The Guilty Feminist

You know. You are a feminist, but some days even your life does not pass the Bechdel Test. You’re a feminist, but you once left a party without talking to a single person except for apologising to a man who’d stood on your foot. You’re a feminist, but one time you went on a Women’s March and popped into a department store to use the loo and on the way back, got distracted trying out face creams and when you came out, the march was gone.

The above examples come from a brilliant book, The Guilty Feminist, by Deborah Frances-White, who is also a stand up comedian and the creator of the 50-million-download podcast The Guilty Feminist (it is really funny, do listen). I often kick myself for not having behaved in a feminist enough manner, thus I was extremely relieved to find out that this is perfectly normal. (Since we are sharing, my favourite Christmas movie is Love, Actually, which is just about the biggest piece of chauvinist, sexist shit, but I do watch it every year. There you are*. Bad feminist.)

There is so much theoretical & academic literature about feminism (most of it very good, I should add), that in comparison The Guilty Feminist is refreshingly rooted to the real world. Frances-White gives many work-life situations as examples of sexism women face regularly, and some of the exhibits really do ring familiar, such as:

“A male colleague who is not my boss has delivered non existing contribution to a joint project. Then he sends a Friday-email initially saying “boss not happy, we really need to work through the weekend to get this done”. Not once asking whether I’m available for weekend work, but rather assuming I’ll take over the project. Not once have I said no thanks. What I will do the next time is to send an email with “I can’t do this weekend, but I’m forwarding you the suggestions I made last week in case any of them are useful. Good luck!”

Admittedly, as a stand-alone example the above comes across a bit random, but the book offers excellent argumentation on male entitlement and privilege and what women should do to counterbalance it (or, actually, stop it). 

I feel that I find myself often in situations that are blatantly sexist, or engage in conversations with people who might say the most outrageous things, but very rarely do I actually do anything in those situations. My inability to bite back immediately makes me feel like a guilty feminist, and that is one of the reasons I found this book such a comforting read. I am clearly not alone with these self-flagellating thoughts.

Which brings me to another important point Frances-White makes: thinking is not enough. Example:

“If I’m in a train carriage with two seats to myself, and I use one for my handbag and I’ve got my feet up and I’m spread out, then my wishing that the pregnant woman in front of me had a seat isn’t helping her. Telling her I believe pregnant women should have seats, and that I’m one of the good ones who thinks pregnant women shouldn’t have to stand, doesn’t take the weight off her feet. I have to move my stuff, budge up and actively share. (…) The more I realise my own privilege, the more I realise that “not actively being racist” is not enough.” 

This is such an obvious thing, but also the most difficult – what to do when you in principle know what to do, but still surrender to the “but this really is not such a huge deal / I do not want to make scene because I want to remain professional / I don’t want to ruin a nice evening” –devil on your shoulder? This happens to me often. I spend an inordinate amount of my life thinking what I should have said or done in hindsight. 

The Guilty Feminist is doing a great job in relieving me (or anyone) from excessive guilt in this respect, but at the same time makes very clear that actions speak much louder than words:

“Being a good person is rarely about what we don’t do and what we don’t feel. Feminism isn’t about wishes. It’s about actions. Doing nothing is doing something. It’s supporting the current injustices. Doing nothing and saying nothing is tacit support.”

Whether you ever feel like a guilty feminist or just want to read a well argued and fun book about feminism today, read this (it also includes a short piece by Hannah Gadsby). Or listen to the podcast.

*Actually not. I insisted on watching the latest episodes of Keeping up with the Kardashians while visiting a friend in the US. But this really is it. 

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