Writer: Jai Moore
I like podcasts. I listen to them while I’m cleaning my room, commuting to class, or on the occasional long walk. They keep my mind active and entertained while my hands are busy. The voices of presenters I listen to regularly bubble along in my earbuds like the chatter of an old friend, familiar and engaging. A good podcast is like a good book — it transports you to another place.
Current market research shows that millennials dominate the internet radio audience, eschewing traditional broadcast instead listening to on-demand in the same way we’ve shifted toward services such as Netflix and Uber. Podcasts are an online sphere where anyone can participate, respond, and — most importantly — upload their show to the internet and be heard. On Mamamia’s Outloud podcast, Mia Freedman asserts this benefit over traditional broadcast: ‘podcasting means that women don’t have to wait for program directors to say “yes, okay, you can have a show, little lady”— we’re just making our own shows’. This type of disruption is normal for millennials, but Mia’s words reflect something paralysing about Australian radio we’re trying to leave behind: the boys’ club that lets Fitzy, Wippa and Kyle Sandilands flourish at the expense of the ‘little lady’.
Radio struggles with diversity, but so do a lot of podcast listeners. Titans such as This American Life and 99% Invisible have responded to overwhelming complaints about the voices of female presenters. Women with higher-pitched voices are criticised as being ‘squeaky’ or ‘annoying’. Women who attempt to drop their voices lower experience vocal fry, a trait common from Megyn Kelly to Kim Kardashian. According to various research, vocal fry in women is perceived as aggressive, passive, educated, uneducated, attractive, and unattractive. And, with enough time and Google, you can find all the same things said about annoying, sexy, immature, dumb high-pitched female voices. Bad science and clickbait headlines propagate the myth that it’s hard to listen to women, but all the findings seem to agree on one thing. If a woman is talking, there’s a problem.
We hate listening to women talk. It would take a book, not an article, to figure out why criticism of ‘grating’ vocal fry is never applied to Ira Glass or Noam Chomsky, but is common enough for Invisibilia host Alix Spiegel to have her own ‘fan-made’ supercut. This is a double standard, and has real-life effects on how women access education, participate in class discussions and even get hired. When we don’t listen to women, we lose half of the ideas and half of the solutions — and that hurts us all. Listening to podcasts with female presenters is good practise at listening to women, and helps support their representation in a new medium.
Women, especially professional radio hosts who happen to be women, are hard to listen to in the same way that your bedroom is hard to clean. If you keep your room fairly tidy all the time — and face it, few of us do — the story begins to change. The following six podcasts are hosted by incredible women, and a good start to your summer listening list. Don’t pay lip service to equality: lend it your ear instead!
Arguably the best thing to ever come out of Buzzfeed, Another Round is interview-focused, with guests including Hillary Clinton, Hannibal Buress, and activist Maryam Al-Khawaja. Listening to Heben and Tracy feels like a warm bubble bath at the end of a long day.
Not for the faint-hearted. Hosts Genevieve Mueller and Sarah Kennedy regularly discuss disease, dismemberment and — yes — death in an hour dripping with gallows humour. A regular segment titled ‘This Week in Death’ keeps the show topical and informative.
White Wine, True Crime
This show is what it says on the tin — two friends drinking and discussing true crime. Along with discussing premium examples of the genre, Kari Martin and Caitlin Cutt review their wine selections, read listener mail, and interview a motley roulette of guests including comedians, authors and legal professionals.
Invisibilia is an excellent exemplar of the emerging ‘science podcast’ genre where hard research is flawlessly woven into narrative and human experience. From a TEDx event in a US prison to a debate stage in Rwanda, Lulu Miller and Alix Spiegel explore the way our clothes, body language and technology can transform us.Invisibilia is a journey that will leave you feeling intellectually richer.
Criminal is great listening for short commutes with its own episodic, unique charm. The show often tells women’s stories that have been forgotten, like pot-brownie tycoon Meridy Volz and killer nurse Jane Toppan. No matter how heinous the topic, Phoebe Judge has a voice like warm honey that will get you through the next twenty minutes.
Lillian Cunningham repeatedly proves herself to be a brilliant journalist in this series from the Washington Post, where she has been doggedly working her way through a profile of every US President, often revealing some delightful surprises. If US political history isn’t your thing, pretend I included this here to inspire an Australian version—something a little spicier than Howard on Menzies.
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