We need diversity in podcasts

Like much of the technology world, podcasts originated as a primarily white male medium. Despite the relatively accessible nature of podcasts today, a cursory glance at Wikipedia’s podcasting history page negates to mention any women involved in putting them on the map.

I realised that my podcast playlist was similarly lacking in diversity when a male colleague pointed it out to me.

This was two years ago, after I’d begun listening to podcasts a year or so earlier. My first introduction to the medium was through wrestling podcasts, a largely male-dominated genre. I listened to Chris Jericho, Stone Cold Steve Austin and announcer Jim Ross’ podcasts regularly, then branched out into local wrestling podcasts, also hosted exclusively by white, straight men. While there have since been feminist and woman-hosted wrestling podcasts launched, such as Not Your Demographic and Hard Times, and the recently-released Making Their Way to the Ring by former ring announcer Lilian Garcia, wrestling podcasts, like the two industries they combine, are largely male-dominated.

After the abovementioned observation about my woman-free podcast queue, I started to inject some diversity into it.

Enter two more well-known shows, Another Round and Call Your Girlfriend. I came across Another Round, produced by Buzzfeed and hosted by writers Heben Nigatu and Tracy Clayton, through their late-2015 Hillary Clinton interview. The premise of the show is that Heben and Tracy get drunk and shoot the shit with guests such as Ta-Nehisi Coates, Roxane Gay and Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. Another Round has been so successful that Heben and Tracy were invited to the White House holiday party last year! Hopefully this means a drunken former-POTUS and/or -FLOTUS episode is imminent…

Call Your Girlfriend, meanwhile, is “a podcast for long-distance besties everywhere” hosted by Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow, long-distance besties themselves, and I couldn’t imagine my life without it. Listening to Ann and Aminatou talk about politics, periods and pop culture is like hanging with my very own, very well-informed besties. Their 2016 episode about guns was perhaps the best podcast episode I listened to all year, profiling women of all walks of life and how they feel about firearms. If I could only listen to one podcast for the rest of my life, this would be it.

With the success of podcasts such as Serial, which arguably started the craze, and their news making potential (remember when Barack Obama joined Marc Maron in his garage for his WTF show and courted controversy by saying “n*gger”? Or Lena Dunham’s gaffe about wishing she’d had an abortion, which occurred on her podcast Women of the Hour?), it can be hard to see unassuming local productions for the trees.

The great thing about podcasting is that they’re relatively cheap and user-friendly to make (though when I hosted a short-lived wrestling podcast myself, uploading it to iTunes proved difficult!) and even cheaper (free!) and easier to listen to whenever, wherever, as Shakira would say.

Podcasts are like the blogs of the 2010s, except you can consume them at the gym or while doing the laundry. The fact that all you really need is a smartphone, tablet or computer and tech skillz (or access to someone with them) means that literally anyone can podcast—and they do!

The downside is just that – a deluge of straight, white men offering opinions we don’t want and didn’t ask for, as they have been conditioned to do and as my initial examples would indicate. This is the case with any medium, I suppose, but particularly when it comes to technology, which women are so often discouraged from pursuing.

I personally prefer podcasts that discuss pop culture and current events through an intersectional feminist lens (such as Still Processing, Two Brown Girls and For Coloured Nerds), but there are literally thousands of podcasts for any taste or genre. For further listening, there are podcasts that feature storytelling (Snap Judgement, You Must Remember This, Reply All); true crime (My Favourite Murder, the “True Crime” episode of Sampler); mental health (Blue Woman Group); sex (Unscrewed, Guys We Fucked); celebrity gossip (Who? Weekly, Lainey Gossip’s Show Your Work); tech (Recode Decode, Nerdette); literature (Mostly Lit, Lit Up); film and TV (Gilmore Guys, Denzel Washington is the Greatest Actor of All Time Period), amongst many, many others.

And, you guessed it; they’re all hosted by people and/or feature guests other than straight, white, cisgender men. This is not to mention podcasts not recorded in English, which opens up a completely new world of diverse podcasting.

Podcasts, like written and visual mediums, benefit from and enrich audiences with a range of viewpoints. In the wake of increasing political uncertainty and injustice, podcasts are not only a way for us to engage with the world by creating our own, but to hear the voices and perspectives of people who are marginalised. We don’t get enough of that from mainstream and traditional media.

Like blogs, podcasts are often disdained by people who don’t understand them. As popular as they are within my social media networks, a lot of people I know IRL don’t really know what podcasts are, how to listen to them or which ones they would consume if they could.

If you, dear reader, are one such person, then I hope you’ll try some of those I’ve listed above. Like anything, all you have to do is start. Try a couple of the podcasts I’ve praised here, or reach out to people you trust for their recommendations. If you manage to find a hole in the market, why not start your own?

Image: Sai Kiran Anagani

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ScarlettHarrisScarlett Harris is a freelance writer and blogger at The Scarlett Woman where she muses about femin- and other -isms. You can follow her on Twitter at @ScarlettEHarris.

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