com­edy film, Say My

Name, star­ring Lisa Bren­ner, Nick Blood, Ce­lyn Jones and Mark Bon­nar, in which a man and woman on a one- night stand get in­volved with crim­i­nals.

“In 2015, the pod­casts were about what I most wanted to talk about, and since it’s been about how women can take up more space, have more power, and be the ar­chi­tects of the world, not just in­cluded in male spaces, but ac­tu­ally help build mixed gen­der and fe­male- driven spaces.”

“Women are thirsty and a lot that’s di­rected at us is ei­ther cock­tails and shoes – some of us do like cock­tails and shoes, but it’s not the only thing we like, and some of us don’t – or very, very se­ri­ous lec­tures about fem­i­nism that are go­ing to be very dif­fi­cult, with no jokes, no fun, no lev­ity. So I think cre­at­ing an en­ter­tain­ing play space

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