Alix Spiegel and Lulu Miller are the hosts of hit new science podcast Invisibilia. Photo credit John W. Poole/NPR.
For years, if you tuned into a podcast, the voice streaming through your headphones would most likely belong to a man. In February 2013, women hosted only 13 percent of the world's 100 most popular podcasts. Two years later, by my count, the disparity in the top-100 remains woefully similar. But other signals suggest a shift is underway.
Together with many millions of listeners, I followed along intently as Sarah Koenig crafted a story around the investigation of Hae Min Lee's murder and the conviction of Adnan Syed on the podcast Serial.
I am half-Pakistani. My mother was born in Pakistan, I grew up in North America. Superficially, I have a lot more in common with Adnan Syed—a Pakistani-Muslim who grew up in Baltimore and was convicted of killing his Korean girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, in 1999—than radio journalist Sarah Koenig does. Does that mean I'm more qualified to report on his case than she is?
If you'd told me ten years ago, "I have a really great mp3 for you—it's a recording of two people you don't know discussing their lives," I would have been very confused, and then probably would have told you to go to hell. But that was then, and this now.
In my role artistic director of the Third Coast International Audio Festival, I've noticed something that bothers me. It's nothing new, it's fairly obvious, and it deserves your attention. It's the lack of female hosts in the ever-widening world of podcasts.
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 second long podcasts), 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. The statistics for iTunes results are similar.
As a radio addict, I generally keep up (or try to) with what's out there in the audio cosmos. I've long been aware that male-hosted podcasts out-number women-hosted podcasts. But the actual numbers floored me. They should alarm you, too. The statistics point to a 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.
A few months ago, I had the chance to attend a presentation at the Roots of Change conference called "Hip Hop and its Exploitation of Communities of Color" by Tracy Wright from the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Althea Hart from the Mississippi Coalition Against Sexual Assault. The way Tracy and Althea used hip hop to address sexual and domestic violence issues was engaging, entertaining, and left me wanting to hear more from this dynamic duo. Lucky for me (and you!) they agreed to record a Bitch Radio podcast about their work. Listen in as they discuss Jay-Z's "Glory," the history of female emcees, and strategies for using hip hop and pop culture in conversations about sexual and domestic violence.
Portlandia season two premieres next week on IFC. To tide you over until then, today's episode of Bitch Radio features Carrie Brownstein, Fred Armisen, show creator Jonathan Krisel, and show producer Andrew Singer answering pressing Portlandia questions. Wondering which scenes were the hardest to shoot, or what to expect from season two? Tune in and find out! (Be warned: This Q&A happened at a press luncheon, which means lots of fork clanging in the background.)