Always Meet Your (Feminist) Heroes 0 72

When Deborah Frances-White announced she had written a book and that the book tour would come to my hometown, I bought tickets immediately.  As in, the advert was still running on the podcast as I added the ticket to my basket.  I have longed to see a recording of The Guilty Feminist for years but always miss out.  Either it’s too far away or the accessible seating has sold out by the time I hear about the local dates, so a chance to see DFW talk about her book based on the podcast in my local Waterstones was too good to miss.

Now, they say you should never meet your heroes.  They’re wrong.  She talked a bit about the book with the amazing actress Juliet Stevenson, read from a few chapters (I had already heard her read some on the audiobook because I couldn’t possibly wait to get my hands on the physical copy) and then answered some questions from the audience.  I actually asked a question about dealing with being seen as an ‘angry feminist’ (an image that may have something to do with this post, but who really knows).  It was a wonderful event and it was very nice to be in a room of people listening to her, laughing and crying at what she said, rather than being on the bus with my headphones in laughing or crying alone.

I discovered The Guilty Feminist after my sister mentioned it in passing at a time when I was in need of a bit of guidance.  I wanted to move forward in my writing career, but I was afraid of putting myself forward.  I was studying, but I was still worried about taking on more challenging topics.  I was angry at a world where sexism, racism, ableism, homophobia and all types of hatred were becoming more and more obvious to me, but I didn’t know what I could do about it.  What the podcast does above all else is give women permission; permission to discuss often overlooked topics, permission to challenge ourselves, permission to group together, permission to rethink our position and privilege, permission to take up space.  In a big surprise to myself and anyone who has ever had to try and teach or manage me, I realised that was what I needed.  A push to give me permission to push me.  Does that sound corny?  OK, yes it does, but I don’t care.  The Guilty Feminist helped me challenge myself academically, put my work forward for publications and gigs and to feel that I could challenge toxic behaviour and wouldn’t be alone in the fight.  (And yes, I did those things myself, and I would have ended up doing them anyway, but the sense of community and, as DFW puts it, tribal confidence sped up a process that may otherwise have taken a much longer time and felt a lot harder.)

I wanted to thank DFW for creating this space and this community and for her amazing efforts at recognising her privilege and lifting up the voices of others.  And for being one of the few people who when they say that actively include disabled people in that inclusivity – so often people include other races, other genders, other classes, other experiences but don’t seek to include disabled people (for example, two of my favourite feminist and diversely cast shows, Parks and Recreation and My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, would have you believe that no disabled people live in their fictional towns).  I also wanted to thank her for being aware of her mistakes and correcting them.  I emailed the show once about a joke I felt was ableist, and not only did I receive a real, sincere apology but when some jokes from the same set were repeated in another episode the joke that had upset me was removed.  If only everybody took such responsibility for their actions and their privilege.

Now, they say you should never meet your heroes.  They’re wrong.  They really should say; you should never meet your heroes and try to talk to them when you’re super emotional because it has been a rough few months with work and personal stuff, you’re still slightly ill from a bug that landed you in hospital the week before, you’ve had some bad news that week and that particular day a family member is in hospital critically ill and you have a headache so bad it didn’t respond to morphine.  That would be a far more accurate statement.  I did manage to mumble a bit about thanking her for encouraging me not to give up on poetry and gave her some zines I’d made but I knew if I carried on talking I would cry and I did not want to be *that* person so couldn’t say everything I wanted to.  But, despite being slightly stuttery and awkward and only half explaining why I was foisting homemade poetry zines on her, she was gracious and friendly and we managed to get a pretty decent photo together.

So in this case, you should definitely meet your heroes.  What’s more, if you haven’t already, you should listen to your hero’s podcast and buy her book.  The book is a deeper exploration into themes the podcast looks at as well as some Guilty Feminist classics many of us fans longed for in print.  It is funny, sincere, emotional, clever and unapologetic.  It is a manual for feminism for those of us who know we are not perfect feminists, or indeed perfect people.  It is feminism for the modern world.

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F. R. Kesby is a poet and storyteller from Leeds, England. She studies language and literature, teaches English as a foreign language as well as writing (and ranting) about feminism, LGBTQ+ issues, her life as a disabled person and, of course, Doctor Who. You can find more of her writing on Spoons and Toons.

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