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Comedian Marina Franklin on discovering and reclaiming feminism

Marina Franklin has been a comedian since 1997, but says it wasn’t until The Women’s Fund of Greater Milwaukee reached out to ask her to be a keynote speaker that she realized she’s also a feminist.
Photo courtesy of Marina Franklin
Marina Franklin has been a comedian since 1997, but says it wasn’t until The Women’s Fund of Greater Milwaukee reached out to ask her to be a keynote speaker that she realized she’s also a feminist.

The F word: Feminism. What does it mean to you? That’s the question that the Women’s Fund of Greater Milwaukee is taking on in their annual event on Nov. 17.

The F Word: Reclaiming Feminism will reflect on what it means to be a feminist today and address how to make it more inclusive in the Greater Milwaukee area — going beyond gender and challenging injustices that still persist today.

The event features comedian Marina Franklin as their special guest to speak on her own journey with feminism, which she says she didn't have a definition for until very recently.

"What it means to me is something I've discovered with the assignment that I was given for this presentation," Franklin notes. "So feminism for me was something that was not initially known, it was more something that I discovered over time that I was a part of. More of something I've done to move and push women forward, then something that I've simply just been aware of."

Feminism to the Women's Fund is "big, broad, and inclusive" according to its executive director Lisa Attonito, with a focus on furthering gender parity and making feminism more inclusive for the entire community so that everyone can realize their full potential.

"I think of feminism as being much more important [than being an ally or sponsor in the corporate world], says Attonito. "It's pretty narrow, and feminism is much broader than that. It includes me being reflective of my own work, in my own language, in my own behavior, and then advocating for women myself and the others around me. But it keeps the responsibility on me, as the individual, who has to own my own feminism."

As an entertainer Franklin says there wasn't the time or luxury to think about herself as a feminist, specifically as a Black female comedian. "But I do think that a lot of the things that I say in my act lends itself to empowering women, and a lot of that work was done without realizing it," she says. "That's the thing that is important about this event, it makes you feel more inclusive in it."

That inclusivity is one of the most important factors to reclaiming feminism for Franklin. "When we're asked to be part of an event that is feminist and is mostly women and you are of color — to really feel included is important. But in a very specific way, and also, after you've been included to not feel as if you have to be overly grateful for it," she explains. "Inclusion should never do that to someone."

Attonito notes that it's important for organizations like The Women's Fund to reach out to and incorporate the women that the feminist movement left behind. And the bigger themes of feminism has to include addressing systemic issues, and convening the community to change attitudes, behavior, and culture.

"I really do thank The Women's Fund of Greater Milwaukee for the opportunity," says Franklin. "It was the most powerful thing I've ever done for myself. I've been a comedian since 1997 ... and I don't think anyone's ever reached out to me and said, 'Hey, you're a feminist, talk about it.'"

While she admits she is privileged to be in the public eye to get this invitation from The Women's Fund in the first place, the same effort needs to be done for average women.

"They need a helping hand to realize where they stand in this too," says Franklin, "Because we all pull each other up, but we can also reach out to those who just don't have that opportunity, don't know it's accessible, available, don't know that they can define themselves in this way."

Attonito says the organization wants to see this ripple effect continue on. "We know [Marina] will carry this forward ... this is exactly what The Women's Fund is trying to do. To address the systemic barriers that stand in the way that impact lives," she says. "There are women here [in Milwaukee] that have stories that are important that need to be told that also need to be included in the women's movement here locally."

You can hear more of Marina Franklin and Lisa Attonito, along with The Women's Fund Board Chair Marilka Vélez, discuss reclaiming feminism on the most recent episode of Franklin's podcast "Friends Like Us."


Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
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