"I'm a feminist, but..."
Updated: Aug 31, 2021
"I'm a feminist, but..."
A familiar phrase to many who tune into Deborah Francis-White's award-winning podcast, The Guilty Feminist. Created by comedians Francis-White and Sofie Hagen in 2015, this iconic show has turned the debate of 'good' versus 'bad' feminism on its head, while allowing issues that all modern feminists can agree on to take centre stage. With a focus on intersectionality and a raft of celebrity guests, the podcast tackles a broad range of topics, including the Black Lives Matter movement, mental wellbeing, Free Britney, and so much more. As an inclusive and supportive forum, Francis-white encourages her guests, and us, the audience, to "air our insecurities, hypocrisies and fears that undermine our lofty principles".
Francis-White explains the guilt we're trained to feel as women, in our constant need to apologise, in our exhausting efforts to hold ourselves to a standard that men work half as hard for. She says, "for some women, feminism has become another thing to feel inadequate about." By beginning each episode with a round-table discussion of the things we've thought, said, or done that may be at odds with the values we believe are integral to the advancement of the feminist movement in today’s society, we can start to unpick internalised notions of 'good' and 'bad' feminism. Through this, we’re able to allow ourselves some forgiveness while accepting that we are all humans who sometimes leave women's marches because we popped into a department store to use the loo and ended up being distracted by face creams. The irony within the rhetoric of 'bad feminism' is apparent - the expectation for women to maintain a level of perfection filters through to all aspects of our lives, including our core values and beliefs, which are rooted in a desire to free women of these very same standards. By looking inwards and understanding our nuances as women who have complex lives, desires, and goals, we can turn our collective attention to more pressing issues rather than wasting our efforts fighting our own interests.
This cartoon from an April 1990 volume of Broadsheet Magazine plays on the same trope used by Francis-White nearly 30 years later. It exposes the internal turmoil created when we care about something that should seem 'anti-feminist’ due to its connection to gender categorisations, such as what to do with our hair or what to wear. As a post-structural feminist, the cartoon character's understanding of gender as performative and built on societal stereotypes conflicts with a desire to improve their appearance. The guilt we feel as a result of these moral conflictions further manifests feelings of failure, for our sisters and ourselves. It also reveals that the discourse surrounding varying standards of feminism is long-standing. Disputes amongst feminists in the 1980s, particularly concerning the feminist sex wars, severely divided the movement. Anti-porn feminists were labelled puritans, while sex-positive feminists were labelled patriarchal. These fissures in the interpretation of feminism's guiding principles subsequently gave way to a new wave, one that tried to be more fluid and accepting of the nuances and intersectionality of women in a digital age. Further branches of the core movement, such as eco, Marxist, and gender resistant feminism, were born out of our conflicting ideas and diverse experiences.
Roxane Gay, feminist author and commentator, states in her seminal book of essays, Bad Feminist, "I am failing as a woman. I am failing as a feminist. To freely accept the feminist label would not be fair to good feminists. If I am, indeed, a feminist, I am a rather bad one…there are many ways in which I am doing feminism wrong, at least according to the way my perceptions of feminism have been warped by being a woman.” She explains how accepting her own interests and desires, such as liking the colour pink, dresses, or rap music, doesn't make her any less of a feminist or a woman. The things we are expected to like, or dislike, by society, do not weigh on our commitment to fight for the crucial issues of our movement. She says, "bad feminism is the only way I can embrace myself as a feminist and be myself…but I also don't want to be treated like shit for being a woman. I am a bad feminist. I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all." Echoing Francis-White's approach, by airing out our contradictions, and accepting them as neither anti-woman nor anti-feminist, we can unite in our successes and failures while learning to accept ourselves, flaws and all. Advancing the movement requires us to challenge ourselves and each other, constantly question the structure underpinning our beliefs, and work collectively despite our differences.
Broadsheet Magazine, known as New Zealand's feminist magazine, was published monthly (and quarterly in its last few years) between 1972 and 1997. Spanning two waves of feminism, the Broadsheet Collective shone a light on a myriad of issues affecting Aotearoa through a feminist lens. It covered topics such as politics, Māori sovereignty, and abortion, and went on to become one of the world's longest-running feminist magazines.
A (near) complete collection of Broadsheet magazine can be accessed at the Charlotte Museum, and digital copies can be found here on the University of Auckland's website.
Starr Ratapu is a student at the University of Auckland and is currently working at the Charlotte Museum as part of our internship programme through the Museum and Cultural Heritage course.
Deborah Frances-White, The Guilty Feminist podcast. https://guiltyfeminist.com/episodes/
The Charlotte Museum has a full set of Broadsheet magazines in the archive, however we would also like a full set available for use in the Research Library. If you have any copies of issues 1 through to issue 6 can you please contact the museum via email at email@example.com.