Deborah Frances-White began The Guilty Feminist in 2016Callum Baker

I’m a feminist but… I admit I was not only awed but also somewhat intimidated by the prospect of interviewing comedian and podcasting legend Deborah Frances-White.

A stand-up comedian, screenwriter and published author, Frances-White is also the founder and presenter of The Guilty Feminist. With over 95 million downloads, and a Sunday Times bestselling book by the same name, Frances-White’s The Guilty Feminist has turned into a global phenomenon over recent years. Her live shows have been a continual hit – and she’s now bringing the show to the Cambridge Corn Exchange on Saturday 9th April as part of her new tour.

She was nothing short of vivacious as she burst into our Zoom meeting and spoke with such assuredness that, at times, I forgot our interview was virtual.

It is clear that performing live is what invigorates Frances-White the most. “We’ve just had the best time”, she said. “Just to be out doing live [shows] again. I hated the Zoom era. The only recordings we ever did were during the pandemic when we did a studio recording, so it’s so great to be back out there doing stand-up, doing one-liners, and also doing those deep-dive discussions with local feminists/activists.”

“We were seeing the rumblings of the #MeToo movement, and I wanted to be part of it”

When I asked what inspired The Guilty Feminist, Deborah answered, “It was late 2015, and I felt the conversation was really shifting away from just, you know, meeting my friends and talking about our personal careers and love lives… [the conversation] was turning to inequality and injustice and what we could do about it”. She goes on to add, “It was a very specific time – 2016 – we thought Hilary Clinton was going to be in the White House for sure; all Bill Cosby’s accusers came on the front cover of a magazine to speak out. So, we were seeing the rumblings of the #MeToo movement, and I wanted to be part of it”.

On the naming of The Guilty Feminist, she says that at the time, “My friend Bridget Christie was this really strident, very funny, comedian and feminist, [but] my feeling was ‘I’m a feminist but, I’m not sure I’m doing this right’, and Bridget said to me, ‘You will never find your audience until you say the thing you’re too frightened to say’”. When I asked Deborah what that ‘thing’ was, she replied, “I said, ‘I’m a feminist but’ – one of the first things I admitted was that one time I went on a Women’s Rights March, and I popped into a department store to use the loo, and I got distracted trying out face cream, and when I came out the March was gone! I thought, when I admit this I’m going to get kicked out of the feminist club, but in fact the opposite happened: hundreds of thousands of women started going , ‘Oh my God, me too!’”

“I have accepted now that I’m going to die with a full inbox. And, accepting that you are imperfect is the best feeling in the world”

She went on to say: “I think the reason I love the ‘I’m a feminist but’, is that it says, ‘Hey, here are some hypocrisies I have; here’s times my actions and my words don’t match, and: it doesn’t matter.’”

On perfection, Deborah remarked, “I have accepted now that I’m going to die with a full inbox. And, accepting that you are imperfect is the best feeling in the world.”

She elaborated, “You don’t have to be perfect to be a force for meaningful change, and that’s what The Guilty Feminist is about.”

With over 95 million downloads, and a Sunday Times bestselling book by the same name, Frances-White’s The Guilty Feminist has turned into a global phenomenon over recent yearsCallum Baker

I was curious as to what the most outrageous, ‘I’m a feminist but’ Frances-White remembers hearing. Adding to her already enviable list of celeb-friends Deborah named fellow comedian and writer Sara Pascoe, who said, “I’m a feminist but I would sell The Spice Girls to Boko Haram to get on Strictly Come Dancing”. A bold claim indeed!

Leading on from that, I asked who Deborah has found to be the most exciting guest to interview through The Guilty Feminist.

She commented excitedly that she’d just had Millie Bobby Brown on the show, and that she wanted to talk about growing up in the public eye and turning into a woman. She went onto gush: “She will bring such a wonderful teenage audience to feminism. I just found [talking to her] enlightening, delightful and glorious; she’s such a phenomenon […] she’s fantastic.”

Sara Pascoe and Millie Bobby Brown are both fans? Our interview has now made me certain of one thing for sure: I would give my left leg for an invitation to a dinner party round at Deborah Frances-White’s house.

My next question was why the ‘F’ word? For many, and for a while now ‘feminism’ has seemed almost a dirty word, and so I wanted to ask Frances-White how can we best reclaim what it means.

“Gender is not the only issue that feminism deals with now”

“Well, personally I’d rather someone be a feminist and not say they are one, than say they’re one and not be one,” Frances-White said. “But, my top choice would be for people to say that they are a feminist and be one. Because feminism is really just about closing the gender equality gap, and I’m interested in closing the gap of any injustice”.

However, she added that “Gender is not the only issue that feminism deals with now, and I think that’s something to be focused on and celebrated”.

A taster of The Guilty Feminist LiveInstagram/@theguiltyfeminist

Frances-White also speaks a lot about feminism helping women to overcome their insecurities. Given that she is seemingly such a confident figure, I was curious: does Frances-White ever still feel insecure?


Mountain View

Robert De Niro on the importance of acting spontaneously

“Yeah of course!” she remarked. “Like everyone, there are times when you feel like an imposter, or like you aren’t getting things right, and I think what’s helped me is realising that the day isn’t going to come when you get an email saying ‘You’re a grown-up now, it’s you: it’s your turn’. No one’s more certain than you are, no one’s better than you are, you just have to walk out there and claim the space.”

She went on to say, “You can’t be better than you are, so [..] rather than trying to be good– go out to be bold and be present , and you will be as good as you are. But your chances of being excellent if you do that, and your best work and your best qualities coming through, will go up exponentially.”

Lightning round

Q: You’ve written for magazines and published a book. What’s your advice for students who want to get into writing?

DFW: Start writing. Don’t wait to be published, publish yourself. You are in the most incredible era where the artists have taken control of the means of production. You can put out a blog every single day. If you have an interesting take people will come to you. Don’t wait to create.

Q: If you could invite any 3 women dead or alive to a Guilty Feminist live show who would they be?

DFW: Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison and Malala.

Q: What’s your favourite F word apart from feminism?

DFW: Focus.

During our call, she commented that “self-care isn’t just lying around watching TV, with cucumbers on your eyes. It’s reviving yourself, and its reenergising yourself, and that’s what we do at The Guilty Feminist”. It’s clear from our conversation that this drive is something that has kept Frances-White hungry throughout her life.

She asserts that the show will leave you feeling “entertained, empowered and engaged,” and, from our brief chat, I have no doubt of this.

The Guilty Feminist Live comes to Cambridge Corn Exchange at 7:30pm on Saturday 9th April, for which tickets are available here.