What’s the aural equivalent of a vantage point? From whatever that’s called, from my perch at the Third Coast International Audio Festival, an observation has been increasingly nagging. It’s nothing new, it’s fairly obvious, and it deserves your attention. It is the lack of female hosts in the ever-widening world of podcasts.
I generally keep up (or try to) with what’s out there in the radio/audio/podcast cosmos, so I’ve been aware that male-hosted podcasts (MHPs) out-number women-hosted podcasts (WHPs), easily. But the actual numbers floored me. According to the widely-used podcast-delivery phone app Stitcher, as of mid-February, 2013, out of the top 100 podcasts in their system, 71 are hosted by men (many by two or three men), 11 are hosted by women (of which three are just 60 seconds long), 9 are co-hosted by a man and woman, and 9 are either NPR or BBC news aggregation podcasts with alternating hosts and reporters, or it’s unclear who hosts. iTunes results were similar.
Though these numbers may not surprise, they should alarm you too. And they point to the disappointing truth: that podcasting – hailed back in 2004 as a “revolutionary” new tool for freedom of expression and endless creative opportunity – quickly copped the same gender stereotypes and realities that traditional broadcasting environments have demonstrated throughout history.
Of course I’m not the only one who’s noticed this, or thinks about it. Nick van der Kolk (Snap Judgement, Love + Radio) posited the question via Facebook back in 2011, and Ashley Milne-Tyte (The Broad Experience) wrote about it last year, just to point to a couple of previous public ponderings. But it is an issue that merits continuous noise, so here’s an attempt to bang on a few more pots and pans about the situation.
I asked two dozen people (half women, half men) in the extended Third Coast community (producers, pub radio decision-makers, podcast hosts) to weigh in on the topic. A little more than half responded. Of those who did, approximately 85% were women. What follows are my own thoughts, combined with observations and opinions from those who responded to my questions. Without getting too investigative, or too scientific, or too statistically inclined, there seem to be a few main factors (and many smaller ones) contributing to the egregious imbalance of MHPs to WHPs.
1. Most popular podcasts are about “guy things”
Beyond the highly successful public radio/public radio-esque podcasts (most of which are hosted by men) the podcasts in the top 100 lists are largely comedy, sports, news, “knowledge”, and tech-related. These are all fields that are traditionally dominated by male hosts and guests, so it’s not surprising that the most successful podcasts in these categories are MHPs. Most of the relatively few podcasts in the top 100 that are hosted by women cover topics that are about “girl things,” such as Grammar Girl, The Splendid Table, and Stuff Mom Never Told You.
2. Podcast Economics
Unless born of already-existing media outlets (i.e. resources with business plans), most start-up podcasts bring in very little (if any) money, yet demand super-human efforts to be produced regularly. Many women who I spoke with mentioned they simply couldn’t afford these terms – and if they could somehow manage not getting paid for tireless devotion to a project, they couldn’t squeeze those hours needed into their already personally and professionally over-burdened days. Hillary Frank (The Longest, Shortest Time) pointed out that by the time they’re experienced enough to understand what producing a top-notch podcast takes, women have often started, or are soon planning to start a family, and this seriously hinders time and energy for any other demanding endeavors – no matter how supportive and helpful one’s partner is. This challenge clearly affects women differently, and more tangibly, than men.
Benjamen Walker (Too Much Information) – one of just three men who responded to my questions – answered in one frank sentence: “Women aren’t stupid enough to slave away on a podcast for no money.”
3. Ego / Entitlement
Objectively: there’s a certain amount of ego that goes along with being a host (of anything). Subjectively: Men seem more comfortable with (and/or entitled to) claiming center stage and asserting knowledge, expertise, wisdom, and opinions, than women. Subjectively: Men are socialized more around technology, electronic equipment, recreational gadgetry, and are therefore more fluent in using these tools to make things like… podcasts. Subjectively: Men are more confident there’s an interested audience out there, eager to hear what they think (or joke) about… anything. Subjectively: Women are more inclined to produce MHPs, or produce non-hosted podcasts, than to insert themselves as hosts. Subjectively: Women are more humble, more cautious, and less aggressive than men about their work, so women often struggle with and are less effective marketers for independent projects. Objectively: In an age where social networking and DIY marketing can systematically decide the success/failure of endeavors big and small, this is a huge liability for WHPs.
Obviously, these three points by no means collectively explain the relative lack of WHPs, but I hope they do begin to unpack some of the factors behind the dynamic.
Interest is Contagious
So now what? Good news: Every single person reading this can do something to support WHPs. One of the biggest hurdles to women being recognized more regularly as successful podcast hosts: most podcast listeners simply don’t know about very many WHPs.
Men tend to loyally follow, support, and share podcasts hosted by men. Women tend to loyally follow, support, and share podcasts hosted by men, too. So these same MHPs end up shaping and defining podcast culture, and listeners’ expectations about what (and who) they’ll hear.
- Podcast listeners – and especially people in taste/culture-making positions of authority in and beyond the podcasting/radio universe – need to work harder to identify and support WHPs. Interest is contagious, so if you intentionally seek out a couple WHPs and listen to them, and like them, and write positive public reviews, and share and tweet and tag and point… you’ll help attract more listeners to those podcasts, and momentum will build. As more women listen and are inspired to jump in and produce their own podcasts, eventually new WHPs will emerge and everyone will be better off for all of it – men and women, podcasters & listeners alike.
- Offer encouragement to the women you know who are interested in podcasting, and would benefit from a solid show of support from friends and colleagues. Your help in brainstorming a name, lending an ear, reading a script or contributing a story idea might directly support the launching of a brand new WHP.
- If YOU are one of the many women who I know are out there and have toyed with the idea of starting a podcast, but have not yet made the move… get busy! There are so many of us waiting to hear your work. And don’t be shy about approaching existing podcast networks with your wares – such as Mule Radio Syndicate or Jesse Thorne’s Maximum Fun. A little bird (pigeon, in fact) told me they’re interested in adding ladies’ podcasts to their rosters.
At the risk of sounding naive, I absolutely believe that widespread efforts along these lines can and will make a difference in the number of WHPs produced and available to all of us. Win, win, win.
Speaking of WHPs
In service of the “interest is contagious” notion, here’s a starter list of WHPs of all stripes, culled from those who responded to my questions. Check them out, share them around, and offer up more suggestions in the comment section. Please!
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BTW: Stitcher’s listening
One of the people who I spoke with while researching this essay was Rachel Eaton, Director of Content Partnerships at Stitcher. She mentioned that Stitcher would consider offering a WHP channel, if enough suggestions were brought to their attention. So bring them on, people!
- Strangers (Lea Thau) – A storytelling podcast about the places we go, the people we meet, and the people we become
- Decode DC (Andrea Seabrook) – Deciphering Washington’s language and procedure so you can focus on what matters
- Life of the Law (various hosts/all women) – A 360 degree view of our legal system
- Curious City (Jennifer Brandel) – Curious City is a Chicago-based news-gathering experiment designed to satisfy your curiosities.
- The Broad Experience (Ashley Milne-Tyte) – A conversation about women, the workplace, and success
- The Longest, Shortest Time (Hillary Frank) – The truth about early motherhood
- Tiny Spark (Amy Costello) – Igniting debate about the business of doing good
- DTFD (Julia Barton) – Julia talks about all manner of things, while doing the dishes
- Grammar Girl (Mignon Fogarty) – Quick and dirty tips for better writing
- Girl on Guy (Aisha Tyler) – A show about art, culture, booze, comedy, family, physical injuries, psychological bruises, action movies, rock music, ninjas, zombies, failure, success, sacrifice, video games, and blowing shit up.
- The Other Woman (Ruth Barnes) – The finest place to learn about new music by women across the genres from around the world.
- Vox Tablet (Sara Ivry)- Ideas, conversations and dispatches from Jewish life
- Slate’s Double X Gabfest (Noreen Malone, Hanna Rosin, Emily Yoffe) – Slate’s weekly women’s roundtable.
- Tabled Fables (Amy Kraft and Sophie Bushwick) – A podcast about fairy tales
- BBC Woman’s Hour – 50+ year old show offering a female perspective on the world
- Lost Treasures of the Black Heart - (Josie Long) – A comedy podcast dedicated to uncovering obscure facts, unknown gems and remembering unsung heroes
If you don’t yet know about the UK-based organization Sound Women, check them out.
While this Sidebar takes up the WHP cause, there are clearly other gaps in podcasting that deserve equal attention. Anyone up for a Diversity in Podcasting Sidebar? Anyone?
Thanks to fellow Third Coasters Gwen Macsai, Katie Mingle and Johanna Zorn for endless conversations about this “around the table,” and the following for contributing thoughts: Julia Barton, Rachel Eaton, Hillary Frank, Shannon Heffernan, Ann Heppermann, Ashley Milne-Tyte, Lu Olkowski, Francesca Panetta, Andrea Seabrook, Lea Thau, Jesse Thorn, Nick van der Kolk, Benjamen Walker, the many others who expressed interest in the subject, and to Transom.org, for providing the forum.
[Editor's Note: Thanks for the great comments, conversation and tips on other WHPs. The following is a list of WHPs we learned about through comments on and conversations about this Sidebar. In keeping with Julie's original list, we've only included podcasts that are hosted by women and not where a woman is a co-host.]
- The Hackney Podcast (Francesca Panetta) – Hackney driven fare with an ear on local stories and arty endeavours from Hoxton to Homerton.
- Destination DIY (Julie Sabatier) – Looks at all the ways people are working with limited resources to create rather than consume the world around them.
- Audio Smut (Kaitlin Prest and Mitra Kaboli) – An intimate look into people, their bodies and their feelings.
- Nerdgasm Noire Network – A group of 5 black women sharing their love all things geeky.
- The JV Club (Janet Varney) – Explores the highs and lows of the terrible teens into adult-lescence.
- How Was Your Week (Julie Klausner) – Julie Klausner asks guests how their week was, and listeners also learn stuff and have fun.
- The Dork Forest (Jackie Kashian) – Dork on Dork dialogue on whatever dorky thing you want to talk about.
- Top Score (Emily Reese) – is a podcast From Classical MPR where composers talk about their experiences writing for video games.
- The Manley Woman (Allison Manley) – The podcast for figure skating fans.
- The Adviceists (Elisa Markus) – A write-in podcast, where listeners’ plaintive, pleading emails are read and advice of varying quality levels is proffered by a panel of righteous comedians.
- Put Your Hands Together (Cameron Esposito) – Stand-up comedy recorded at the UCB Theatre in Los Angeles.
- Token Skeptic (Kylie Sturgess) – Tune in for a slightly more skeptical look at stories in the news, urban legends, good science, pseudoscience, and what makes popular culture pop.
- Her Next Step (Darlene Carey) – A podcast for women entrepreneurs
- The High Tea Cast (Sam Sparrow and Lea Rice) – Honest girl-about-town adventure, hot gossip, hilarity, exclusive interviews, a dash of tuneage and most importantly, more tea and cake than you can shake a stick at.
- Three Geeky Ladies (Elisa Pacelli, Suze´Gilbert, Vicki Stokes) – Technology perspectives from three women.
- Vegetarian Food For Thought Podcast (Colleen Patrick-Goudreau) – Vegan issues, including food, cooking, nutrition, ethics, animals, family dynamics, food politics, and social psychology.
- the Uglee Truth (Jaime, Stephanie, Allison and Paula) – Sisters who have ventured into uncharted podcasting territory: “No fear, no filter.”
- Stuff You Missed in History Class (Deblina Chakraborty and Sarah Dowdey) Didn’t pay attention in history class? Sarah and Deblina have got you covered.
- I Will Not Return Your Records (Lorrie Edmonds) – A weekly broadcast and podcast from a musically-obsessive messy living room in Montreal.
- This Feels Terrible (Erin McGathy) – Comedian Erin McGathy talks love, sex and all matters of heartbreak.
- The Whorecast (The podcast formerly known as This American Whore) (Siouxsie Q) – Sharing stories, art and voices of American sex workers.
- Add It Up (Addi Twigg) – A Pittsburgh-based podcast hosted by your BFF.
- Alison Rosen is Your New Best Friend (Alison Rosen) – Writer, comedian and unabashed crappy television fan Alison Rosen shares all the junk in her head in a weekly interview show touching on relationships, pop culture and current events.
- Reality Cast (Amanda Marcotte) – A podcast that provides news, commentary and analysis on sexual and reproductive health and justice issues.
- History Chicks (Beckett Graham and Susan Vollenweider) – Two women. Half the population. Several thousand years of history. About an hour. Go.
- Godless Bitches (Beth Presswood) – Feminism from a secular perspective.
- Wham Bam Pow (Cameron Esposito) – An action/sci-fi moviecast.
- One Bad Mother (Biz Ellis and Theresa Thorn) – A comedy podcast about motherhood and how unnatural it sometimes is. “We aren’t all magical vessels!”
- Science Magazine Podcast (Sarah Crespi and Kerry Klein) – Periodic audiocasts from Science Magazine, the world’s leading journal of original scientific research, global news, and commentary.
- Ladies of Leet (Nicole, Kim, Stephanie) A podcast about video games of all stripes, from Hardcore to Casual, PC to Console and Expensive to Affordable.
- Hey You Know It (Jacquetta Szathmari and Katie Kazimir) The podcast that tells you how it is… or how it should be.
- ABC Gotham (Kathleen Durkin and Kate) Fun weird NYC history, one topic for every letter of the alphabet.
- Anomaly (Jen and Angela) A feminine perspective on sci fi / fantasy /all things geeky.
- Sound Women Podcast (Helen Zaltzman and Ruth Barnes) Hears from people doing amazing things on British radio, both on-air and behind the scenes.
- The Nerdette Podcast (Tricia Bobeda and Greta Johnson) A safe space for nerding out about all the things you’re watching, reading, listening to and encountering IRL.
- Best Mom Products (Rachel Olsen) Where “mompreneurs” share their adventures in business.
- Lady to Lady (Barbara Gray, Brandie Posey and Tess Barker) Comediennes Barbara, Brandie and Tess pull up a fourth chair each week and talk everything from birth control to burritos.
- First Person Arts Podcast (Yowei Shaw, Jamie J. Brunson) Celebrates the power of the personal, through hilarious, ridiculous, astounding stories from real life.
- The Vagina Chronicles (Toinette and Angela) Inspiring women to have a stronger, louder voice within the world.