Spaces for Listening to Women

Podcasts are spaces where women-hating listeners typically won’t go.

January 30, 2020

Last fall, Hannah McGregor, assistant professor of publishing at Simon Fraser University, joined us on our new podcast, the View From Venus. (Listen here.)

It was a fascinating conversation, but it was not at all what I had anticipated.

I learned so much in a short 20 minutes! I learned that podcasting, although it has been historically dominated by men, has become a space for women. Part of the history of male dominance is around what Hannah referred to as the politics of the voice and expectations around what a listenable voice should sound like.

Women's voices are policed in ways that men's voices are not.

This statement has really stuck with me, and I can’t help but immediately think of the online trolling that women who write (or speak) in public experience. Ira Glass from This American Life has said that the No. 1 form of complaint mail that they get is around the sounds of the voices of their young women producers.

In general, people do not like the sound of women's voices, especially young women's voices.

So if you are a woman who's doing podcasting, chances are people are going to hate your voice. Ironically, podcasts are also some of the safest spaces for women, because if people don't like you, they just won't listen, which is very different from blogs, because people will troll specific online spaces, including blogs like this one. Podcasts are spaces where women-hating listeners won’t typically go because it takes effort -- more effort than haters are willing to create time for. There is a certain amount of commenting here (and other Inside Higher Ed blogs) that comes from readers who don't actually engage with what we're writing. They will read the title or the tagline in the newsletter and write a comment based on their visceral reactions to the title or tagline without ever reading the blog post.

Admittedly, that is a small minority of our readers. The overwhelming majority of the readers at “University of Venus” are part of our community. They're engaged. We're in conversation with one another. They've written with us, and we support one another’s work. We're connected on Twitter and/or Facebook, and, for the most part, commenters are part of a larger community that's very supportive.

When comments from community members are critical, they're done in a supportive way that furthers the argument or conversation along the lines of what Kathleen Fitzpatrick calls generous thinking. Generous thinking requires generous listening -- when one reads or listens in in anticipation of furthering a conversation rather than closing it down with a gotcha!

Our conversation with Hannah McGregor on podcasting and gender and my recent reading of Kathleen Fitzpatrick's Generous Thinking have come together in this really nice way to help me think more critically about listening rather than merely hearing. In many ways, podcasts are ideal spaces for listening in anticipation of joining a conversation. They are more informal spaces and, for me, that means spaces with more of a focus on community building which has been a goal at this blog, “University of Venus,” and now with our podcast, View From Venus.

We launched season two of View From Venus earlier this afternoon with Lisa Ijiri from Lesley University. Upcoming episodes include conversations with Karen Costa, Ray Burgman from HERS, Jessie Daniels and Kimberly Lee, to name just a few of the amazing women we’ve been talking with in the past couple of weeks. Check it out.

Mary Churchill is associate dean for strategic initiatives and community engagement at Wheelock College of Education and Human Development at Boston University where she also teaches in the Higher Education Administration program. She is the co-author of The Good Closure: Authentic Leadership in a Time of Crisis (under contract, Johns Hopkins University Press), which details the merger of Wheelock College and Boston University.


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