Phoebe Waller-Bridgehas spoken candidly about her concern of being labelled a ‘bad feminist’ when she was writing smash hit seriesFleabag. While we’re all on tenterhooks waiting for tonight's instalment of the dark comedy, Phoebe frankly spoke about some of the worries she had while creating the bold, messy, sex-obsessed titular character yesterday – and told how she feared viewers might view her as a ‘bad feminist’ for some of Fleabag’s antics.
"A lot of women - and probably some men as well - feel like they could fall into a trap of being a bad feminist, which is somebody who doesn't tick all the boxes of what it is to be a perfect feminist, or be a perfect spokeswoman for the cause," the 33-year-old admitted on The Andrew Marr Show. "There are so many potholes in the road. It's kind of frightening and you want to be able to say the right things."
In particular, Phoebe spoke about a scene in the very first episode of the show, where Fleabag and her sister are asked (in a feminist lecture) if they would trade five years of her life for the "perfect body". True to character, Fleabag and her sister raise their hands - before her sister, Claire, informs her that they’re both ‘bad feminists’ for wishing to be more attractive. Phoebe, who spoke about how the TV moment reflected her own ‘bad thoughts’, continued: “That felt like the most honest and frightening thing to put out there, like, am I doing this right? That she’d rather take years off her life to have a hot body, and all that kind of stuff that you’re not supposed to say. I think she was for me, but it’s also how I was feeling at the time, like I want to get this right, but I also have bad thoughts - or I seem to do things that don’t align with the message.”
It’s refreshing for Phoebe – who is one of our most exciting female writers and actors - to be so honest about the fear of getting feminism ‘wrong’. In real life, feminism is tricky and nuanced, and not even the most ardent of feminists are perfect. And this is okay, because – guess what - no woman is perfect. It’s only when we admit that we’re not we’re not always going to get it right that we’re able to grow, and learn from others. Jameela Jamil – who labels herself as a ‘feminist-in-progress’ and was named one of Grazia’s 10 Women Who Changed The Conversation - is a prime example of a feminist in the public eye who doesn’t proclaim to be holier-than-thou (and it's one of the reasons why she continues to be so successful.)
But in Fleabag’s case, Phoebe needn’t worry. Fleabag (no, we don’t know her real name) is a real, deeply flawed woman (who, yes, in the opening episode masturbates to a video of Barack Obama while lying next to her boyfriend) who we don’t often see on screen. Messy and sex-obsessed, Fleabag definitely does not cater to the male gaze - and that’s enough of a feminist act in itself. Just because she wants to look ‘hotter’ that definitely does not make her character any less revolutionary. In fact, because she’s so honest, it’s only makes her character more admirable. Women are allowed to be bold, brave - and care about what they look like; these things are not mutually exclusive.
While Fleabag might be in full swing, the second season of Phoebe's darkly hilarious spy thriller Killing Evedoesn’t kick off until next month. The producer also discussed how she think it’s 'oddly empowering' for women to be portrayed as violent on TV – instead of being attacked on screen, like women so usually are. "People are slightly exhausted by seeing women being brutalised on screen,” she said. “We're being allowed to see women on slabs the whole time and being beaten up. Seeing women be violent - the flipside of that - there's something instantly refreshing and oddly empowering.”