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The Evolution of Call Her Daddy: A GSWS Student’s Confession*
Photo by Melanie Pongratz on Unsplash
By Jessie Sijie Zhang, GSWS Undergraduate Student
I have a confession to make…
I am a daddy gang member, aka a devoted listener of the sex and comedy podcast Call Her Daddy hosted by the “founding father” Alex Cooper.
As a Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies (GSWS) undergrad, this is a secret I carefully protect, especially among my cynical feminist classmates since the podcast was once infamous for being misogynistic. However, the show has evolved quite a lot since it started, as have my feelings towards it.
I started following the podcast in 2018 during my first semester of university. By the time I found them, Alex Cooper and her then BFF and roommate Sofia Franklin were still recording out of their tiny NYC apartment. At first, I was intrigued by their unfiltered conversations exchanging sex stories and advice. They talked about everything, from one-night stand horror stories to “how-to”s from sexting, blow jobs, and sex positions to cheating, dating advice, and more. It was as if sex education and porn had a love child consisting of the voice of two mid-twenty white girls who were partying their life away in the best city on earth, New York. I was surprised by how open, casual, and candid they were. As a first-year undergrad itching to live that “wild party lifestyle” I found some of the episodes were quite informative. Above all, they were entertaining. Sure, the stories and language they used got a little out of control from time to time — but at the end of the day, Call Her Daddy was a comedy podcast. I thought of the hosts as my two girlfriends trying to figure out life just like I was at the time while having fun and cracking jokes. They made me feel that I was not alone, and honestly, it was just not that serious.
Fast forward three years and a lot has changed. We survived a global pandemic (barely, it is still ongoing) and a year and a half of quarantine. After taking my first GSWS class in Sept 2020, I decided to pursue it as my major and have been a devoted GSWS student ever since. Quarantine and the much-needed isolation helped me see a lot of things more clearly. I am no longer the same first-year student who thought clubbing was the best way to spend my weekends. I started to understand myself better and recognize the things that bring me joy. While in the classroom, I was learning about feminism, patriarchy, sexuality, and so much more.
These changes allowed me to reflect on my past actions and thought patterns and the way they were shaped by internalized misogyny. I realized the flaws in the old Call Her Daddy “philosophy” and why it resonated with my past self so well. Internalized misogyny is when women subconsciously project sexist ideas onto other women and often onto themselves. It is a product of the patriarchal system to keep the power imbalance in place. In the old Call Her Daddy era, there were many signs of internalized misogyny reflected in the ways Cooper and Franklin talk about female sexual pleasure and sexual advice. In one of the episodes, they talked about the connection between women’s hotness level (according to traditional societal beauty standards) and their sexual performance in heterosexual intercourse. They suggested that for girls/women who are average-looking, they should “die for that dick” aka perform better for the pleasure of the male counterpart. Even though this advice seemed to be an encouragement for women/girls taking charge in deciding what to do and how to act in a sexual encounter, it was centered on male sexual pleasure (and not women’s) which perpetuates misogynistic ideals about women and sex.
Interestingly, as I have changed and evolved through the years, so has Call Her Daddy. Looking at the podcast today, Sofia Franklin has not been in the picture for quite some time. The story behind it was complicated and confusing but no longer important. What is important is that Alex Cooper took over the podcast. After finishing her contract with Barstool, she recently signed a $60 million deal with Spotify. On top of that, she has updated her relationship status from single to in a committed relationship and started going to therapy. Today she is arguably one of the most successful women in podcasting. Her openness, casualness, and candidness have stayed the same, sex is still in the picture (not as often as before), but the central theme of the podcast has now turned into mental health and female empowerment. Spotify has even branded the podcast as a “modern twist on feminism”.
As a daddy gang member, I am impressed and proud of Alex Cooper’s accomplishment especially with her finally becoming the boss of her podcast empire. But as a GSWS student, I couldn’t help but feel trepidation about the show’s change in direction especially in the direction of “feminism”.
I find myself questioning some of Cooper’s content especially her takes on female empowerment and feminist ideals. For example, this “modern twist on feminism” falls right into the trap of neoliberal feminism. This feminist idea has gained a lot of traction in the past decades especially with the rising popularity of social media. According to Catherine Rottenberg in her journal article “The Rise of Neoliberal Feminism” (2018), the neoliberal feminist subject is well aware of the current inequality between men and women, but ignores “the social, cultural and economic forces producing this inequality and instead accepts full reasonability for her well-being and self-care”. This is very clearly reflected in the way Alex Cooper addresses the inequality she and her guests often experience.
In a recent episode, Cooper interviewed Emily Ratajkowski about her new book My Body (2021) which is an autobiography on her modelling journey involving traumatic encounters of sexual violence. I was impressed with the care and attention Cooper put in preparing for the episode to allow Ratajkowski to tell her story. However, they did not explore the structural roots of these sexual violence experiences and failed to explore the social, cultural, and economic forces that complicate this issue. Even though they did talk about the commonalities of these stories, at the end of the interview, they only advised the listeners to take control of the situation themselves, to avoid, to report or to seek help if something like this happens to them. This kind of advice places responsibilities on the individuals instead of sparking collective change. On top of that, Alex Cooper and Emily Ratajkowski are both white and exceptionally beautiful according to the current social beauty standard, which makes it easier for them to use their privilege and to have their voices heard. In a world that favors whiteness and the conformity of body to beauty ideals, to acknowledge their successes and accomplishments, they must come to terms with the system that allows such hierarchy to exist in the first place.
While I’m questioning and reflecting on some of the concepts in the podcast, I am hopeful for the future. I believe that everyone has the capability to learn, change and do better when they know better. After following the podcast and Alex Cooper for so long and seeing how things have evolved, I would like to think that both Call Her Daddy and Cooper will continue to grow through learning more about the issues and accepting the need for accountability. Cooper has mentioned a few times that she was starting to realize the privilege, power, and influence she enjoys, and she has expressed her desire to keep on educating herself to do better hoping to make a more positive impact on her listeners. She is proving her commitment to this aspiration by bringing in guests who are qualified to talk about complex issues and who are credible.
For now, I plan to keep my membership in the daddy gang while continuing to expand my knowledge in the field of gender studies and women studies. I hope Alex Cooper will keep her promise and do better for her podcast and for all of us.
More about the author:
Jessie Sijie Zhang 张思婕 (Zhāng Sī Jié) is a dancer artist born and raised in Fuzhou 福州 (Fú Zhōu) China. She began her early dance training with traditional Chinese folk dance. In 2014, Jessie moved to British Columbia, Canada, as an international student and has been studying and dancing here ever since. At the moment, she is a member of Studio North’s elite competitive team Northside directed by Adrian Vendiola and Kelvin Tu. She is currently pursuing a bachelor's degree in GSWS at Simon Fraser University.
*This piece was originally prepared for GSWS 398W: Feminist Currents, taught by Dr. Patterson in the Fall 2021 semester at SFU.