November 25, 2020

The Guilty Feminist by Deborah Frances-White

You don’t have to be perfect to overthrow the patriarchy.

The Guilty Feminist

“I’m a feminist, but . . .” is the logline of the award-winning podcast The Guilty Feminist and the book published by comedian, podcast creator, feminist, and Amnesty International ambassador Deborah Frances-White. With a funny, charming, thoughtful voice, Frances-White extends an urgent message of uplift for those wearied by activism, numbed by what feels like a never-ending struggle to be listened to, and guilty that we’re not doing enough.

You’re doing enough. You are enough, Frances-White assures us. But also: don’t give up. We need feminism more than ever, and not feminism as a force of fissures or fractures. The Guilty Feminist’s feminism is staunchly inclusive and directly, intentionally, strongly intersectional, including and amplifying the voices of women of all colors, the gender nonbinary or non-conforming, citizens of all sorts of national origin and socioeconomic status, voices brought to the table and valued irrespective of age, political leaning, religion, or disability. The book reflects the refreshing infusion–the sheer, joyful, outrageous relief–of being able to hear from a diversity of voices, a collection of distinct and individual outlooks, a chorus of variety reminding us of the many differences that inclusivity asks us to acknowledge and embrace.

Feminism isn’t a cohesive movement, and there are criticisms that can be made–that Frances-White acknowledges. But, as she says, “is the best tool we have” for making sure women are included, and she focuses on what we *can* do. We don’t have to be perfect to be better, she counsels. We need to keep fighting the cultural brainwashing that comes at us from all sides (and all kinds of cultures). We need to quit punishing ourselves or policing each other. We need to listen. And we need to lighten up, because God knows that if the constant pressure or despair at systemic inequality and injustice wear us down and burn us out, we’re no good to anyone.

Men are not the enemy of feminism. Patriarchy is the enemy of feminism and the enemy of men.

The Guilty Feminist

A lot of the book is confidence building, encouraging women to find, trust, and listen to their own voice. Accept who we are, what are gifts are. But the point isn’t to just feel good about ourselves. The point is to create a base of self-confidence and empathy; by listening to ourselves, we practice a skill we can learn in listening to others. Learn when to say yes, learn when to say no; it sounds like the usual self-help message. But Frances-White isn’t out to simply help us feel more comfortable in our world. A point she stresses is that those who are benefiting in some ways from racist or sexist or ableist systems (white, middle-class, cis, hetero women, for example) need to be able to really hear the protests from those who are hurt by these systems, to hear those pounding on the doors still closed to them. We need to figure out how to open the door for everyone.

Though the point is not to beat yourself up if you’re not, say, the next RGB (and God, how I miss her right now), Frances-White isn’t giving us a pass to sit on the couch and enjoy the small wins from the battles others are fighting around us. As she says, “Feminism needs leaders. We must start to lead for each other and demonstrate our trust in ourselves.” Be yourself. Love that, trust that, feel good about it. Be you, without apology or embarrassment. Now, bring what you have to the table and contribute. Every voice matters.

Onward, feminists. As Frances-White says: “Live larger, go for it, and see life as an opportunity for yes.”

Whatever you can do, do it.

The Guilty Feminist

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