The night before I spoke to Deborah Frances-White, known and beloved the world over as The Guilty Feminist, I watched her TED talk. In it, she speaks about charisma versus stage-fright. Needless to say, it resonated. I was incredibly nervous to speak with the woman who chummed it up with Emma Thompson, Hannah Gadsby, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge. I was no chum! I was an increasingly sweaty nobody calling from a crappy landline in West Auckland.
As it turns out, I should have worried more about the landline.
When I got the legend on the phone, she came through in a crackle. “Would you like to call me back?” she offered, in her decisive British manner.
“Sure!” I coughed. When she was back, she was clearer. We began.
V: You're performing in New Zealand shortly, and we’re all so excited to see you. The Guilty Feminist Podcast has obviously been incredibly successful – to what do you attribute that popularity?
DFW: Well, women, naturally. There isn’t much content made for us and by us, and what is being made for us on TV or radio is often either produced by men or the architecture is masculine, which is something we don’t think about very much.
It’s like – if you work in an organisation run by women and people of minority genders you’d think ‘well, we’re a really feminist place.’ But you also have to understand that the law was created by men, for men, and a few concessions have been made for women. So, women have been able to reshape the space a little. What we’re doing is we’re redecorating a patriarchal house, rather than building it from the ground up. And it’s the same in any organisation, because all the business structures were created by men. So, if you create something that’s either only done by women and minority genders, or you shift the leadership ratio, the fabric of it can start to become different, the foundations can start to become different. So, reinventing the wheel is a really useful thing to do – you might find the wheel isn’t round anymore.
I’ve never said that before, I’ve coined it to you. I’m pretty pleased with myself.
I think women are just dying to hear more than one woman in conversation, I mean we have that all the time in our own lives, but were rarely see it-
As you know-
It’s true – you get one woman on a panel show so you never get to see how women are together.
Speaking of the media, the 2020 Oscars happened a couple of days ago, with some great wins – Taika Waititi was huge for us in New Zealand, Parasite was amazing – but still, no women nominated for Best Director, cinematography... You have some experience with the film industry, can you speak to how hard it is for women to get ahead in that space?
That’s largely about what a cinematographer looks like in somebody’s mind… what a director looks like in somebody’s mind. I’ve been on film sets where there’s a female director and – it’s the exact situation a female pilot would find. The vast majority of pilots are men and so a woman comes along and says ‘Hello I’m Captain Jane…’ you have people looking at each other and giggling, saying ‘I hope […]’.
And she knows that. She knows if there’s turbulence, she will be blamed. We all have an idea of what a pilot is, and none of us expect to hear a female voice. So, on a film set, if you look like a young Steven Spielberg, there will be a projection of brilliance onto you. But you can have a 45-year-old woman who’s directed five films, and she just doesn’t look like what we think a film director looks like, and there will be a certain amount of suspicion, in the same way there is about pilots.
Going back to The Guilty Feminist-
How did the podcast come about?
So, it was 2015, and Hillary Clinton was about to be in the White House.
Both of us scoff
But things were shifting for women, all of Bill Cosby’s accusers got on the front of a magazine, and you could kind of see-
Me again, so this is when the phone dropped out.
In retrospect, it was a perfect, if obvious, metaphor: Hillary Clinton was about to become president, and then the bottom fell out, the centre didn’t hold, the line went dead. None of this entered my mind at the time. I just screeched just a bunch of four-letter words. Actually, I did that when Clinton lost the presidency, too.
When I got her back, she finished the thought about subverting the feminist orthodoxy.
So, Hillary was about to become president…
…and there seemed to be this rather prescriptive set of rules abounding, and I thought there must be other women out there who are seeing all this and deciding to just watch, Married at First Sight, or whatever. So, The Guilty Feminist came out of that.
One last question – who would be your dream guest on the pod?
Both make buttery noises of approval.
Actually, for New Zealand – having just had Julia Gillard in Australia – you know who I’d love to speak to?
The Guilty Feminist is currently in New Zealand, for showtimes see here.Support Villainesse