The wildly popular show, founded in 2015, is being recorded live at Brighton Festival. CHARLOTTE TUXWORTH-HOLDEN talks all things feminism with its founder Deborah Frances White.

I’M A feminist but...” is the line that opens each episode of The Guilty Feminist podcast. Followed by an often hilarious confession to doing, thinking or saying something suitably un-feminist, this feature introduces the premise of the internationally popular show. Deborah Frances-White started The Guilty Feminist with fellow comic Sofie Hagen and the idea grew from a series of lunches the pair shared. “We confessed our hypocrisies, double standards and secret concerns to each other,” says Frances-White.

Because being a feminist in our world isn’t always easy to get right, as the founder tells me. She is friendly and warm, and her Australian upbringing is barely detectable in her apparently English accent. “It’s really easy, as a woman, to say to your female best friend ‘you’re better than that, don’t accept that from him, he’s treating you badly and you have to move on,’ and then go and sext your horrible ex. You know the answer, but you don’t always do it. This doesn’t make you not a feminist,” she says.

Women are often caught up in these unhealthy patterns because we’ve all been brainwashed by the patriarchy; we’ve been socialised into thinking about the world in a particular way. “We need feminism because of these contradictions.” The “but” in the first line of the podcast, then, gives validation to all those feminists who sometimes struggle to practise what they preach. It also brings a lot of laughs from The Guilty Feminist audience. Each episode of the show is recorded live, which is an important part of the production for Frances-White. In each episode, members of the crowd are invited to ask questions relating to the topic.

Feminism has been central to Frances-White’s comedy from the get-go. She was a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses as a teenager and the patriarchal nature of the religion made her unhappy and insecure. “Women have no influence at all at any level. I found this very difficult, it wasn’t my core belief as I wasn’t raised with it.” A male member of the church once told Frances-White that she would never find a husband because she wasn’t submissive enough.

After leaving the religion in her early twenties, Frances-White studied English literature at Oxford University. Finishing her degree in 2000, she began to pursue comedy but found the gendered environment on the circuit not worlds away from that of Kingdom Hall. “Audiences are hoping to see a man; bookers will often only put one woman on a bill. Panel shows put one woman on, if any,” she tells me. “We female comedians were made to feel like we had to complete a task to earn our stripes. The assumption was that you had to be as good as male comedians at the things they did best. The environment was unyielding and hostile to women.”

So Frances-White decided to create her own comedy model. “I thought, ‘I’m going to say what’s on my mind. If no one likes it, fine, then there’s no audience for me’.” After gaining experience in Edinburgh away from the main comedy circuit, Frances-White began to do storytelling shows. As well as attracting a growing audience, these shows were a cathartic way of dealing with life experiences.

Her second show, How To Get Almost Anyone To Want To Sleep With You, toured the UK and played at Melbourne Comedy Festival. By this point, the new feminist model for comedy established by Frances-White had gained significant attention and she started producing her award-winning Radio 4 series Deborah Frances-White Rolls The Dice. She and Sofie Hagen recorded the first live episode of The Guilty Feminist in late 2015 with guest Shappi Khorsandi and it has been growing ever since. Frances-White tells me about two key motivators in her work, diversity and inclusivity. “It’s so easy if you’ve been marginalised and excluded to then set up a new tribe that will then be marginalised and excluded.

“If a middle-class white woman only includes middle-class white women in her feminism, then we are creating an annex to the patriarchy.” Indeed, it’s important to Frances-White that we are always asking the questions; who am I including? Who is less routinely included?

“Trump is setting a cultural tone, in which he is consistently photographed surrounded by old white men making unilateral decisions around the economy, the climate, and around serious social issues that will marginalise minority groups,” she says. What’s most important to Frances-White is that feminism doesn’t serve to replicate these patterns. And as well as including others, women need to stand up and include themselves in an increasingly exclusive society. “If we feel tentative about including ourselves and influencing important conversations then gender equality will take a big step backwards.”

Along with her progressive ideals and quick wit, Frances-White will be bringing some special guests to Brighton Festival. An episode on motherhood will be recorded live at the Theatre Royal with special guests Sharon Horgan and Rebekah Staton. “I’ll be the only non-mother on stage,” she laughs.

Charlotte Tuxworth-Holden

The Guilty Feminist, Theatre Royal Brighton, New Road, Sunday, May 28, 7.30pm, £15