1. bookVolumen 43 (2022): Heft 1 (January 2022)
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Podcasting about yourself and challenging norms: An investigation of independent women podcasters in Denmark

Online veröffentlicht: 11 Apr 2022
Volumen & Heft: Volumen 43 (2022) - Heft 1 (January 2022)
Seitenbereich: 94 - 110
Zeitschriftendaten
License
Format
Zeitschrift
eISSN
2001-5119
Erstveröffentlichung
01 Mar 2013
Erscheinungsweise
2 Hefte pro Jahr
Sprachen
Englisch
Abstract

This article investigates why and how women use independent podcasting and social media platforms to challenge norms afflicting their own personal lives. Extending previous studies of independent podcasting as a tool of empowerment, this article analyses semi-structured interviews with the hosts of two podcasts: the mental health and personal journals podcast A Seat at The Table and the parenting podcast Our Different Family [Vores Anderledes Familie]. The podcasts are norm-challenging but, at the same time, illustrative of a gendered podcasting sphere in which women primarily podcast about what has traditionally been considered female domains, such as mental health, personal journals, and parenting. The study finds that podcasting’s lack of visuals and unrestricted, conversational format allow for creating and distributing in-depth realisations about personal norm-challenging issues. Simultaneously, it finds that the participatory affordances of social media platforms are essential for receiving feedback, content ideas, and emotional support from like-minded listeners when the podcasters challenge oppressive norms.

Introduction

Independent podcasting provides a channel for all kinds of voices to express themselves about personal subject matters. In contrast to institutional radio and podcasts, independent podcasters represent themselves and do not undergo any kind of editorial gatekeeping (Adler Berg, 2021a; Markman, 2012; Millette, 2011). This freedom allows for breaking down traditional boundaries regarding what can be said and done in the media. While also engaging specific subcultures through their frequent online interactions with listeners, independent podcasters share characteristics with bloggers, YouTubers, and other types of user-generated content producers (Markman, 2012). Their participatory characteristics lead to offering and receiving support on diverse issues such as disabilities and illnesses (Collins, 2018; Meserko, 2014; Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt & Buchholtz, 2018), ethnic minorities (Vrikki & Malik, 2019), Blackness (Florini, 2017; Fox et al., 2020), and queer identities (Copeland, 2018; Fox, 2008; Zehelein, 2019).

A fast-growing research area within podcast studies focuses on independent podcasting’s capabilities for women. As recording technologies have become more affordable and accessible in recent years, women see opportunities to podcast while doing household work (Wang, 2021). The freedom and intimacy of the medium provide women with narrative power (Greer, 2017) and allow podcasters to challenge norms of gender and sexuality (Adler Berg, 2021b; Copeland, 2018) and discrimination, social stigma, and prejudices against women (Jorgensen, 2021; Zehelein, 2019). Because of its ability to challenge norms – suppressive and uncomfortable as they are for those who cannot inhabit them (Ahmed, 2014) – independent podcasting constitutes a relevant feminist research object.

Yet, these previous studies (Copeland, 2018; Greer, 2017; Jorgensen, 2021; Wang, 2021; Zehelein, 2019) all present textual and auditory analyses. Research on independent podcasting’s possibilities for women requires further quantitative documentation and qualitative investigations from the podcasters’ points of view, and I intend to address the research gap with this article by combining a preliminary quantitative analysis with semi-structured interviews with podcasters. Furthermore, I specifically explore independent women podcasters in Denmark, which is a relevant and complex country-case, for two reasons. First, in comparison with the growing body of academic research on independent podcasts in larger geolinguistic regions such as the US and UK (e.g., Llinares et al., 2018; Spinelli & Dann, 2019), we know very little about independent podcasting in smaller regions. Denmark, with its 5.7 million citizens, provides an opportunity to study this phenomenon. Second, the number of women and men in Denmark listening to podcasts is equal (DR, 2022). Yet, as the preliminary quantitative analysis shows, more men than women are podcasting, and very different topics are discussed and disseminated in podcasts, dependending on the podcaster’s gender. Men tend to podcast about sports, comedy, film, television, and business; women tend to podcast about mental health, personal journals, and parenting. Quantitatively, independent women podcasters engage in what has traditionally been considered female domains (henceforth, traditional female domains), even though they, at a qualitative level, counter institutional media representations and challenge gendered norms (Adler Berg, 2021b; Copeland, 2018; Fox, 2008; Greer, 2017; Jorgensen, 2021; Wang, 2021; Zehelein, 2019).

Hence, this article investigates the relations between engaging in traditional female topics and challenging norms. I ask the following question: Why and how do women use independent podcasting and social media platforms to talk about mental health, personal journals, and parenting while at the same time challenging norms? I consider two sub-themes: 1) the possibilities of independent podcasting for women, including challenging how to speak and what to speak about, and 2) the possibilities of online communities, including receiving emotional and creative support.

To answer these questions, I examine two podcast cases which are both norm-challenging and engaging in traditional female topics: the mental health and personal journals podcast A Seat at The Table and the parenting podcast Our Different Family [Vores Anderledes Familie].

Before embarking on methods and analysis, I present key conceptions of independent podcasting as an oral-aural medium and its potentials and limitations for women, in order to provide a theoretical framework for understanding the podcast cases.

Independent podcasting as an oral-aural multisocial medium

We are all affected and formed by the experience of hearing a person’s voice dominating, talking over, interrupting, or criticising another person’s voice. Consequently, while much has been written about the space privileged bodies take up in visual media and the effects of these physical bodies, we must also consider which voices take up space in the media, what they say, and how they say it. Voice in this regard should be thought of with a dual understanding, conceptualised as what to speak – speech as linguistic production of meaning, or the semantic level – and how to speak – speech as vocal expressions, or the performative level, which includes tone, identity, and emotional register (Lawaetz, 2014).

The voice as the central means of communication in podcasting is inherently intimate, affective, and powerful. It is indeed expressive (Arnheim, 1936/2008), as it reveals basic emotions of fear, passion, happiness, anger, and sadness, which makes the listener realise that the stories the voices tell are actual lived experiences (McHugh, 2012). Podcasting as an oral-aural medium with no visuals to rely upon gives podcasters a space for expressing themselves without worrying about their appearances. Furthermore, the lack of visuals creates empathy as listeners use their imagination to “see” the events unfold (Rodero, 2012). Thus, podcasts, like radio and music, are effective tools of resilience and mobilisation. As radio scholar Kate Lacey (2013: 8) has pointed out, the act of listening to voices involves “both the realm of sensory, embodied experience and the political realm of debate and deliberation [emphasis original]”.

Then what differentiates independent podcasting from institutional podcasting or radio? While large-scale institutionalised formats must reach mass audiences in order to maintain funding and broadcast permission, the lack of editorial gatekeeping in independent podcasting provides people with the freedom to talk about what they want, for as long as they want, how they want, and to whom they want. This authenticity of what is being said and how it is being said has become an aspirational ideal for independent podcasters (e.g., Adler Berg, 2021b; Collins, 2018; Jorgensen, 2021; Meserko, 2014, 2015; Mottram, 2016; Sullivan, 2018) and enables further empathy and identification with the persons talking and being described in the podcasts (e.g., Collins, 2018; Copeland, 2018; Greer, 2017). Independent podcasters reach out “to the world of the similarly minded” (Zehelein, 2019: 145), and they often engage in deeply personal (even private) stories about their own life or the lives of their guests (Adler Berg, 2021a; Collins, 2018; Jorgensen, 2021).

This, in turn, affects listeners, who then deeply engage with the podcasters and their content (Schlütz & Hedder, 2021). Interacting, sharing, and discussing podcasts online are significant motivations for listening to independent podcasts (e.g., Fox et al., 2020; McClung & Johnson, 2010; Perks & Turner, 2018) and consequently, independent podcasters have more online interactions with their listeners than traditional media content producers (Berry, 2016; Löwgren & Reimer, 2013; Markman, 2012; Markman & Sawyer, 2014). In this sense, independent podcasting is not solely a radiogenic medium characterised by parasocial relations between podcasters and listeners, but indeed is also a multisocial cross-media ecosystem (Swiatek, 2018). Through social media platforms, listeners communicate and collaborate about shared interests and challenge norms and societal structures.

In sum, the accessibility, freedom, and authenticity of independent podcasting and its multisocial dimensions are, as Kim Fox, David O. Dowling, and Kyle Miller (2020: 302) find, “well suited to the project of community building”.

Potentials and limitations for independent women podcasters

Traditional Western radio journalism teaches reporters and hosts to speak without emotion, using the lower range of the voice (Mottram, 2016). Because male (or naturally low-pitched) voices are still associated with authority and credibility, and female (or naturally high-pitched) voices are associated with the domestic sphere (Mottram, 2016), at least in Western countries, women in radio have historically defied their physiology and developed deeper, neutral voices (Mills, 2004). In a Danish context, the Danish Broadcasting Cooperation has, as shown by voice researcher Anna Lawaetz (2014), trained women radio presenters to speak with a narrow frequency and to use certain intonation patterns, while men have been given greater freedom to raise and lower their voices. In another study, Lawaetz (2019) analysed the voices of three high-profile Danish politicians and concluded that their voice pitches dropped concurrently with increasing their political power. And this tendency applies to women in general, as women’s voice pitch on average has dropped by 23 hertz over five decades (Pemberton et al., 1998).

Independent podcasting, characterised by its lack of editorial gatekeeping, becomes a space for rebelling against prevailing linguistic and vocal norms. It permits women to talk about women to other women (Adler Berg, 2021b; Greer, 2017) and to “hear how women really talk and think” (Wang, 2021: 64). Podcast scholar Stacey Copeland (2018: 214) has pointed out that “podcasting and digital soundwork offer a new platform for female voice, including those not traditionally ‘warm’ or ‘low’ enough for radio”, which resonates with Christine Mottram’s (2016: 66) conclusion: “Finding vocal authority in podcasts is not about achieving the traditional Western aesthetic of the low, deep voice, but about sounding like a ‘real’ person: individually authentic”. This way, independent podcasters can change the ideal for women’s voices. If more listeners are exposed to high voices, then they have the possibility of achieving the same status as low voices.

For contextualising and conceptualising independent women podcasters, we see that at least three categories of voices in radio and podcasting exist: 1) the male voice, which uses a wide set of vocal opportunities, 2) the institutional female voice, which has a narrower set of vocal opportunities at its disposal, and 3) the non-institutional (or independent), unrestricted female voice.

Having already discussed the potentials of independent podcasting for women, certain limitations should also be considered. First, limitations concern the increasingly powerful platforms – for example, Apple and Spotify – which independent podcasters must use in order to be found and listened to. A voice not listened to is not recognised as legitimate, according to Kate Lacey (2013: 166): “Without a listener, speech is nothing but noise in the ether”. But platforms have the power to censor or remove podcast episodes, including norm-challenging podcasts which may be considered controversial or inappropriate. Today’s platforms, more commonly, complicate the ability to remain visible to existing listeners and be discovered by new listeners (e.g., Berry, 2016; Sullivan, 2018; Swiatek, 2018) and thus hinder community building. As Wang (2021: 66) argues, the commercialisation of podcasting, in which “more professional programs” are increasingly favoured by platforms, will further marginalise women’s unpaid podcast production work. Discoverability issues may force independent podcasters to spend more time on optimising their content for the infrastructures of platforms and less time on creating their podcasts (Morris, 2021: 18).

Second, limitations may concern listeners’ and podcasters’ expectations of what makes a “good” or “successful” podcast, for example, the opinion that personal subject matters need to be revealed (Collins, 2018), or, as the preliminary quantitative analysis outlined below indicates, that certain topics are suitable for either women and men to podcast about. Normative imperatives for women podcasters also include traditional discourses around women’s voices. A pervasive critique in the media of the popular Danish independent true crime podcast Dark Country (Aurvig & Bugbee, 2018–present) seems illustrative. Despite their many listeners – or because of their mainstream breakthrough – the hosts were publicly criticised for being incompetent, ignorant, and immature, not solely because of their professions as journalists and not detectives, but also because of their high-pitched voices, informal conversational tone, lisps, and vocal fry (the use of the lowest tone of voice characterised by its creaky, breathy sound), which were perceived as inappropriate for discussing murder cases (Nielsen, 2019).

Consequently, as these political, economic, and sociocultural structures are impinging upon their possibilities for expressing themselves and building communities, independent women podcasters may become increasingly institutionalised and suppressed.

Setting the Danish terrain: Preliminary quantitative analysis

In May–June 2020, I sampled 552 independent Danish podcasts and coded these by their formats and topics (for sampling and coding procedure, see Adler Berg, 2021a). One year later, in June 2021, I made use of this previous mapping (Adler Berg, 2021a) to investigate the genders of the podcasters, which I determined by listening to the podcasts and considering the gender pronouns the podcasters used about themselves on their social media accounts. I then divided the genders of the podcasters by the most widespread topics of the podcasts.

Questionnaire surveys conducted almost a decade ago revealed that 90 per cent of English-speaking independent podcasters worldwide, but mostly located in North America, were men producing content for a male audience (Markman, 2012; Markman & Sawyer, 2014). The Danish independent podcasting sphere is, in comparison, considerably more gender-balanced. Still, while women’s and men’s podcast consumption is equal (DR, 2022), more men than women are producing independent podcasts. The preliminary quantitative analysis revealed that 33 per cent of independent podcasts are produced and hosted by women (20% by one woman, 13% by more than one), 57 per cent by men (27% by one man, 30% by more than one), and the remaining 10 per cent by men and women together. The fact that only 10 per cent of the independent podcasts are hosted jointly by both genders may indicate difficulties in finding common interests to podcast about: While men podcast about external topics such as sports, film, television, and business, women are urged to podcast about themselves and their personal inner lives. As much as 37 per cent of all women podcasters podcast about mental health and personal journals, and the second most widespread topic for women, at 11 per cent, is parenting (see Adler Berg, 2021a).

Consequently, while women bloggers, YouTubers, Instagrammers, and independent podcasters have the ability to counter institutional media representations, women still engage in traditional female domains pervaded with emotionality (Ahmed, 2014). A likely explanation might be that they are formed by societal norms to talk about these topics. Reproducing traditional media’s preoccupation with traditional female and traditional male topics makes them no different from, for example, broadcast television, in which programmes about family, relationships, and well-being are hosted by women and sports programmes are hosted by men (Andreassen, 2015).

Case studies: A Seat at The Table and Our Different Family

I selected two podcast cases to investigate why and how women use independent podcasting and their online communities when striving to challenge norms. Two cases seem appropriate for elucidating several aspects of the quantitative findings while still retaining sufficient space in this one article for case studies. The first case selected is A Seat at The Table (ASATT), made by Ingrid Baraka and Naima Yasin who, based on their own and guests’ lived experiences, discuss issues in relation to “being Black women in Denmark” (Baraka & Yasin, 2017a–present); thus, its topic is coded as “mental health and personal journals”. The topic of the second podcast case, Our Different Family (ODF), is coded as “parenting”. ODF is made by Sophie Nielsen, who interviews guests about trying to thrive as a parent in LGBTQ+ family constellations, families struggling with diagnoses, disabilities, illnesses, and so on.

The two podcast cases are purposive (Neergaard, 2010) for five reasons: 1) they are representative of the topics that women podcast about; 2) they have high cultural impact (in terms of social media followers’ numbers, ASATT and ODF have 8,020 and 6,553 followers on Instagram, respectively) (Baraka & Yasin, 2017b–present; Nielsen, 2020b–present); 3) one podcast is led by two women and the other by one woman (to investigate the importance of podcasting as an individual or collaborative practice); 4) the podcasters were unknown to the Danish public before starting their podcasts (to reflect on the theoretical description of independent podcasting as a democratic medium with no editorial gatekeeping); and 5) they explicitly and publicly communicate that they are norm-challenging. Echoing ASATT’s title, the podcast’s description along with several episode intros state that the podcast intends to offer “more people a seat at the table” (Baraka & Yasin, 2017a), thus giving voice to people that Baraka and Yasin find are not represented in institutional media. Likewise, ODF’s description and several of its episode intros announce that the podcast scrutinises what it means to be “different from most families” (Nielsen, 2020a–present). Both podcasts speak from and to minority positions, regardless of their high numbers of listeners and followers.

Figure 1

Podcast cover art

Comments: The image on the left depicts the cover art for A Seat at the Table; the image and illustration on the right depicts the cover art for Our Different Family [Vores Anderledes Familie].

Source: Baraka & Yasin, 2017a–present; Nielsen, 2020a–present

Previous studies have conducted auditory and textual analyses of independent women podcasts (Copeland, 2018; Greer, 2017; Wang, 2021; Zehelein, 2019). Yet, for the purpose of understanding motivations, experiences, decisions, and emotions, semi-structured interviews are useful (Brinkmann & Kvale, 2009; Lindlof & Taylor, 2011). Thus, I invited the podcasters via e-mail, and semi-structured interviews were carried out 12 April (Baraka and Yasin) and 13 April (Nielsen) 2021 (via Zoom due to the Covid-19 pandemic). The recorded interviews lasted for 47 minutes and 65 minutes, respectively, and were based on the following questions: Why do you podcast? Which possibilities does independence offer you? Why do you podcast about the topics that you podcast about? How and why do you form online relationships with listeners? After transcribing the recorded interviews, I inductively categorised and, finally, analysed them, informed by a close listening to approximately ten episodes of each podcast (Baraka & Yasin, 2017a–present; Nielsen, 2020a–present). All interview quotes were translated from Danish to English by me.

In the following analysis, I discuss the possibilities (and the limitations) of independent podcasting in relation to why Nielsen, Baraka, and Yasin – as is the case for most independent women podcasters – podcast about mental health, personal journals, and parenting. In the second part of the section, I turn towards how they experience the significance of social media activity in relation to their podcasting practice. The analysis is structured according to the research sub-themes (the possibilities of independent podcasting, including challenging how to speak and what to speak, and the possibilities of online communities, including receiving emotional and creative support).

The possibilities of independent podcasting: Realising and reflecting about yourself through podcasting

The ASATT project was initially planned to be a magazine, but rather accidently transformed into a podcast. To generate ideas for the magazine without having to make detailed notes, Baraka and Yasin (along with two former podcast members) recorded a conversation amongst themselves, with little interest in sharing it with others. But as they listened to the recording afterwards, they saw the potential of making it public. ASATT’s origin story indicates that conversations constitute the foundation of the podcast. Four women decided to record their conversation which then became the first episode of the podcast, as Baraka explained: “ASATT and the podcast medium have grown symbiotically together, and I think this is our strength: that we have become native to the podcast”.

Yasin and Baraka appreciate podcasting’s audio-only format because, Yasin argued, audiovisual media distract audiences’ attention: “Wearing a scarf, a face mask or whatever means that what you say is not listened to”. Though they post pictures and videos of themselves and podcast guests on social media, podcasting liberates them from being judged by or worrying about their appearances while podcasting. Likewise, Nielsen finds podcasting more adequate for “creating dialogue” in a “natural way” than blogging or YouTubing, which she initially also considered relevant for her project. Nielsen aims to facilitate an unmediated, informal conversation in her podcast:

I decided to podcast because I wanted to hear other people’s stories. But it should be like if I had invited the guest home for a cup of coffee. The conversation has to be without limitations, letting itself unfold [between me and my] guest.

Independent podcasting’s oral-aural vernacular and (fairly) unedited and unscripted nature allows for addressing a wide variety of topics and to let personal, humorous, serious stories, and laughs, affections, cries, frustrations, and anger succeed one another. This conveys a sense of intimacy and authenticity as well as trust (Jorgensen, 2021) for podcast guests and listeners. In fact, surveys of podcast listeners show that revealing personal and intimate stories strengthens the parasocial relations to podcasters (Schlütz & Hedder, 2021). For the podcasters, the conversational format provides comfort when telling their deeply emotional and personal stories and allows for new realisations and insights to emerge. As Spinelli and Dann (2019) have noticed, engaging in deep and open-ended conversations and interviews is a key motivation for podcasting. Academic and podcaster Siobhán McHugh (2007) has argued that the purpose of interviewing is to gain new perspectives and have one’s awareness changed by participating. Similarly, to conversate and interview is, essentially, why Baraka, Yasin, and Nielsen podcast. In fact, Yasin explained that what makes her continue are the conversations with her fellow podcaster and podcast guests. Conversating through independent podcasting provides new perspectives on their own experiences and thoughts about challenging norms and enables the podcasters to share these insights with their listeners.

In short, Baraka, Yasin, and Nielsen seek to challenge norms by revealing their own and guests’ lived experiences with navigating and confronting social norms and discussing these norm-challenging issues in a nuanced, intimate, and open-ended way. Independent podcasting as a conversational, unrestricted, and freely available medium is essential for creating new insights and realisations for themselves, guests, and listeners.

Challenging how to speak: Embracing various vocal expressions and wordings

As much as Nielsen, Baraka, and Yasin find it meaningful to conversate and interview, podcasting in most cases implies becoming familiar with listening to and editing one’s own speech and interviews. Nielsen “hated it to begin with” because the interviews never turned out the way she had planned: “They become something else which may be even better than what you had in mind. But I think instinctively we women are enormously self-critical, always finding faults and flaws”. For Nielsen, listening to her own voice through the act of podcasting prompts self-consciousness as well as reflections about being a woman, though, as previously mentioned, unpredictability might also be the purpose of interviewing (McHugh, 2007).

Similarly, Baraka, who has been editing the ASATT podcast for several years, still finds it “cringe cringe”, because she thinks she sounds “very high-pitched and giggling”, and Yasin, laughingly, said that she wishes she had been “media trained”. Why is this so? Baraka reflected:

Maybe we have learned that we should lower our pitch to sound calm, credible. But you can’t control your voice if you have not been trained to. And why should you? I think [our voices] make our podcast easily recognisable, accessible, and intimate to listen to.

Thus, for Baraka and Yasin, “becoming native to the podcast” implies that they are no longer afraid of how they speak (i.e., their vocal expressions). They acknowledge the congenital aspects of their voices, thereby approving that vocal authority in independent podcasts is about sounding “real” and “authentic” (Copeland, 2018; Mottram, 2016). They are not trained to, nor do they intend to, lower their voices to conform to prevailing ideals of power. Challenging vocal norms is not the intention with their vocal expressions, but rather a side-product which they, eventually, must come to accept and even appreciate.

Apart from sounding high-pitched, Baraka and Yasin, in the interview as well as in several podcast episodes, verbalised that they use many English words and proverbs, and that Baraka speaks with a Jutlandic dialect (as she grew up in a minor Jutland city). Listening to the podcast reveals words from African languages and an extensive use of intellectual terminology (e.g., socialisation, racialisation, Eurocentrism, and intersectionality) combined with proverbs associated with the use of African American popular culture (e.g., they end several episodes by stating “May your fro grow and your skin glow”). The podcasters thus stage themselves as carrying and identifying with these sociocultural values: to be an English speaker, to grow up in Jutland (in which, at least during Baraka’s childhood, speaking English as well as being Black was rare), to have African origins, to be intellectual, and to be inspired by and associated with African American culture.

The combination of these various vocal aspects is seldom heard in institutional media and thus nuances preexisting ideas of what it means to be a Black woman in Denmark. On the one hand, Baraka and Yasin’s uniqueness may explain ASATT’s popularity within their listener community and, perhaps, the resulting media attention, which, then, is capable of inspiring and influencing institutional radio and podcast production. On the other hand, comparable to the previously mentioned critiques of the Dark Country podcasters’ voices, Baraka and Yasin are continuously confronted with how they speak. According to Yasin, people outside the ASATT community are repeatedly “stunned by the simple fact” that they speak Danish and find the combination of English wordings, Jutlandic dialect, intellectual terminology, and African American proverbs confusing and disproportionately concerning. Baraka clarified: “There is a complexity about how we sound. People struggle to understand that these different things can actually exist in a Black woman”.

Challenging what to speak: Creating spaces for norm-challenging personal issues

ASATT and ODF represent the most widespread and traditional topics for women to podcast about – mental health and personal journals, and parenting, respectively – yet, their specific focuses within these broad topics are highly niche and non-traditional. Nielsen specified:

[ODF is concerned with] how to live in a family which is not only about lunch boxes and children who can’t sleep… It is about putting misunderstandings, prejudices, and barriers down, and getting some knowledge out there by talking openly about things… [because] everybody has their own ideas which are subject to prejudices.

To establish this openness, Nielsen decided that the first two episodes of ODF should be conversations between her and her husband, in which they disclosed their own family story and reflected on personal challenges with being parents for a child with autism spectrum disorder.

Yasin explained the motivation for starting the ASATT project:

[We wanted to provide a space for listeners] who looked like us, were the same age, and talked about the same stuff we talked about with our friends. Also, we wanted to relieve some of the pressure from our Black friends, so that our White friends who want to understand [these issues] can listen to our conversations.

Baraka further explained the space their podcast provides:

[ASATT is] a safe space in which we can tenderly hold each other accountable for our values and our thoughts. So, we must have some kind of experience and knowledge about what we are talking about. We must be willing to investigate and admit if we are wrong, and willing to reveal the processes and the journey we are going through.

Fox, Dowling, and Miller (2020: 300) argue that Black podcasters create “a nuanced sense of African-American trends, cultures, and lifestyles, which are now accessible to non-Black audiences”. The same is true for ASATT, which non-Black listeners are welcome to listen to, but which, as Baraka emphasised, remains focused on identity from a perspective that is “not centred on whiteness”. It is created for a specific community of Black listeners, by Black podcasters.

The process of crafting one’s own space for personal norm-challenging issues is closely related to how Baraka and Yasin described the possibilities of independence. For Baraka, independence implies that they can “say something out loud to each other in a room where you are understood and where no one asks, ‘Is it really true what you are saying?’, or ‘Are you not exaggerating?’” Yasin elaborated, “[Independence entails that] we are not interrupted and questioned as to whether our conversations are valid”. With the aim of preserving their independence, Baraka and Yasin have rejected several commercial opportunities. Notably, in 2019, they stopped collaborating with an established digital media outlet because, Baraka maintained, “we insist on talking about certain topics on our own terms”. Building their own podcast and Instagram platforms enables them to discuss what they find important. With ASATT’s increased popularity, they have been invited to participate in radio and television interviews, yet they rarely agree to do so. Yasin explained: “We don’t want to discuss the N-word or whether racism exists or not. We simply don’t agree with these premises, and we can make those demands on our own platforms which can be just as important as P1 [Danish Broadcasting Cooperation’s talk radio station]”. Thus, as academic and podcaster Dario Llinares has argued (2018), independent podcasters’ freedom and control over production processes brings along a sense of status, impact, and power to compete with institutional media.

The possibilities of online listener communities

Independent podcasting as a cross-media ecosystem becomes apparent when considering how ASATT and ODF use Instagram, which the podcasters describe as the social media platform with the most followers and interactions with listeners. Consistent with what Fox, Dowling, and Miller (2020) note, reactions are solely supportive, most likely because independent podcast communities exist as “closed” groups which are difficult to search for and harass. If negative reactions occur, Yasin argued, they are intended to “make us aware of our blind spots, or the listeners just want to let out some frustrations aimed at the establishment”.

Baraka and Yasin alternate between episodes with guest interviews and those consisting of conversations between themselves. Except for one monologue episode and the previously mentioned conversations between Nielsen and her husband, Nielsen is dependent on finding guests who are willing to tell their stories in the podcast. In addition, she performs all the podcast production and social media tasks alone as well. The workload of podcasting alone led to her putting the podcast on hold. On the other hand, considering that women are significantly less inclined to podcast together (the preliminary quantitative analysis shows that 13% of women podcast together in comparison to 30% of men), the flexibility of podcasting alone might appeal to women who must find the time in between the various tasks involved in running a household. Either way, as Wang (2021) suggests, production requirements of independent podcasting itself can be incompatible with family obligations, and therefore, Wang stresses, women’s unpaid labour of motherhood, running a household, and childcare is the significant difference between female and male podcasters. For Nielsen, her podcast project contradicts with the labour of childcare to such a degree that – though it is not completely “mommy blogging” (Wang, 2021: 63) – it has become, at least temporarily, an Instagram “mommy blog”.

In the following two sections, I discuss how Nielsen uses Instagram as not only an enhancement of, but also a replacement for, independent podcasting, and how Baraka and Yasin use the affordances of social media (primarily Instagram) to deeply engage with listeners.

Instagram as an emotional tool

When Nielsen started ODF in March 2020, she decided to change her personal Instagram account to a public and professional account instead of creating a new Instagram account for the podcast. She uses it to share and interact about podcast-related content: “People value when [Instagram content] is personal, when they can follow our everyday life as a family”. Motivated by followers’ engagement, Baraka, who is mainly responsible for ASATT’s social media content, has decided not to schedule social media content in advance, “so that it does not become this factory-like Instagram with planned, generic content”. The podcasters seek to make their Instagram content authentic and personal in order to create a close relationship with their listeners and followers. This “need” is enlarged by the fact that they are podcasting about norm-challenging aspects of their own or guests’ mental health, personal journals, and family life, which demands a tremendous amount of emotional support. Podcast guests may provide weekly emotional support, but social media followers enable daily and immediate emotional support to deal with the loneliness of challenging prejudices and normative understandings of issues closely related to their own personal life (see also Adler Berg, 2021b).

This motivates the podcasters to spend considerable amounts of time on personal interactions with like-minded followers: comments, stories, and Q&As, but mostly direct messages (DMs). Listening to their podcasts, it is evident that they often encourage listeners to send them DMs. Additionally, posting on Instagram always prompts personal interactions, which in turn convey a deeper level of obligation and commitment. Yasin explained:

We can’t […] post something without having conversations with people. We put a lot into answering people’s questions, and in addition to the ten followers we [have time to] answer, we continue to answer… 90 per cent of the DMs are extensive messages from listeners turning their inside out. So, we give them the respect they deserve.

As noted elsewhere (Adler Berg, 2021b), personal interactions may become a double-edged sword. Nielsen devotes two hours every day on Instagram in relation to her podcast because of her growing audience:

[The more followers,] the more time it takes because people are so nice, and they comment and write messages every single day. I love that people dare to share their personal stories with me. I don’t want to disappoint anyone. I want to be able to respond to all messages, but at some point, it becomes impossible […] Some days I just want to delete the account, and other days I can’t do without this community and all the acquaintances that have come out of it. I felt lonely until I found out how many others are in similar family constellations.

While her podcast is on hold, Nielsen uses Instagram to continue the conversations she usually has with podcast guests: “In the podcast, we talk into the microphones. The same thing now happens on Instagram. Talking about the difficulties as well as what needs to be celebrated in my life makes people share their stories too”. By breaking social media’s apparent glamorous façade, Nielsen has found a community which makes her feel less alone in her daily quest of challenging norms. The process is self-perpetuating: Her followers become generous and share their own struggles with navigating norms – and this makes her share even more of her own life.

Co-creating content with community members

Baraka and Yasin frequently consider how their followers interact with new episodes, and they use this information to mould and reevaluate their content. Baraka elaborated:

More or less unconsciously, we use it to redirect our podcast […] If topics only resonate with White listeners, then we think about why, because we really want to target Black women. It makes us evaluate whether we meet our goals and the function we have for ourselves.

Even though listeners are not editors in the traditional sense, they perform some degree of editorial gatekeeping through social media interactions. Instead of trying to reach a broader audience by platform-optimising their content (Morris, 2021), the podcasters exploit Instagram data along with the stories, comments, and, especially, DMs to identify, address, and engage specific listeners.

Furthermore, DMs regularly provide the podcasters with ideas for new episodes, guests, perspectives, and issues to discuss. As much as independent podcasts are “closed” for outsiders of the community, they can be “open” participatory spaces for insiders of the community, according to Nielsen:

I constantly get messages from people who write that they know someone who would like to share their story [in the podcast]. Someone asked if I had considered inviting a solo mom, and I thought, yes, it makes so much sense, though I had not thought about it myself. You can feel that people believe in the project. They don’t just listen to the podcast […] they come up with ideas. They can see that the podcast is so open that it allows for influence, and this gives rise to ideas for what they would like to hear about.

Yasin and Baraka likewise receive DMs from listeners who suggest podcast guests and issues for future episodes. If a listener suggests an issue relating to an upcoming episode that has already been recorded, Baraka and Yasin may use this issue for their weekly talk (17:00–18:00 every Sunday, following the release of a new podcast episode) on the voice-based social audio platform Clubhouse. Baraka provided an example of this:

A listener wrote to us: “I am looking forward to listening to your episode [about sustainable capitalism] because how can I perform within capitalistic structures as an anti-capitalist and anti-racist?” And so, we used this dilemma for our following Clubhouse-talk.

Other times, to save time and thought, Baraka and Yasin ask Clubhouse participants to jointly discuss a listener’s question that they have received beforehand in an Instagram DM. While the affordances of Instagram allow for daily interactions between podcasters and listeners, Clubhouse provides an opportunity for podcasters and listeners to get to know one another better, as Yasin explained: “We benefit from listening to people’s thoughts and hopefully they also feel that they get closer to us”. Baraka and Yasin do not plan any agenda before their Clubhouse talk, and this, according to Baraka, “creates a free space for listeners to give their own take on the issues we discuss. And, like podcasting, there is no video on. You can sit on the toilet while still having a deep thought”. Thus, for Yasin and Baraka, social audio apps – Clubhouse, Spotify’s Locker Room, Twitter Spaces, and others – provide opportunities for deeper engagement with their listeners and followers.

Conclusions

This article has addressed the possibilities of independent podcasting for women by asking the following question: Why and how do women use independent podcasting and their social media platforms to talk about mental health, personal journals, and parenting while at the same time challenging norms? To answer this, semi-structured interviews were carried out with the hosts of two norm-challenging independent podcasts: the mental health and personal journals podcast A Seat At The Table and the parenting podcast Our Different Family. The analysis shows that the podcasters use independent podcasting to talk about their own personal, norm-challenging issues (i.e., their mental health, personal journals, and parenting) for two reasons. First, the lack of visuals provides the freedom to speak without worrying about appearances, which is significant when podcasting about personal norm-challenging issues. Second, the conversational, unrestricted medium of independent podcasting allows for creating, receiving, and distributing nuanced, in-depth insights and realisations about challenging the norms that afflict their own lives. They use podcasting to create their own spaces for issues which they find important but unrepresented by institutional media. Independence allows them to be radical in approaching and challenging the norms. This is the reason why they are reluctant to collaborate with or participate in institutional media outlets, which could eventually provide them with mainstream exposure. Their aim is not to reach a broad audience or be acknowledged by “outsiders”, but to benefit their like-minded core-listeners. Who listens is much more essential to the podcasters than how many. Furthermore, by combining various wordings and acknowledging congenital aspects of their voices, they challenge gendered vocal norms in a way that is seldom possible through institutional media outlets. Finding one’s voice (as understood through its dual conceptualisation) by means of independent podcasting affords the process of constructing their own identities.

While the podcast medium provides a platform from which to create and distribute unrestricted content, the affordances of social media platforms allow the podcasters to engage deeply with like-minded listeners. They use Instagram – and, in ASATT’s case, additionally the social audio platform Clubhouse – to build a tight participatory space and extend the sharing of experiences and strategies to navigate and challenge oppressive structures and prejudices. Interactions with listeners on social media platforms provide the podcasters with feedback, content ideas, and, last but not least, emotional support, which is essential for the podcasters to feel less alone in their norm-challenging quest. Instead of optimising their podcast content for distribution platforms to reach a broader audience and new listeners, they intensify their use of social media platforms and create presence, immediacy, and engagement among already existing listeners.

Independent podcasting constitutes an important feminist research area, as it allows marginalised voices and communities to take up their space by speaking about what they want, the way they want, and to whom they want. The stories that independent podcasters tell are made public through the podcast technology which proves suitable for raising awareness, broadening understandings, and even mobilising publics around certain issues – such as changing normative understandings of what women should say and how they should say it. The preliminary quantitative analysis presented in this article shows a gendered podcasting sphere in which women tend to podcast about traditional female domains such as mental health, personal journals, and parenting. Yet, the qualitative analysis reveals that the two podcasts within these traditional female topical categories are not necessarily reproducing norms, but are rather norm-challenging, in that independent women podcasters – as discussed elsewhere (Adler Berg, 2021b) – speak about their own lived experiences as women in order to challenge gendered norms. Through independent podcasting, they can build their own “feminist world” (Ahmed, 2017) and speak freely about the profound emotional labour that comes with being a woman.

Future (quantitative) research should investigate what women and men podcast about in other countries and further explore women’s reasons for podcasting about certain topics – including how independent content creators are affected by women’s increasing visibility in traditional media. The quantitative data here lacks diversity, since only cisgender identities are present in the sample. Combined, the gendered topics and the lack of diversity in the sample suggest that independent podcasting is influenced by homogeneity and cultural conservatism. If the sample included larger or several geolinguistic areas, more genders would probably have been present, which would have allowed for investigating how and why a broad range of genders uses independent podcasting. Furthermore, as gender constitutes the only variable in the quantitative mapping, to code the age, race, or physique of a speaking voice would provide new insights and significantly differentiate the understanding and uses of the medium. Finally, this article has briefly touched upon how women experience their own recorded voices, and this question should be further explored in comparison with how men experience their own voices.

Figure 1

Podcast cover artComments: The image on the left depicts the cover art for A Seat at the Table; the image and illustration on the right depicts the cover art for Our Different Family [Vores Anderledes Familie].Source: Baraka & Yasin, 2017a–present; Nielsen, 2020a–present
Podcast cover artComments: The image on the left depicts the cover art for A Seat at the Table; the image and illustration on the right depicts the cover art for Our Different Family [Vores Anderledes Familie].Source: Baraka & Yasin, 2017a–present; Nielsen, 2020a–present

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