When it comes to podcasts, I have two great loves. The first, as previously discussed, are audiodramas. The second are women’s podcasts, or to be more specific – conversational podcasts hosted by women who are good friends, discussing literally any topic that I am interested in. Self care to Feminism to Literature, I am in. The best thing about conversational podcasts is the intimacy you share with the hosts as they talk about their lives, their interests, and the things that matter to them. Over the course of a half hour or an hour every week or two, you get to be part of their conversations and build a connection with them. And these elements take on a particular significance when it comes to women’s podcasts.
Women have long been underrepresented in podcasting. Men hosted 70% of the 100 most popular podcasts in 2013. My own very quick and dirty, unscientific tally of the top 50 podcasts on the US iTunes charts found that there were 29 male-hosted podcasts (58%), 13 women-hosted podcasts (26%), and eight podcasts with mixed teams. (Dated August 4th in case any of you are particular about your data, which of course you should be.) So the picture may slowly be getting better – but still, two exclusively male-hosted podcasts for every podcast hosted exclusively by women?
It’s also important to note how women’s participate in public conversation is culturally delegitimized in multiple ways. For a start, women’s voices are often deemed irritating – either because they are too high and femininised (up talk), or too low and gravelly (vocal fry). But beyond the surface level, women’s interests and ideas are often treated as vapid and unimportant, when a similar scrutiny is not applied to men’s interests or ideas. Women with an interest in beauty or fashion are treated as vapid, but we hardly blink an eye at men who obsessively follow sport or cars. As a society, we have difficulty reconciling the idea that women who are interested in traditionally feminine pastimes can also be intellectually capable. And of course if a woman is less interested in ‘feminine’ pursuits but is successful in traditionally male fields, such as politics or science, she is either subject to insults and ridicule or assumed to be incompetent.
The beautiful thing about women’s conversational podcasts is that, despite all of this, they make space for women to be fully ourselves. The hosts talk without any regard for pandering to a male audience and make room in public space for a full representation of womanhood. A womanhood unapologetic about her views, unapologetic about the way she sounds, unapologetic about the disinterest of male listeners as she starts to talk about critical feminist theory or periods or anything in between. A womanhood that, unhampered by stifling expectations, is proud and confident and brilliant and joyous.
Whether it’s the ladies of Call Your Girlfriend refusing to apologise for the way they speak, Amanda Nelson of Get Booked rejecting criticism that the show recommends too many female authors, or Marcelle Kosman from Witch Please insisting on including their laughter on the show to celebrate women’s joy and explicitly politicising that decision – every time these women stand up for themselves, or refuse to limit or censor their content, their podcasts become a platform to simply be themselves. And in doing so, they make room for women to see themselves represented and valued in the media they consume.
It is truly hard to overemphasise the value of this in a world where women’s views are dismissed and belittled, where our voices are regularly mocked and derided. Call Your Girlfriend has received messages from women who were inspired to start their own podcasts, and promotes these podcasts on the show. Witch Please recently shared this tweet, which made my heart grow all the sizes:
— (((ola))) (@FoolishOla) August 3, 2016
This is the reason why women’s spaces, why women’s culture, why women’s podcasts matter. They provide a meaningful opportunity to create somewhere apart from mainstream patriarchal culture where women’s voices, perspectives, and contributions are valued and celebrated. Obviously, this is important to women and girls on an individual level – as Miss Representation reminds us, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” Representation shifts our understanding of our value and what we are capable of achieving. And as these platforms grow, they begin to shift the cultural landscape. As their reach and influence increases, women’s podcasts challenge our common cultural understanding of the importance of women’s voices and opinions, and broaden our beliefs about which perspectives and subjects are worthy of our attention.
Women changing the world? What’s not to love.