Books Columnist


Emily describes how Deborah Frances White’s book answers all the questions we were too afraid to ask.

Dominant discourses often depict feminism as an angry movement filled with “angry”, “difficult”, and “nasty” women. In The Guilty Feminist by Deborah Frances-White, feminism is depicted as something joyful and kind that makes the world a better place. This book definitely made my world a better place, and it’s the paper toolbox I go back to again and again to unpack the wisdom, understanding, and openness that fills its pages. 

I am a feminist, but when I thought about writing an article about a book that changed my life, the majority of the titles which sprang to mind were written by dead white men. It is with a confession such as this that each Guilty Feminist podcast episode, and each chapter of its accompanying book, begins. 

The act of committing yourself to a movement ending in “ism” and “ist” can feel like it requires a level of dedication for which you don’t consider yourself qualified. Can I call myself a feminist if I wear a bra, enjoy wearing makeup, watching romcoms, and listening to music with sexist themes? Can I be a feminist if I sometimes use sexism to my advantage to get out of moving heavy objects? To be a guilty feminist is to answer yes to those questions and, instead of shying away from the label, to embrace and exfoliate these trivial contradictions in order to create space for the conversations that matter. 

As creator and host of a hit comedy podcast, and as a comedian by trade, Deborah Frances-White’s talent lies in making feminism fun and funny, and this book is no exception. It is accessible, readable, and entertaining, and it is made up of both her own research and of enlightening interviews with public figures such as Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Hannah Gadsby.

The Guilty Feminist opens in a way I feel more books should begin. In the introduction, terms used for various groups are explained and recognised according to the definition which is most widely accepted by that community. For example, the terms “queer”, “women of colour”, and “non-disabled” are accounted for, meaning that the book begins as an inclusive and respectful space. As such, inclusivity and intersectionality are the cornerstones of The Guilty Feminist and, by the end of first reading, my copy was underlined and scribbled all over and I had learned a lot about issues such as transphobia, ableism, body image, and white privilege. For the first time, I also felt able to confidently articulate a term and a belief I had previously tip-toed around. 

This book also is important to me because of the innumerable offshoots of various public figures, books, podcasts, and social media pages which have sprung from its references. Altogether, this read has formed a palpable community, thanks to which this hopeful, progressive, and diverse narrative has become part of my daily life. During the long months of Covid-19 lockdown especially, this provided a form of mental resilience when everything around us seemed to be collapsing. The Guilty Feminist is a book that changed my life far beyond the reach of its pages, and one that I truly feel thankful to have read and to have sitting on my bookshelf.


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