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Deborah Francis-White on The Guilty Feminist: Live

Image © Callum Baker

Deborah Francis-White might be the guilty feminist, but she’s certainly a remarkable one. The professional speaker, author, comedian and film maker is no stranger to success, but her weekly podcast The Guilty Feminist is by far her most popular work, having accrued over 50 million downloads. It’s honesty and relatability appeals to women everywhere, and the show boasts a range of celebrity special guests, including Pheobe Waller-Bridge, Shappi Khorsandi and Clemence Posey. See Deborah Francis-White as she takes her award-winning podcast on a bumper tour of the UK.  

Could you explain what The Guilty Feminist Podcast is for someone who’s never heard of it before? 
The guilty feminist podcast is about our noble goals as feminists and our hypocrisy and insecurities that undermine those goals. So, we often start with “I’m a feminist but…” so for example “I’m a feminist but one time I went to a women’s rights march, popped into a department store to use the loo, got distracted trying out face cream and when I came out the march was gone.” So, we admit stuff like that. It’s a comedy show, we have all sorts of comedians on the show and we always do it in front of a live audience. So, the audience is sat there thinking ‘oh we all do things like this.’ When we admit that, we exfoliate it, and say right, let’s make ourselves stronger, let’s take up more space in the world, let’s make the world fairer, kinder, more compassionate and let’s have a good time doing it. 
How does that translate to a touring show? 
So, for three years we’ve been filming the podcast in front of a live audience across the UK, but this is the first Guilty Feminist live show. There are going to be elements to it that wouldn’t work as a recording, it’s going to start with me in a green sequinned cloak (Jedi cloak, powerful but femme) and it’s going to have amazing singers and comedians. We’ve got Jess Robinson from Britain’s Got Talent who can sing in all the different style of voices, she’ll be doing a bit of singing for us, doing a bit of RESPECT for us, getting the audience going. The we’re going to have some comedians who you might know off the telly, Desiree Burch, Bridget Christie, Sindhu Vee, Felicity Ward, loads and loads of amazing comedians who are going to come and do stand-up but exclusively from the viewpoint of women trying to make their way in the world. In each location I’m going to be doing stand up and hosting the event, and in each location, we’re going to find a local organisation or group that’s creating change in the area, and we’re going to have a Graham Norton style sofa chat with them. We’ll be telling the audience how they can get involved to support those feminist changes in their local community. It could be somebody who’s creating a space for women who are marginalised, or a space for women to be more creative, and helping young women or refugees, it could be whoever. But the audience are going to find out how they can get involved with volunteering or donating or sharing their work on social media. So, it’s going to be a combination of genuine, feminist variety, lot of fun, lots of really entertaining stuff, getting us moving and grooving but also there will also be a component to it where we really look at how we can change the world in whichever area we’re in. We’re going to have different comedians on every date so check out who’s going to be at each date online. 

 What are the important feminist issues that you’re taking on tour with you this time? What do you think we need to be talking about in 2019?
Well, as always, how we feel about our bodies. We’re always being bombarded with a sense of trying to live up to some billboard, that we couldn’t even live up to if we were on the billboard. I was actually on a big billboard recently, and I walked underneath it quite quickly because I thought ‘oh my god, I don’t look like that right now’. I’d had my makeup done, the lighting had been done beautifully, I had amazing clothes on, I was doing a power pose and I thought ‘oh god I don’t look like that’! And I thought if I can’t even live up to my own billboard, how the hell am I going to live up to one of a supermodel at a bus stop? Why do we think we have to do that? Not even the supermodel at the bus stop looks like that in real life. And if we carry this hatred for our bodies all the time our own body is the enemy. So when we do go into that meeting, or we do want to go up and talk to the teacher at the school gate, or we want to ask for a pay rise, we struggle because we’re hating our own bodies because they don’t live up to some stereotype that we’ve decided that they should. So, there’s that, there’s the #MeToo movement and how women are asking for more space and more justice and for the powers that be not to look away from the power abuses. There are issues in terms of what rights we might be losing when we leave the EU. If we leave the EU what rights do we have that we might need to go back and look at? Will we still have the same maternity cover? Will we have to leave our jobs, these are things we might need to look back and assess. We also have to talk about new laws for new technology, like the way women are trolled online. We’re endeavouring for change in protocol protocol so that women aren’t bullied in horrific ways online. So, there are all sorts of issues to be looking at right now. It’s a really exciting time for women and non-binary people and I’m so excited about what we might be able to build together. I feel like this wave of feminism isn’t just about bringing hammers to knock something down, but it’s more about bringing bricks to co-create the new world that we do want to live in. It’s not just about saying ‘we don’t want that’ but about building the world that we do want. 
You talk openly in your work about being raised as a Jehovah’s Witness- how you think that impacted on your sense of femininity and being female. 
It’s a religion where women aren’t allowed to make any decisions. There’s not been a single decision made by a woman in the history of the organisation. That sends a message to you when you’re growing up about your status, your place, your influence in the world and your power. I always held a resistance too it. I was wondering why women weren’t allowed to make any of the decisions. I could see that some of the men making the decisions weren’t as clever as I was, and I couldn’t understand it. I also had issues with some of the things in the bible about the way women were treated and I felt very strongly about that. When I left, I thought great, now I can live in a world where I can be a feminist. At that time there wasn’t a lot happening, and I felt like if I told people I was a feminist or wanted to change things then I was trying to seek an unfair advantage because women had equality now. I could see that wasn’t the case, and it’s been so exciting in the past few years to see women speak out and say ‘no, we have been routinely subject to power abuses.’ Men have continued to thrive and prosper, becoming multi-millionaires and winning loads of Oscars whilst we’ve been fired and never heard of again. That’s at the very top level of the most privileged members of society. It only gets worse as you go down. So, to be fighting that fight again and to feel that it’s a joyful movement has been a wonderful thing. 
You’re smashing loads of dates on your tour this year, where are you most excited to visit?  
I’m excited for every date, without a doubt. I’m very excited to go to Glasgow, I always love doing stuff in Scotland. I love playing The Lowry in Salford, that’s always a favourite. Cardiff, I just made a film that was partly shot in Cardiff so that’s going to be exciting to go back there. But I’m excited to take the podcast to Southend and Colchester, we’ve never been to Essex so hopefully people will come out for that. The first three nights will be great, Halifax, Birmingham and Hull. And of course, Newcastle, Newcastle is ridiculous, they really know how to bring a rock concert to a podcast recording. Such a rock concert in Newcastle. So those first few nights are really going to be rocking.

Tour dates: 

1 May at The Victoria Theatre, Halifax 
2 May at Symphony Hall, Birmingham
3 May at Kingston Square, Hull
4 May at City Hall, Newcastle 
5 May at The Lowry, Salford 
9 May at Regent Theatre, Ipswich
10 May at Colchester Charter
11 May at Richmond Theatre
12 May at Cliffs Pavillion, Southend
15 May at St. Davids Hall, Cardiff
16 May at Cambridge Corn Exchange
17 May at The Waterside, Aylesbury
18 May at Bournemouth Pavillion
19 May at Oxford New Theatre
22 May at Mayflower Theatre, Southampton
23 May at Sheffield City Hall
24 May at Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry 
25 May at Plymouth Pavillion
26 May at The Brighton Centre
29 May at The Pavillion Theatre, Glasgow
30 May at De Montfort Hall, Leicester
31 May at Theatre Royal & Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham 
1 June at Victoria Theatre, Woking
17 July at Kings Place, London
9 December at Kings Place, London