The Guilty Feminist: Fifth-wave feminism from an unlikely torchbearer

Deborah Frances-White uses wit to debunk the patriarchy and ourselves

‘The Guilty Feminist’ author, Deborah Frances-White

‘The Guilty Feminist’ author, Deborah Frances-White

Sat, Oct 20, 2018, 06:00


Book Title:
The Guilty Feminist


Deborah Frances-White


Guideline Price:

In some ways Deborah Frances-White, aka “The Guilty Feminist”, with her eponymous successful podcast – 20 million downloads in two years and counting – is an unlikely new torchbearer for the cause.

Australian born, she was adopted as a baby and when she was 12 her parents joined the Jehovah Witnesses. Miraculously she escaped to read English at Oxford – her objectives, to deconstruct the brainwashing suffered at the hands of the archetypal patriarchy, a religious cult: a subject/subjection we are finally beginning to interrogate here in Ireland.

The little dweeb who told her at 15 she would never get a Jehovah husband as she was not “submissive” enough is hopefully now choking on crow.

Oh yes. Fifth-wave feminism is just landing, it’s a beauty of a beast and is being surfed to shore by super smart young women like Frances-White, her co-creator Sofie Hagen, whose clever trope rests on the premise that feminism is back with a capital F, so now let’s start to play around a little and not make it One More Thing Women Need to Feel Guilty About. As the author puts it, start “owning my paradoxes and laughing at them . . . releasing them and any shame I carried for them, with it”.

We’re feminists. We’re not superhuman. It’s absolutely okay to be out on the hustings all day agitating for equality, then come home to a bottle of chardonnay and a romcom, or, heaven help us, crash out in front of Keeping up with the Kardashians.

Hundreds of thousands of women agree with her: of course, it is!


As well as using wit to debunk the patriarchy and ourselves, the absolute bedrock of feminism, of civilisation, the author believes, is inclusion. One in, all in. By circumstance feminists are outsiders banded together in order to get in; to make real progress, we must support each other – black, coloured, gay, trans, bi, working class. If you start saying only this woman, only that book, never that song, “we’re digging a tunnel from one prison yard to another”.

The Fifth Wave, believes The Guilty Feminist, is here, and is all about action. It incorporates all the efforts of all our foremothers who broke windows, who were force-fed in Holloway, were shunned by their horrified families.

It includes the 1960s and 1970s women’s movements where bras were burnt, consciousness was raised and everything about the patriarchy was questioned; and the Third Wave, or “intersectionality” where the realities of being queer, black, broke or not able bodied had to be incorporated or feminism was just part of the patriarchy; through the Fourth Wave and the explosion of the MeToo movement on social media. Time to stop loving ourselves as if we were “our dying grandmothers”, says Frances-White, and get out there and fight.

It wasn’t until the 1960s and the advent of the Pill, that freedom from male domination became a possibility again

“Feminism can’t exist in principle. It needs the oxygen of action.”

Activism of every kind, is considered absolutely essential to Fifth Wavers. We’ve had 10,000 years of exclusion, says this guilty femme, and we’re going to bust that all down in less than a hundred? Please.

Placed throughout the book are question and answer interviews with a humbling array of fantastic women activists – from yoga teachers, to the Reclaim Holloway project, to the founder of the Istanbul Convention, to the amazing 18-year-old Amika George who fronts FreePeriod, an online resource set up by her for girls who have to skip school because they can’t afford menstrual products – astonishingly, in England.

The Guilty Feminist heartily supports them all.

You’d wonder, of course, how things got so bad for us women.

Things went to hell, she believes, when men got the plough. Life on the savannah had been pretty equal but once us ladies, and the babies, were parked in a shed while the boys went a-ploughing, primitive capitalism, accumulation of possessions, with women now part of a man’s possessions, followed by stratifications, and violence – John has more stuff in his cave than I have – kicked in.

“Men started to make the decisions, take the best resources for themselves and use their physical strength like our chimpanzee cousins, to oppress and abuse.”

It wasn’t until the 1960s and the advent of the Pill, thanks to two incredible women, US feminist philanthropist Katherine Dexter McCormick and Margaret Sangar, that freedom from male domination became a possibility again; it’s from there things got restarted.

If you’re just catching up, let this empathetic, whip-smart Guilty Feminist take you by the hand into a glorious, witty, women-led future.

Why ever not?

Rosita Sweetman is an author and founding member of the Irish Women’s Movement