Erin Gibson is angry. She’s tired of institutionalized sexism, the misconception that women aren’t interested in STEM careers, and the harmful ways we educate teens about sex. For these reasons and (many) more, she wrote Feminasty: The Complicated Women’s Guide to Surviving the Patriarchy Without Drinking Herself to Death. And it’s absolutely necessary reading.
If there’s any doubt about how angry Gibson is, she sets the tone very early in her collection of essays: “Too bad I don’t give a fuck about what the patriarchy wants.” If you’re angry too, you need to read Feminasty. And if you aren’t angry, or if you know that you should be angry but you aren’t exactly sure why, you especially need to read Feminasty.
Gibson is the perfect person to write a feminist handbook. If you listen to Throwing Shade, the podcast she co-hosts with Bryan Safi, you’ll know just how knowledgeable she is about women’s issues. And not just the issues you see online and in the news, but also the niche ones that desperately need more airtime.
One of the many great things about Feminasty is that it’s backed up by some serious data.
Gibson uses facts to expose things that people need to know and punch holes in troublesome lines of thinking that people might not have realized they were following. Or, as she told me: “It’s this white noise of oppression and marginalization that you just kind of accept as business as usual.”
If that sentence hits too close to home, do yourself a favor and buy this book. Buy a copy for yourself, your mother, your sister, your aunt, and your baby niece. Gibson is starting the conversations about women’s issues that we need to be having on a national level, and you’d better believe she isn’t going to stop talking anytime soon.
I spoke with Erin about exposing problematic women in power, the fight to keep abortion accessible, and how to talk to friends who misunderstand feminism. Oh, and she has TONS of book recommendations for anyone who wants to continue their education on how to topple the patriarchy. Plus, be sure to read Feminasty for a great list of female-owned makeup companies to support.
HelloGiggles: Erin, I wish I could make Feminasty required reading for everybody.
Erin Gibson: That’s so nice to hear. I keep making the joke that I’m sending it to three-year-old girls. It’ll be Goodnight Moon and Feminasty.
HG: What was the road to writing Feminasty?
EG: I’m going to be very honest with you — this is not the book I intended to write. I wrote a very detailed book pitch that was more focused on sexual experience and what my sexual experience was, not being very educated in that field. When I started pitching that book around, my now-editor said, “I really like this, but I want to know a bunch of different things about how you perceive the world. I would like to read a book that’s more in line with what you do on the podcast.” In my mind, I was a little hesitant, because I talk about women’s issues every week, and I wanted to get away from them a little bit. But once she suggested that, it was kind of like, “Oh, of course this is what I should write. I have all the research already. I’ve got trends that I’ve seen over the years in my own podcast that I can pull from.” The nature of what I do on Throwing Shade is to talk about really niche women’s stories. When she planted the seed, it got me really excited to write this.
HG: How did you narrow your focus and decide what topics to cover?
EG: There are so many things that people are talking about now. I feel like 10 years ago, it was hard to convince people that the pay gap existed. But now, it seems like, well, of course it exists, and now we all see it. I’m trying to take some other topics that are more pervasive in women’s lives and less talked about. The pay gap is definitely something we should talk about, but it’s getting airtime, so it’s not something I spend lot of time on in the book. I wanted to talk about things that are more underrepresented as far as the conversations women are having about what they can change on a small level in their own lives and in other women’s lives.
HG: Feminasty is a great resource for people who are having trouble finding the words for what change they want to see happen.
EG: I wish I had this book when I was 16 years old. I feel like it would have saved me a lot of years of figuring stuff out in a way that I could have been really enjoying my life and having fun, rather than, as I say in the book, “unraveling my oppressive gender sweater.” I started writing the book two years ago, and I had to take a break from it, because we did our first season of a TV show based on the podcast. And then, when I started the book back up again, I realized that a lot of my data had changed. Which was scary. The amount of abortion clinics that had closed nationally was higher. The pay gap had not moved. The amount of women in positions in the C-suite had gotten barely, barely better. Some companies were proud to announce their first female CEO, which is basically like getting an F and bragging that you’re still allowed to be in school. That was kind of a long process, to go back and re-research, because women’s rights are a molasses-slow endeavor.
HG: The research is a crucial part of the book. Many people might not know that men own our favorite cosmetics companies, or just how many burdensome TRAP laws are in place.
EG: The makeup one has been the one that’s resonated the most with people I’m surrounded by. A lot of women that I hang out with are pretty up-to-date on the news, they know what’s going on, and they know what Mike Pence is doing. So when I was like, “Hey, did you ever think about this? That all your makeup is going to keep the richest man in France in business?” It was shocking for people. The beauty industry is a recession-proof industry. So when you think about it that way, of course the male titans of commerce are like, “We’re going to get in on this, and we’re going to make tons of money.” You’ve got the whole idea of the male gaze and women adhering to certain beauty standards. That being said, I love makeup, and I’ll never stop wearing it; I want to look clown-adjacent at all times. I’m from Texas. So it became problematic for me to see that. I dumped all of my NARS cosmetics into the garbage. I love NARS, but I had to let them go, because once I knew it, I couldn’t un-know it. I couldn’t un-see the money that’s going into those guys’ pockets.
HG: Even if you don’t want to start a podcast or be outspoken online, you can still assert your feminism and fight the patriarchy in small ways, like supporting women-owned businesses.
EG: How cool is it when you start realizing, “Guys own a lot of things that I like that are geared toward women. Well, I’m going to start supporting women who are doing it.” Also, if women are in charge of a company like that — especially with beauty and stuff you put on your face and your body — I would like to think they would be more cautious about what those ingredients are. Because they’re using those products, their mothers are using those products, and their daughters are using those products. I don’t necessarily think guys care.
HG: Kylie, save us.
EG: Did you ever think you’d say that? But it’s true. Kris Jenner has been very, very transparent in saying that if one of the big five cosmetic companies wants to buy [Kylie Cosmetics], they’re selling for the right amount of money. So that could be over soon. The Kylie Jenner all-female-run cosmetics empire isn’t going to last forever.
HG: Speaking of women, I love the Feminasty dedication: “To women. You are not my competition.” But you’re not afraid to call out problematic women in power who need to be doing better.
EG: Misogyny doesn’t have a prerequisite that you have to have a penis to have it inside you. Women can be misogynists too, and it’s all a weird form of self-hatred, if you think about it. It’s the “I’m only friends with guys, I’m a guy’s girl” — that’s all, to me, an expression that you don’t like yourself, so you’re running away from it. That’s sad. The idea that women are raised to be in competition with each other for jobs, dick, attention — it dilutes our power. I want to do as much as possible to take away those imaginary competitive drives in women, so that we can just go, “Oh, that doesn’t matter. I’m not actually in competition with this other person just because she has a vagina too. How can we work together to fix things?”
I think there’s a ton of women, as we saw in the [2016 presidential] election, who didn’t want to straight up vote for a woman, or voted for somebody who they were given a myriad of reasons why he was bad for women, by the candidate himself. That’s all self-hatred and internalized misogyny. My personal belief is when you meet a woman like that — who’s spewing garbage against other women unnecessarily, or doing things actively to make other women’s lives harder — A) You try to educate her in a compassionate way, because you are dealing with someone who’s damaged, and B) If she doesn’t listen, then fuck her. We don’t need her. Focus on another woman who’s ready to make the change and ready to do the work.
HG: On problematic women in power, you write: “We don’t need them to change the way they are. We need better women to replace them.”
EG: Exactly. At first, when I found out the stats about the women who voted for Trump, I thought, “Okay, you know what, these women are in tough positions. Who knows what their level of education is.” And then, when I found out they were college educated, I was like, “No. They had the skills to figure this out.” I had less compassion then.
HG: How can we talk to our friends — especially our female friends — who misunderstand feminism, the #MeToo movement, or why these conversations are so necessary?
EG: I think feminism can help everybody. But if you’re not ready to see that stuff, it can be so overwhelming. It’s like drinking water from a fire hydrant. Because where do you start? That’s the thing I want to make sure women understand. It’s not like you have to change the world; you just have to figure out what’s good for you in your life. Control is everything. I don’t mean controlling other people, I mean feeling like you have control over the things that you need in your life, whether that’s downtime or a better salary.
Feeling like you have the permission to even ask for those things — that’s the number one hurdle with most women. We’re not raised to do that. We’re not raised to be assertive in that way. It’s actually a negative attribute; they’ve done studies on it. Women are punished in the workplace for exhibiting male characteristics, and a male characteristic is asking for a raise. It’s a thing women don’t have practice doing. So when you’re at a job, it’s hard to just develop that skill.
HG: Something that hit me hard was your essay about institutionalized sexism in the medical profession, and women suffering from their pain not being taken seriously by doctors. You write: “Be the exhausting bitch who is out there advocating for your health.”
EG: Yes. Be exhausting. I used to think my mom was crazy, and now I think she’s brilliant. I see what she was doing now. I’m very lucky; my mom is a medical encyclopedia. So when I went to the doctor with her, she was always angry. She was like, “You’re not listening to me. This is what’s wrong with my kid.” I grew up with that. But even a bold and demanding person like her was still ignored. And I still couldn’t see it when doctors were doing it to me as an adult.
HG: In Feminasty, you tell a story about your (former) male gynecologist making crude jokes while removing your IUD. It made me want to burst into flames.
EG: Get this. I’ve been vacillating very wildly between whether I should say his name or not. I don’t think I need to, because it’s starting to come out. Other people are starting to talk about him. He’s at a practice with other doctors, and I’ve talked to friends with children who delivered with other OB-GYNs at that practice. And there’s a secret code that if you’re going into labor and you think there’s a possibility that your doctor’s not going to be able to be there to deliver your baby, you make sure you don’t get this guy. And nobody was talking about it, because nobody was talking about it. The only reason I found out was because I wrote this chapter and people started reading it and went, “Is it this guy?”
HG: Is it scary to name people? You don’t name your gynecologist, but you do call out politicians and journalists. And you hear horror stories of people who have the government at their door over a tweet.
EG: Do I ever feel like I’m getting extra screening from the TSA? One of the things I try really hard to do is be artful in the way I insult people. It’s never death threats or anything like that. I like to call Donald Trump a rotting succulent. In that way, I feel like it’s almost confusing. Am I insulting him? It’s more like silly, fantastical insults. The Betsy DeVos chapter is dripping with sarcasm.
You know, it’s very weird. For a feminist comedian, I get very little hate. I’ve started to be a little more angry on Instagram, because I am. I’m just angry now. But when I say something that’s a silly or nonsensical insult, people don’t know how to respond. I think that’s shielded me a little bit from the straight up trolls. Let’s see what happens after this book gets out. [laughs] I’m ready for it.
HG: Another important Feminasty essay talks about the anti-choice movement. You write: “Abortions are just part of reproductive care.”
EG: [sighs] It’s so frustrating. If abortions were just at your gynecologist’s office, and you had children, pregnant women, babies, and people going in for abortions, you wouldn’t have the targeted hate that you do now. I dare anybody to try to bomb a place that has children in it. But because it’s separated, and it’s treated with this otherness and this exceptional credential of, “no, but this is another thing,” it’s easy to target. It’s not looked at as part of treating the whole body.
It used to not be a thing. And then the Evangelicals got involved, and now we are where we are today. As far as I’m concerned, until I see them at ICE detention centers, and calling their senators to say that the separation of children from their parents is wrong, and they start doing all the things that should encapsulate being “pro-life,” they can get fuckin’ bent. All it’s about is power. If you only do one facet of this pro-life agenda, then it’s not really pro-life. You can’t really claim that. They don’t care. They actually don’t fucking care. And why they want more children in the first place in the world that people can’t afford, when they don’t believe in government helping society — I don’t understand the logic. It all goes back to controlling women. It’s not about the things they say it’s about.
HG: You include a harrowing list of measures that are made to seem like medical protections, but are really just obstacles trying to make it difficult to get an abortion.
EG: It’s all just smoke and mirrors to get abortion to be illegal. It’ll be impossible [to get an abortion in the future]. It will still be legal, but it’ll be impossible.
What was so upsetting for me during the last election — I know about this stuff that’s been happening on a state-by-state level, because I handle niche female news items — I saw this snowball effect. So when I saw Trump doing well, I knew Hillary wasn’t going to win. And I had to deal with that. I went to Las Vegas and campaigned for Hillary. Las Vegas is the worst place on the planet, and I went there. It’s a great place for some people, but it’s filled with all of my nightmares. I did everything I could to make sure that she won. I was talking to my grandpa who wanted to vote Trump, I was trying to get everyone in my family on Team Hillary. But I knew it was over.
Being republican is simple. It’s like, “money should be like this, laws should be like this, and people should be like this.” And to me, being anything else requires a sense of nuance and understanding that not everybody has the same struggle as you, and that everybody’s American experience is different. You have to take all of these things into consideration when you’re picking a candidate and governing this country, because we all live in the same place, but we all have wildly different experiences. And I don’t think republicans understand nuance.
HG: You mentioned that you don’t get a lot of hate online. But on the flip side, has anyone ever told you that you’ve changed the way they think about women’s issues?
EG: Yeah! It’s kind of two-way. It’s people sharing with me their experience and me giving them the language to understand their marginalization, and people teaching me a lot, too. It’s pretty great. It’s pretty standard. From women, I get a lot of, “Oh my god, this situation happened to me.” It’s a lot of sharing personal stories and a lot of recognizing stuff that’s happening to them. For a lot of gay men, it’s, “Oh my god, I never even realized this was something women went through.” It’s been great.
Bryan, my co-host on Throwing Shade, teaches me about the gay experience all the time. Together, we try to tell trans stories, and try to make things inclusive and intersectional. We’re teaching each other, we’re teaching our audience, and we’re sharing our own experiences. I also get corrections, and I welcome them. I get things wrong, and sometimes I use the wrong term. I always feel like, if everyone’s just trying to learn, it’s okay to make mistakes, and it’s okay to correct people.
HG: You basically outlined the topics for your next book in the conclusion of Feminasty. Do you have any plans to write another installment?
EG: Sequel, baby! I would love to keep writing these books. It was so fun to write, and it helped me to heal and solidify how I feel about things. It was helpful for me to distill everything down to, like, “This is, in particular, very specifically, why I’m mad about this thing.” And as I said in the end, there’s so much I didn’t get a chance to talk about. I want to keep the conversation going. Hopefully, this book does well and I’ll get the chance to do that.
HG: Aside from Feminasty, what are other good resources for people who want to continue their education on how to topple the patriarchy?
EG: I love Gail Collins. She’s a New York Times journalist. She wrote a book called America’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines. It’s the feminist history book you never had. It’s a book you cannot put down. It’s so jam packed with information, and you just can’t believe you don’t know this stuff. She has a whole thing about how pioneer women basically built San Francisco. Because when the gold rush happened, there was no one to cook for the men. So women would come out, set up shop, and make tons of money. They were business owners and had autonomy and control of their finances for the first time. Stuff like that. I mean, Bear Grylls would look like Tom Brokaw compared to these pioneer women. That’s not even a good analogy. But these women would like, crawl up mountains while giving birth. Their skirts would catch on fire all the time. The shit that they went through was insane. So you’re reading this, and [Collins is] just giving you all of it. It’s the most fascinating book I’ve ever read.
Of course, all of Roxane Gay’s books. She’s necessary reading. I just read In Her Words, the Eleanor Roosevelt book. That was uplifting, and also so sad to see this woman with this knowledge and access to power whom, if she had been given the chance…god, the things she could have done. You should read Susan Faludi’s Backlash. That’s super necessary feminist reading. I also like this book called White Trash. It’s about America’s history of poverty and how it explains a lot of what’s happening today. But because it’s written by a woman — it’s written by Nancy Isenberg — it has a feminist slant to it. It’s fantastic.
Oh, and Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Pénélope Bagieu. It’s a graphic novel of incredible women. It’s gorgeous and informative and great. And it’s a great book for a teen, or an adult who likes graphic novels like me. Also Bitch Planet. It’s a graphic novel that’s The Handmaid’s Tale of space. That’s great. And of course, The Handmaid’s Tale. Read Margaret Atwood. And not just The Handmaid’s Tale. She’s written tons of other books that are thematically similar and just as depressing.
Also, Samantha Irby. Her books…I don’t know what to say about her books. I have a really loud laugh, and when something tickles me and gets me really hard, I laugh really loudly. And I do it like, every other page with her.
HG: That’s how I was with Feminasty!
EG: Oh! We need more books like that. Joy and education. Can I tell you one more book? It’s called The Spy Who Loved: The Secrets and Lives of Christine Granville. She was Britain’s first special agent in World War II. And because they couldn’t acknowledge that she was a special agent, they couldn’t rescue her. The shit that you learn about female spies during World War II is insane. And that’s another thing. Women participated in war, and their stories are absolutely eradicated. There are very few books about how women participated in so many ways.
Feminasty is now available wherever books are sold.