Adele Jackson-Gibson: Womensplaining -- we've always been ‘splaining’ things. So I would say that when womensplaining occurs is when we finally see the stage that is presented to us and step onto it.
Mansplaining is when men condescendingly explain something to a woman. But is there such a thing as woman-splaining? And what does that sound like?
In this conversation, four podcasters discuss the challenges of making shows in traditionally male-dominated genres, like sports and tech – and how to explain and illuminate without condescending to their listeners.
I’m Tanzina Vega, and this is Werk It: the Podcast, a compilation of some of the best moments from the live event.
Joni Deutsch: Good morning everyone. Hi. This is the Womansplain This To Me session. If you do not want to be womansplain’d to you're the wrong conference. I'm Joni Deutsch I am podcast's lead for WFAE which is Charlotte's NPR news source. In addition to being podcast lead I also host a music podcast called Amplifier where we explore the Charlotte music scene. I've been happy to been able to host NPR music programming be the first female guest host of Mountain Stage and contribute to NPR Music's turning the tables initiative about taking back the narrative of women contributing to the music industry. And I think that's why we're all here today is that for a number of us we work in fields and genres of podcasts and work that are male dominated whether it is music or pop culture, nerd sports, tech. And that's really what the session is today: It is figuring out how can we navigate these waters together elevating everyone's voice so that when we walk into a room we can confidently say and we know it in our hearts to say that we are the experts. We do not need to be talked down to. So I'm so happy to have a wonderful group of women with me today. I'll briefly introduce them.
We have Adele Jackson-Gibson right there in the center. She's a Brooklyn-based writer, model, and actor passionate about sports so passionate in fact that she has co-host the Rule Breakers podcast where she interviews women making moves in the sports industry. Angelique Roche is right to my right. She is a graduate of George Washington University law school, been working in law and politics for a number of years. But rather than give you a very clean view of the law very good maybe boring side of it, she hosts podcasts like Geeksplain and Marvel’s Voices to show the intersection of pop culture, current events, and social justice. She is such a nerd really great to have her. And I say that because I am also a nerd. And for many that are fans of WNYC programming you may know of the voice and face of Manoush Zomorodi. She created and hosted the podcast Note to Self. Recently launched the amazing media company Stable Genius Productions and its first project which she hosts called Zigzag, which plots the changing course of cryptocurrency, the block chain, and women's lives. So thank you all so much for being here today. I guess to get started you know you all are in different fields and I'm wondering why did you choose podcasting to branch out in those genres and I want to start with Adele.
Adele Jackson-Gibson: Yeah I mean I got into podcasting just because I grew up listening to NPR as a kid every day. My parents just had the radio on all the time. And so I've always been really interested in live storytelling and just the authenticity that comes with podcasts. And in regards to sports I've found, since becoming a sportswriter, that there are a lot of women who are involved in the industry. But if we're reading all these articles sometimes you don't know that it's a woman. We always check bylines online. So me and my cohost Anya -- what we're doing is helping to bring those women to light through these these podcasts so we can hear their voices get to know them and their journeys and what they deal with. And yeah, it's just been incredible and a lot of fun.
JD: So Adele actually I do want to play a clip of you talking a little bit more about why it's important for women to have a voice and podcasting [audio clip] Even yesterday I was reading this article about the WNBA and it used some language that I was like, ‘this is troubling to me and I think would probably be troubling to other people.’ And it was a man who wrote it, and I was like I mean I'm happy you wrote this and like generally the article is good but the way that you phrase this is actually really offensive. And I was sitting there kind of like stewing about it and I like sent it to some friends like oh this is bad but then I was like wait I could just tell him you know I could just be like yo like this. You might want to think about the way that you. Like rethink the way you did this. And so I DM’d him and I was like. Look like you just might want to change up this phrase like some people might read it and take it the wrong way which I know is not how you intended it. He was like oh yeah that's a good call. Thanks for pointing out it's like there we go. Problem solved. [end of audio clip]
JD: Yeah. Yeah. Let me let me clear that up so I actually don't know what this phrase was in this context. But this was an interview I did with a writer WGBH beat reporter Natalie Weiner. And one of the reasons why we interviewed her was that she didn't directly call out an NBA beat reporter who is fairly big, but she noted she was reading she was doing some research on the WNBA and looked to this guy's basketball book and realized it was about the history of basketball in America. And he left out all of you know women's basketball entirely from the history of it. And basically was like yeah this is an example of like how women get you know written out of history all the time. And so what end up happening was she mentioned on Twitter. His followers saw it and like basically called her out and Shay is the NBA beat reporter. They actually became friends after that and she ended up helping him to write more about women's sports. And I just like Natalie because the conversation that just played was actually her talking to another man who was trying to write about women's sports because more people are trying to get more attention on women's sports and just the language that he used was off. I'm unclear as to what that word was. She didn't want to be super specific with that, but just how sometimes on Twitter we like to get in these arguments with people who are just like really ignorant about women's stuff. And I just like the way that she went about in terms of like going directly to the person being like ‘Hey let me help you rephrase what you wrote just so that going forward we don't have any more misunderstandings,’ so. Yeah I wish I knew what was.
JD: So Angelique it actually brings up that's a great transition to you and why you go to podcasting because I think we have another example something you've encountered.
Angelique Roche: Yeah. So I always joke I didn't choose podcasting podcasting chose me. I actually started off as a journalism major, did feature journalism in college and then my parents were like, ‘Hey so go to law school because you want to be an actor and a journalist. And we don't want you waiting tables.’ I ended up waiting tables after grad school for the record. It did not solve that problem at all but a couple months ago I guess. Wow it was a year ago. I was actually in the Middle East doing photography for a another artist and remembered how much I love being able to tell the stories of other people whether it is through photography or through my feature journalism or my nerd culture journalism. Because for me a lot of people have this thing where it's oh it's a comic book. Oh it's just a videogame. Oh it's just a TV series. It's not that big deal. A 12 year old is reading that comic book. A 22 year old is making that video game -- it impacts and influences how we see the world and how we normalize. And so when you have this ability to tell the stories of the creators like Sana Amanat who created Ms. Marvel and why she created Ms Marvel. Who is the first Muslim American superhero. Or you have a conversation with the Mariko Tamaki who is of an Asian descent but she's writing X23 who is the clone of Wolverine. I know there's some nerd out there who gets where I'm going with this. Or you have an opportunity to talk so I'm a big Doctor Who fan which is kind of where all of this comes from.
And the reason why is because a lot of folks don't realize is the first producer of Doctor Who was a woman. In fact she was the first woman to produce a BBC show. And her director was a person of color. Not just was he a man of color. He was a gay man of color. And you have so many people out there who look at things like Dr. Who and like Star Trek and they want to take the social justice aspect out of it or even the Twilight Zone where Rod Serling was a huge advocate against censorship, but also utilized the Twilight Zone to talk about very difficult issues that no one wanted to talk about at that time. And so there are a lot of women of color who are here and the reason why I decided -- because obviously this is my passion but why make it my job? -- is that there are not enough black women and not enough people of color who are who are talking back against, “Oh my nerdom is not about social justice.” Well it is. And then you have these moments where this happens.
So a couple of weeks ago and I have another show called Radical Geeks that I do with another SyFy Wire contributor Karama Horne and TheBlerdGurl and this popped up on our timeline where a guy was like oh you know women aren't vocal enough about nerd culture. You know they need to be more vocal like they're vocal about Beyonce. I mean I'm sure this is happening behind me. Also I love Fenty products and I will raise it to the roof how much I love it. But I also love Nnedi Okorafor for who is currently writing Shuri and I also love Mariko Tamaki use writing. Nnedi Okorafor for those who don't know is an amazing writer. She's Nigerian American. She's also written for Black Panther and literally the greatest thing ever happened when this tweet happened.
Women pounced. And we just started going. Roxane Gay is written and literally just went down the list of women of color who are writing, and people who are gender nonconforming nonbinary who were writing but also who talk on nerd culture who do this every single day because they've got organizations like Black Girl Gamers that are out there being vocal and so I love the fact that the work I do is that specifically is how do I ensure in my show Geeksplain we're talking about the women and the women of color and all of the different things that have happened. And so for me it's very important to ensure that all of the contributions and normalization that happens within pop culture which is impacting the next CEO, it's impacting the next entrepreneur, it's impacting how our society sees people of color is also talked about as well.
JD: I don't know how to go after that. That was great. Maybe I shouldn't. We're done. Manoush what about you and using podcasting as a way to bridge that gap between what people assume to be you know women's genres, and then what you're doing which is saying no actually the intersection of women's rights or women's studies and bitcoin and technology it's all there.
Manoush Zomorodi There's a lot in that question. Tell me. Ok so my quick origin story hardcore BBC news producer and reporter breaking news producer and reporter and then I was at Reuters and then I a few years ago we went out for lunch with Charlie Herman who's the business editor at WNYC. And this is in 2012 and I was like, ‘Dude, you need to be covering more of the tech economy. It's taking off in New York City.’ Seems like so obvious now. But he was like, ‘Bitch I have no one to do that.’ He's like, ‘Why don't you come and do that?’ So I was like, ‘Fine, all right.’ I just had my second kid. I was kind of like oh I don't know if I can go back into a newsroom. But I ended up doing a very short little weekly thing for Morning Edition about tech in New York City sort of more from like a human perspective.
And Laura Walker and Dean Cappello very generously came, and also Pat actually, said you know we need more women behind the microphone. And also this thing podcasting is kind of taking off. What do you think about turning it into a podcast. And so we did we turn it into what ended up being called Note to Self which was really tech from a human perspective, how technology was changing people. And we did these kind of weird and innovative interactive projects where we got tens of thousands of people to change their digital habits, to report back on how they changed their habits, and a lot of the work that we did is actually cited in a lot of academic studies. I wrote a book based on one of those projects called Bored and Brilliant. The paperback just came out.
And then earlier this year Jen -- my executive producer Jen Poyant -- who also was the executive producer of 2 Dope Queens, we decided we were going to strike out on our own which was terrifying. And we part of the reason why we wanted to is because a philanthropist came to us and said, ‘I want to support you in your own endeavor. I'm going to give you money.’ But then that fell through. So that was really scary. Never quit your job until you have the check. And that it was OK because we actually had a rescue mission that came in. A group called Civil which -- has anybody heard of Civil here? It's a blockchain startup for journalism and they were recruiting journalists to be part of the experiment. And Jen and I love experimenting so we were totally down with that. They also gave us money so we were really down with that. And then they were like well what is your new show going to be about. And I was like “It's this! We have no idea what you're talking about when you're talking about cryptocurrency and game theory and token economies and ethereum.” And actually the very first blocking conference we went to was right here and I remember being like I don't speak this language. And we were like that's that's the show that shows these two moms who quit their stable public radio jobs to join a blockchain startup that they don't even understand how it works. And all the anxiety and freakouts they're having trying to like launch a company as women entrepreneurs. And so we made this tagline: Zig Zag, changing the course of capitalism, journalism, and women's lives. So very small endeavor really that we have. And as you probably know or maybe not. Blockchain, crypto, there are a lot of bros, like hardcore bros. If I thought tech was bros, crypto’s way more bros and I think that's so cool. Like we have all these bros listening to us who the have to listen for the you know female empowerment shit too, and then the women who come because they like hang out with me and Jen they learn about blockchain and they're really interested in it. And so we have this weird community that is people who would never interact on the outside have been brought together with this podcast and I don't think that any other medium would have made that really possible. And I think we have a clip, too. Should we play that? Okay. Okay here goes.
[audio clip] Dear Manoush and Jen, Please please please stop giggling and acting like embarrass junior high girls. Every time the vocabulary or abstraction level goes beyond a 7th grade level. You are smart. That's why we listen to the podcast. Act like the intelligent thoughtful people that you are. You don't know everything. You are in a learning process in a field that is new for all of us. That's fine. That's great. But please stop acting like silly dumb girls. Every time things get in-depth or interesting. It's not a good look and it quickly gets tiresome. Still listening. David.
Oh David, I hope you will continue to listen when I tell you this all the laughing that Jen and I do -- which I guess sounds like giggling to you -- it is genuine and we laugh because we know it's okay not to know everything that this is a real time exploration an investigation into changes that are happening in tech and our culture. And you know what? We don't really care if it's not a good look because it's who we are and I'm sorry if you find that tiresome. But I really do hope you will keep listening and get used to what strong, intelligent women sometimes sound like. I think that the show's new tagline might need to be Zig Zag: Come for the crypto, stay for the female empowerment. [end audio clip]
JD: How did David respond? MZ: Oh David didn't respond. But let me tell you that is the number one thing that we get e-mails from men about being like I thought David was right but then I heard you school him and now I get it. And I'm sorry. And that's amazing to me. I have so many men saying like I just had a conversation with my wife about her career in a way that we've never talked before. And thank you for that. Or my daughter. I'm listening with her. And it's ok like I'm not psyched about your cursing but I understand that women do curse and that it's not that it's unladylike, it's because you're angry. And so that's helpful for me with my daughter. So. Fuck yeah, right?
JD: Yeah, that's something I've seen with music podcasting that I've done the last six years. Between where I was in West Virginia and where I am now in Charlotte, that not even just me being the host that you know I'm obviously a cis gender woman. But having that ability to highlight other women's voices and perspectives and music which you know I had artists featured and she's an amazing leading woman in a band called Hello June and she just is about to make her NPR Music debut nationally. I was really the person that interviewed her first and when I asked all the artist I interviewed like, ‘Tell me like did the interview help with your sales, help you with exposure, to help you get gigs?’ She didn't tell me anything about that. What she did was send me this little message that was just her saying I never realized that there was an erasure of women's voices until I was able to see wow you highlighted more women than I could recount in music locally. And I value that. And thank you for highlighting, elevating those perspectives. And I think that's something that we forget. We don't know who's listening out there. It could be the next you know President. It could be the next musician. It could be the next writer for Doctor Who. We don't know. And when we make these podcasts with our voices with our perspectives, we are making sure there is a new generation of people that are going to come up and make kickass things. So on that note. I do you want to get into the next question which is, what is the working definition then of womansplain and your all's minds? I mean mansplaining we haven't really defined it. I think we all maybe have experienced it which is having maybe in my case I've had it where a man has told me let me tell you what I know that you don't know. Without saying like oh let's have a conversation about it. So I don't know you guys have probably different definitions of mansplaining. Which then, we can say what is womasplaining.
AR: What is mansplaining? That moment when you've said something correct but they have to say the exact same thing right after you've said it because obviously you couldn't have been that factual and/or the moment where they question your expertise in something. That particularly happens in nerd sphere a lot and it causes a lot of impostor syndrome for women and makes us over-prepare. Particularly because you are sometimes walking into a room where it's not just that it's a room full of guys, it's generally a room full of cis gender white guys who are obviously much more expert than you are. Key explanation -- again Doctor Who -- a site called I Love the 80s put up a tweet the other day and I shout out to Preeti Chhibber who is with Desi Geeks and it is amazing Desi Girl Geeks is amazing and it said my Doctor Who fights Darla -- This is my Doctor Who he fights Daleks and Cyberman -- he doesn't fight social justice. And I was just like one your doctor who hashtag is #DrWho and that's wrong. And it's just it's one of those moments where someone. Who just wants to insert what their perspective is instead of the facts in erasing something that could be great and beautiful that so many people hold so dear.
JD: Adele, what do you think?
AJG: I'm trying to think of times when I was mansplain’d to and usually that man was not open to listening. I feel like mansplaining and the definition has not listening in somewhere and that. And so on the contrast, womensplaining -- are we going into that?
AJG: Womensplaining -- we've always been ‘splaining’ things. So I would say that when womensplaining occurs is when we finally see the stage that is presented to us and step onto it. I feel like now with the Internet and the ability that we have to create these podcasts a lot of us can be easily said no. A lot of us could have not taken the opportunity to speak our experience, speak our interests, speak our identity identities, and I find that womensplaining in this era is now stepping up and really being like this is me this is my experience. Before I felt like I wasn't being listened to but now there's the opening I'm going to be heard. That's what mansplaining is.
MZ: I like that. That's good. My favorite was the email I got -- several e-mails I got in response to the David -- in response to my response to David which was explaining to me what I had done to respond to David. So it was men explaining mansplaining to me which I thought was fabulous. And I just I sent an email that I sent to Jen. It was all caps. I was like men explain mansplaining to women. Like what the hell. Oh it's like a bumper sticker.
I feel uncomfortable with womensplain this to me. I mean I think what we want to get to is a place where people, the nuance is acceptable in conversation, that we make room for all kinds of. From my perspective, I really try to make a tech podcast that is welcoming to someone who has deep knowledge of blockchain as well as to like my mom. You know I really want to make it a place where different kinds of people can come together to learn and be entertained. So I don't know if I'm into the womensplain. I mean we're far away from that beautiful utopia that I just described. So I would say in the meanwhile womansplaining to me is very specific and it's the way that I talk about technology, in that it's not about valuations or it's just about what I know or other people know. It's really this important mixture of making sure our audience hears like, for example, in the first episode of ZigZag, you hear us having a conversation about how we're building our business. And then my husband texts me -- we’re at a bar, by the way, having a conversation about our business. And then my husband texts me and is like “Oh my god, I have to stay at work late. Can you go get our kid from soft softball practice?” And so you hear me like jogging drunkenly to pick up my 10 year old from softball practice while talking about how we're going to structure our business. Like you I feel like the veneer of men is like right or wrong, or strong or weak, and the so many like good or bad. There are no binaries it's bullshit. So it's hard and it's easy. It's complicated and it's loving and difficult. And Jen and I are the best things that have ever happened to each other and we drive each other bananas. And blockchain could save the internet but it might not. Do you know what I mean? Like it's complicated and I feel like with mansplaining, “It's just so clear. Don't you see?” And no I do not see and I'm tired of like nodding in agreement and I'm like no it's really it's hard and there's no real answer but we're going to figure it out.
AR: I want to piggyback on that because I think what you also said is that it shines light on those nuances. And it's about being in the room and shining the light on those nuances in a way where sometimes you have you ever seen the light go off in a guy's head was like oh I never thought about that. It's not that it literally happened yesterday and I don't want to go too much into it, but it was a gaming conversation where I was like yeah we should probably go out to like Black Girl Geeks because you know they do this. Or Black Girl Gamers if you want to have a gaming conversation that's diverse because everybody looks like you. And it was like oh there's a thing and I was like really really guys this is it isn't new but there's this moments where you bring in this nuance of what a more fruitful, more interesting, more developed conversation sounds like because you see those perspectives and illuminated. Because it's not just this or that it's this and that and in between.
MZ: Yeah I feel like I'm trying to like in an audio way not be like you should have known this men because they obviously didn't. I'm trying to like in a sonic way give them a hug and put them under my arm and give them a noogie and be like you should have known that! come on! and like do you know what I mean like bring them along with us. I really don't want to be alienating to them in any way because we're not going to get anywhere that way.
JD: Not making enemies it's making allies.
MZ: Exactly. Exactly right. And those are the dudes who write us a check and send a donation because they got something out of it. Right? Like they felt like they felt welcomed and they learned. And they see that. I think there's a there's a growth opportunity there for everyone.
JD: So this is why -- I think we only have a few minutes left -- so I want to so we don't really have a question answer portion of this. And I feel like there might be some ideas an audience brewing. What are some actionable ideas on stage that we impart to the audience if they're wanting to make a podcast and these genres or beyond they want to not Womansplain in the sense we're doing the opposite of mansplaining we're saying you're wrong men it's more like no we're elevating women's voices and also bringing men along with us. So actionable tactic.
AR: Ask the question. I was going to ask the question. One of the things I think I've learned is that if you have to question somebody else has it. And if you ask the question you're going to get an interesting conversation and that you should trust your knowledge. You should be overprepared. Let's be real. I spent at least 72 hours researching whoever I'm talking to because the more I understand who they are the more comfortable they are the more they'll talk about it but also ask the question. Ask the question of what's missing. What facts aren't there. What story hasn't been told because somebody wants to know it and then trust that. I think a lot of times I know the best conversations I've had with folks have turned out into the best shows or the best scripts I've written is when I go you know this is cool and someone's told this story but what's missing? What's the nuance? What's the thing that I would find really interesting about this? Because that's what makes a show so good, right? Because you are like what's missing what don't I know. And I think that's what's so great about the fact that you're laughing your way through this because someone else out there. Wants to know it just as bad as you do. And that's, I mean, that's my action: ask the question.
JD: One of the biggest compliments I can receive from someone I’ve interviewed is that they come back to me either over e-mail in person to say you really did your research on me. You really seem like you care about me and like yeah I do. I care about what I do and I care about the person I'm going to be in the room with for 40 minutes at talking with Adele what it was.
MZ: You're also a professional too. And I find that shocking to me because that's what journalists do. They do their background homework and they ask the right questions and be surprised that you like showed up and were professional….nonsense!
JD: But I set the standard. We set the standard then so that when they go into the next one they can say that person Manoush or Adele or Angelique or Joni they did it. And now that's a such a high standard I expect everyone men women whatever to be able to do that.
AR: So I would also say that's what good journalists do.
AR: Yeah that's not what all journalists do or we would have less problems with language when it comes to women in articles.
JD: But Adele what is something else you give to the audience?
AJG: I'm trying to think. Man, when I think of some of the best conversations we've had on our podcasts. just the first word that pops up to me is ‘play.’ Like really enjoying another human being I don't care how successful they've been just really relating to them on like I'm human you're human level let's just explore life together on this one topic. I think you know coming from a really serious writer job and just boom boom boom here are the questions. I think the fun part about what we do depending on what the topic of your show is it's just being able to play with the guests that we have on the show and just getting curious and just being silly sometimes. So I guess play is like the key where I would take away
JD: Manoush, like you gave us a great idea when someone were to come to us to say like you maybe you should change something about you because something's wrong and you responded adequately saying no actually please stay with us. I want you to learn something the process. For people who receive something akin to that in the room, what would you recommend that they take as a tactic to respond in a way that's not alienating but welcoming or somewhere in between?
MZ: Oh, feel sorry for them. You know, poor David that he thought like he's made it this long in his life thinking that women have to sound a certain way or that you're only right if you sound like a man or whatever. I just I pity David and that makes me feel better about myself.
No, but seriously like I'm I'm like, it took me until I was 41 years old to realize that I had something to say. So y'all are way ahead of where I was for the first 20 years of my career.
And I think part of the reason why I can speak to someone like David is because I was able to fit into that world for a very long time until you know the moment right where you were like wait a minute this is wrong. And I don't have to talk like this. And I can be myself and that actually has more impact and I'm really grateful to my executive producer for being the person who brought that out in me. So lean on your team members when you are questioning your own capability. That's why your team really does matter. It's really important that you have people who are with you and see things at least a little bit the same way.
AR: Well, I want think this team up here are you all been great. Manoush, Adele, Angelique, I’m Joni. And thank you so much for attending Womansplain This To Me. If you want to chat with us afterwards please do. We love to talk, as you just saw.