Talking About a Revolution

Talking About a Revolution

Years ago while working as a presenter in regional radio, I received an email from a teenage girl who wanted my advice. She had been on work experience with a radio station in another part of the country. While there, she expressed her desire to become a presenter only to be told something to the effect ‘don’t bother; sure everyone knows women aren’t good on air.’

Naturally, she was taken aback, as was I, both by the directness of the comment and its sheer nastiness.

‘Bullshit,’ I wrote, telling her if she wanted to be a presenter, then that is what she should put her energy and skills into, sexist naysayers be damned.

As research repeatedly highlights, women face an enduring battle for representation across so many sectors, to the point where doors that won’t open now deserve to be kicked down. The fundamentals of radio – knowledge, storytelling, creativity – are things no gender has a monopoly on. If the arts are about expressing and exploring what it is to be human, we are all under-served when the voices in our ears and the faces on our stages and screens do not reflect the incredible plurality of human experience.

While mainstream radio may be lagging behind when it comes to the female voice, the podcast format certainly isn’t. From Sarah Koenig hosting and co-producing the game-changing Serial to Lia Haddock, the fictional star of the bone-chilling sci-fi drama Limetown to Karen Kilgarff and Georgia Hardstark of the darkly hilarious My Favorite Murder, women are front and centre of the podcast phenomenon. Here’s to the day traditional radio catches up. In the meantime, below are some of my current favourite female-led podcasts.I would love to hear yours.

Literary Friction

Do you like reading? And writing? Warm, intelligent chats about the same? Blessed be – this is the podcast for you. Much like a book you pick up and can’t put down, discovering these gems I wanted to listen to them all in one gallop. Highlights include Sarah Perry discussing the theme ‘imposters’, Reni Eddo-Lodge on her book Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race and vile bodies (the best kind of bodies, IMO) with Sarah Pascoe. Hosted by Carrie and Octavia.

 
Missing and Murdered: Who Killed Alberta Williams?

The podcast format is great for many reasons. Chief among them is the way the it allows journalists the space and time to ‘go deep’ with investigations, pursuing stories that might otherwise remain out of sight. Alberta Williams was 24-years-old when her body was found along Canada’s Highway of Tears in 1989. The Highway gets its name from the many murders and disappearances which occurred along it, across decades, mostly involving Indigenous women like Alberta. In her quest to find out what happened to Alberta and bring her killer to justice, journalist Connie Walker explores the plight of Indigenous people in Canada, made all the more impactful by Walker’s own experiences as Indigenous woman. Who Killed Alberta Williams? politicizes the true crime drama, showing how legacies of abuse, poverty, exclusion and State-sanctioned violence impact communities and women. A must-listen.

 
Public Intellectual

Self-described ‘radical firebrand’ and she of Book Slut fame Jessa Crispin launched this sparkly new podcast in July. Crispin is entirely her own woman whose opinions are always worth reflecting on even if you don’t necessarily agree. Recent highlights include chats about feminist bogeymen (namely, second wave radical feminists who have been unfairly maligned by the contemporary movement) and the delightfully titled Heterosexuality is a Fucking Nightmare.

 

Strong Opinions Loosely Held (#SOLH)

Full disclosure: #SOLH featured my research last year, which I was thrilled about because I love what they do. The second series started a few months ago and if you haven’t already, I strongly recommend listening from the beginning. Presenter Elisa Kreisinger isn’t afraid to ask hard, complex questions about pop culture and the female experience, the results of which are always interesting. Recent highlights include a wild tale about race and family secrets, and a look at how property ownership drives but also destroys the American dream.

 

My Favorite Murder

I’m going to cut to the chase here: if you think sitting around cracking jokes and spinning yarns about murder is morbid and in awful taste, then My Favorite Murder is not for you. If, however, that sounds like something right up your dark and twisted street, come in and meet Karen Kilgarff and Georgia Hardstark, your new BFF. This podcast has inspired a cult-like following since its inception (hi, Murderinos) and although it is not without its (necessary) critics, it is a worthy contender for your next problematic fav.

 

Honorary mentions: do any podcast enthusiasts not listen to Karina Longworth’s painstakingly researched and produced You Must Remember This? If you don’t, get on it. I recommend starting with her exploration of the Manson Murders but there is wealth of material to choose from. Longworth’s look at the lives of Jean Seberg and Jane Fonda just finished up and would be another excellent place to start.

Lastly, although it is strictly speaking a radio classic in podcast form, the BBC’s Desert Island Discs online archive is a bonanza of good stuff. I could listen to host Kirsty Young interview people all day long – that Scottish burr, those well-observed questions – but to start, her recent chat with Sheryl Sandberg was a masterclass. Raw and emotional, Sandberg spoke at length about the sudden death of her husband, Dave. Two women talking frankly about the highs and crushing lows of life. More of this sort of thing, please.

The Digital Self : Anaïs Nin & Our Internal Lives in the Internet Age

fragmented self image

My first proper introduction to Anaïs Nin’s work occurred when I happened upon a tattered copy of her journals in a second hand bookshop. Until that point, the only writing of hers I’d encountered was the oft-quoted observation, ‘We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.’ Young though I was, the insight of those words – which, since the advent of the internet, have spawned many a cheesy ‘motivational’ meme – stuck with me.

The rational, structuralist mind presumes a knowable, evidential truth: if we logically and clinically examine a situation, we can arrive at a clear consensus. There is comfort in this approach. It provides a kind of order that our lives lack and a sense that something is knowable, amongst all the chaos. However, our collective reality, if such a thing exists and can be considered to be ‘shared’, is a mishmash of understandings, interpretations, presumptions, all tainted by human fallibility. For all that empathy allows (and it allows a great deal), we can only ever see things as we are  and how we are determines how things appear to be. As a consequence, our vision and the reality that flows from it is incomplete. Truths are not absolute, they are specific, context-driven and oh so messy, just like the selves we harbour within us. To make sense of our lives however, and in order to exist in the world and in society, and in order to change the world and society, we have to buy into, sometimes strategically,  ‘absolute’ truths, problematic though they maybe. It’s a messy, messy business we are all doomed to struggle with.

A piece by the consistently excellent Brain Pickings, In Defence of the Fluid Self: Why Anaïs Nin Turned Down A Harper’s Bazaar Profilerecently got me thinking about Nin’s insights in a modern context. The piece references Nin’s infamous diaries, specifically an entry which explains the motivation behind her decision to decline a profile with Harper’s, a hugely popular publication. According to Nin, her decision stemmed from an unease and an unwillingness to be pinned down or explained away, as if the complexities of her creative being – and by extension, anyone’s creative being – could ever be fully realised or described outside of the internal terrain and the dangers of trying to definitively capture or spotlight these precious parts of ourselves for consumption or recording while we are still evolving. As Brain Pickings creator Maria Popova so beautifully puts it, ‘the anguish of having one’s sincerity mistaken for pretense, and above all the agony of being fossilized while still growing.’

Would the fluidity that characterises the internet age – the constant churning of information and opinion, the ease at which ideas and work can be created, shared and altered – have appealed to Nin or would she have balked at the so-called freedom afforded by the likes of social media, allowing us to create our desired selves (or should that be ‘brands’?) within strict parameters? Or would Nin, like Jaron Lainer, see such technology as regressive, demanding we reduce our identity to a carefully mediated/manipulated ‘image’ that acts as little more than a shopfront, obscuring if not downright denying the complexities of true self, a phenomenon which is so fragmented, so influx it is beyond the capabilities of even the most sophisticated computer program or social network.

Perhaps this remains the point. For our all gadgetry, for all our digital bells and whistles, technology cannot, as yet, replicate the vast, messy oceans within us, capture our multiple selves or remedy the flawed truths that define the human experience. And even if someday it could,  would we really want it to? As Nin might ask, where would be the adventure in that?

Photo Credit: michmutters via photopin cc

Tweet Nice: Why Showdowns on Social Media are no Fun for Anyone

screaming-woman

 

This morning I read a really wise piece from mashable.com entitled Social Media-Based Public Shaming Has Gotten Out of Control

The writer (Todd Wasserman) does a good job of getting to the crux of why social media shaming makes so many of us feel uncomfortable, namely because it often sidesteps properly addressing an issue in the real world and instead opts for an online tête-à-tête, the fall out from which can be really unpleasant for all concerned.

When I first joined Twitter, I remember being transfixed by the tweet-fights that would pop up in my timeline occasionally. I couldn’t believe that some people would argue so publicly and viciously with strangers or even their peers. It made entertaining reading for a little while but the novelty soon wore off. I wondered, ‘how can you adequately debate anything in 140 characters? And why debate in the first place when  your positions are so polarized there isn’t a hope on this green Earth you’ll find common ground?’

It was also plain to see that while these arguments were happening in the digital world, they were upsetting people in the real world without achieving very much except, in some cases, providing fodder for the grind of the 24/7 news media we’re surrounded by.

When it comes to social media Twitter is my drug of choice and while I enjoy it, I’m very aware of its weaknesses, which I’m reminded of almost daily. Sometimes, though it pains me to say this because I know it plays into the mindset of social media ‘haterz’,  social media sadly becomes little more that an echo chamber of negativity and cynicism. Other times, it tips over into an ‘angry mob’ mentality that leaves me scrambling to log out, even when the subject of the rage is entirely deserving. It can feel like a group feeding frenzy – everyone trying to out do each other with their outrage – and that makes me uncomfortable and also a little confused as to how all this digital rage makes a real difference to the actual issue.

For me all these issues with social media come back to one basic rule of thumb: if you wouldn’t write it, say it or do it in the real world or to someone’s face, then don’t do it online. Consider it the Golden Rule of the Internet, along with this one aka Wheaton’s Law from Will Wheaton of Star Trek: Next Generation fame, who simply says, ‘don’t be a dick’. And what could be easier than that?

Image via curlysar on Flickr.