Since its 2018 debut, Call Her Daddy has presented itself a feminist, sex-positive podcast. It introduced a new genre of media upon its inception—hosts Alexandra Cooper and Sofia Franklyn brought what they labeled “female locker room talk” to mainstream media, normalizing open girl-talk about sex in a non-romantic way. The show was even named to honor that effort, flipping the gender generally associated with the word “daddy.”
Today, Call Her Daddy ranks seventh on the Spotify podcast charts. With 1.8 million Instagram followers and an estimated 2.9 million listeners, the provocative podcast has transformed into a brand, hosting guests as high-profile as Miley Cyrus. Devoted podcast listeners call themselves the “Daddy Gang,” and thousands hung on to every word of the hosts’ dramatic split last spring.
As Call Her Daddy began to grow, the meaning of feminism was evolving, as always. By 2018, the third-wave feminist movement led by Gen Xers was mainstream. The movement redefined the way we act “feminist,” as third-wave pioneers set out to completely rebuild our patriarchal system instead of working to fix it from the inside.
Part of that re-structuring included the centering of intersectionality, a term coined in 1991 by Kimberlé Crenshaw. Intersectionality provided a system to account for the number of discriminations and oppressive systems individual women experience. By 2018, the multifaceted connection between race and gender was widely understood and key to feminism.
A month into Call Her Daddy’s recording, parent company Barstool Sports purchased the podcast. Barstool has long been known for distasteful jokes: last year, videos surfaced of its founder, Dave Portnoy, using the N-word; Portnoy has been condemned for a 2016 segment in which he said NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick was “an ISIS guy”; a Barstool sales employee dressed in and later defended his blackface on Halloween. The first business decision the Call Her Daddy hosts made sold Barstool their feminist show.
Still, third-wave feminism also popularized sex positivity, defined by the International Society for Sexual Medicine as “positive attitudes about sex and feeling comfortable with one’s own sexual identity and with the sexual behaviors of others.” For the first time, the feminist movement recognized the fear and hesitation women experience when speaking openly about sex, and so did Cooper and Franklyn. The hosts of Call Her Daddy wanted to flip that narrative and level the playing field, using the same rhetoric men do and labeling it “female locker room talk.”
Locker room talk isn’t disparaging in itself—it simply encompasses conversations that aren’t appropriate elsewhere––but more often than not it inches toward the offensive. After tapes of former president Donald Trump bragging about grabbing and kissing women were leaked in 2016, he labeled his own words as locker room talk. If Cooper and Franklyn were using his definition, they had two choices: objectify women, or objectify men.
Their choice is laid bare in Call Her Daddy’s second episode, titled: “If you’re a 5 or a 6, die for that dick.” About halfway through the episode, the hosts tell the story of an acquaintance, a girl they define as a “hard five” who is sleeping with their friend, a man they consider much more attractive. Cooper is nearly cackling as she says, “The girl had to climb in the window—she was not allowed to use the front door, nope—she had to climb inside his apartment window, she would fuck him, and she was not allowed to speak.”
Shortly after describing this girl’s journey back out the window, Cooper launches into a monologue about a woman’s needs. She confronts the lack of emphasis on women’s desires, transforming the conversation from one about a “three or four” who “knows her place” to one that condemnns discriminatory hookup culture. The contrast is striking.
Throughout the podcast, Franklyn and Cooper tell plenty of similar “sexually freeing” and “brutally honest” stories, sprinkling in bits of wisdom and advice about sex and surviving hookup culture. Those tidbits, however, are never one-size-fits-all; the hosts consistently utilize the one-to-ten number system that assigns women (and men) numbers based on their relative attractiveness. It’s possible that the hosts are reclaiming the number system, repurposing it into something empowering, but Franklyn and Cooper refer to women and men as twos, threes, sixes, and tens far too seriously to be making a commentary on the system. In their attempt to reverse male locker room talk, the two perpetuate its patriarchal nature and stifle the movement for sexual liberation.
The hosts tell listeners to block men or withhold sex when they’re frustrated, and give step-by-step instructions on how their followers can actively manipulate partners. Franklyn says repeatedly that she’s never failed to cheat on a significant other, and argues it’s important not to develop an emotional interest in relationships—men don’t want a woman that is too interested in them. Their references and directives are baked in misogyny, and encourage women to create and maintain relationships wherein men retain the upper hand. They are distinctly known for several taglines, including: “if you’re not sucking his dick, someone else is.”
Dave Portnoy, founder of Barstool Sports, has confronted allegations of sexism as well. Barstool’s branding prioritizes buff, athletic men and hypersexualized women, and this 2019 article from NBC News speaks to the toxic masculinity that runs rampant in Call Her Daddy’s parent company. In Barstool’s short history, several female reporters have accused Portnoy and Barstool fans of sexual harassment, and, in 2016, ESPN canceled its collaboration with Barstool Sports after female employees insisted on the split.
Cooper and Franklyn began Call Her Daddy to provide a honest and public discussion about sex, hosted by two women. Unfortunately, they chose to fit their narrative within a patriarchal culture (and parent company), refusing to disrupt it. In fact, the two repeatedly acknowledged their advice was toxic, insisting all the while that “you have to play the game.”
Even if Call Her Daddy embodied feminism, every listen, subscribe, or merchandise purchase directly benefits a company that has been consistently silent on alleged racism and sexual harassment within its own walls. It’s undeniable that Cooper and Franklyn broke a stigma by discussing sex on a large platform, and for young women who might not have grown up with adequate sex ed, the detail and depth of the hosts’ stories help create a culture of curiosity and open expression.
Still, as young women who have grown up with third-wave feminism, we need to expect and demand empowerment from feminist platforms. Media presenting itself as “feminist” cannot truly futher equality if the work isn’t inclusive and progressive in all of its manners of thinking. It’s our responsibility, as women and consumers of media like Call Her Daddy, to think critically about what media represents and who it includes before we label it “feminist.”