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Confessions of a ‘smug’, male feminist

It’s said you should never sit in the front row at a stand-up comedy gig if you don’t want an interactive experience.

Feb 17, 2020, updated Feb 18, 2020
Comedian, writer and Guilty Feminist podcast host Deborah Frances-White. (Photo: Daniel Hambury/@stellapicsltd)

Comedian, writer and Guilty Feminist podcast host Deborah Frances-White. (Photo: Daniel Hambury/@stellapicsltd)

With the benefit of hindsight, I can also advise that it’s equally unwise to attend the recording of a podcast called The Guilty Feminist, after informing the publicist of your intention to write a piece entitled “I’m a white, middle-class male and here are my five takeaways”, and not expect to be called out for it.

For those unfamiliar with The Guilty Feminist, it’s a multi-award-winning podcast recorded in front of a live audience and hosted by Brisbane-born, London-based comedian Deborah Frances-White, in which 21st-century feminists discuss the big topics they agree on, “whilst confessing [their] ‘buts’ – the insecurities, hypocrisies and fears that undermine [their] lofty principles”.

It has been downloaded more than 60 million times since its first episode in December 2015, and over the course of almost 190 episodes it has featured co-hosts and panellists including Sofie Hagen, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Emma Thompson, Hanna Gadsby, Mindy Kaling, Yassmin Abdel-Magied and Julia Gillard, to name but a few.

Each episode proper begins with Frances-White and a co-host – in Brisbane, it was self-professed “socialist, feminist, lesbian, left-wing protest singer” Grace Petrie – uttering the words “I’m a feminist but …” and detailing comedic and self-deprecating examples of how they have failed to reach the ideals they have set for themselves.

To describe the recent recording of an episode that I attended with my partner, fiancee Rochelle, at Brisbane Powerhouse as an immersive experience would be an understatement.

The recording was about the intersectionality between feminism and the arts, and the featured panellists were Museum of Brisbane curator Miranda Hine; writer and producer and former state government arts policy adviser and journalist Natalie Bochenski; and Saraya Stewart, an Indigenous artist and educator from far north Queensland.

The discussion included genuinely fascinating and illuminating discussion about what it’s like to be a woman working in different facets of the arts, as well as discussion about wider issues in the sector such as funding and the recent scrapping of the federal arts department and its subsequent amalgamation into the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications mega-portfolio.

Rather than spoil the content of that episode for its creators, I’ll advise anyone reading to keep an eye out for the episode at all the usual places you find podcasts or the at the guiltyfeminist.com and detail what I learnt from my interaction with the show’s host.

Moments after Frances-White started her monologue, she informed the audience about the presence of a man writing a “five takeaways” piece and asked whereabouts in the audience I was.

I made myself known and when asked if I was familiar with the podcast and why I wanted to attend,  I answered honestly – explaining that Rochelle is a big fan of the podcast – and it garnered a few laughs but also a suitable dressing down.

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Frances-White helpfully provided me with five personalised takeaways – bespoke content, as she described it.

  1. The bar is low for men.
    This was in response to some back-and-forth in which I declared I had been known to deliver “bath wine” to my partner while she listened to The Guilty Feminist at home.
  1. When you ask a woman to create bespoke material for you, you’re relying on their emotional labour.
    This one is probably pretty self-evident by this point but I agreed with Frances-White’s suggestion that I should donate the equivalent of the ticket price to a women’s charity. I happened to be wearing a T-shirt that read “I’m Making Noise to Stop Violence Against Women”, which I had purchased at a music-industry fundraiser for the Women’s Legal Service Queensland in 2018.  I have since made contact with WLSQ and made arrangements to make a donation to the organisation.
  1. As a man I can’t be a guilty feminist, I can only be a smug feminist. 
    I was in no way intending to give off smug emissions, but if I hadn’t fully realised this before heading along to the recording, I now fully comprehend that where there’s smug, there’s ire.
  2. Call out men who speak disparagingly against women when women aren’t around.

  3. “Use comedy to build a bridge.  Take the piss and suck power.”
    Comedy is an effective tool to educate while pointing out the absurdity of poor comments and/or behaviour in social situations.

When the houselights came on, I surveyed those in the room and wondered if many others in attendance had ever been in a position where they had been made to feel like the subject of ridicule or belittled in front of others.

At the risk of sounding smug, I quickly realised that for most of those in attendance, the answer would have been a resounding yes.  It’s something women encounter every day – in workplaces and social interactions.

I was initially mortified to learn that my interactions with Frances-White will be edited into the episode before it is made publicly available, but have since learnt to stop worrying and embrace the fact I will feature as an educational tool in a feminist podcast as a learning experience for others.

I’m a feminist but … I’m also a white, middle-class male, and as such, I am automatically imbued with a level of privilege few others in attendance at The Guilty Feminist podcast recording were.

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