What’s the aural equivalent of a vantage point? From whatever that’s called, from my perch at the Third Coast International Audio Festival, an observation has been increasingly nagging. It’s nothing new, it’s fairly obvious, and it deserves your attention. It is the lack of female hosts in the ever-widening world of podcasts.
I generally keep up (or try to) with what’s out there in the radio/audio/podcast cosmos, so I’ve been aware that male-hosted podcasts (MHPs) out-number women-hosted podcasts (WHPs), easily. But the actual numbers floored me. 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 seconds long), 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. iTunes results were similar.
Though these numbers may not surprise, they should alarm you too. And they point to the 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.
Of course I’m not the only one who’s noticed this, or thinks about it. Nick van der Kolk (Snap Judgement, Love + Radio) posited the question via Facebook back in 2011, and Ashley Milne-Tyte (The Broad Experience) wrote about it last year, just to point to a couple of previous public ponderings. But it is an issue that merits continuous noise, so here’s an attempt to bang on a few more pots and pans about the situation.
I asked two dozen people (half women, half men) in the extended Third Coast community (producers, pub radio decision-makers, podcast hosts) to weigh in on the topic. A little more than half responded. Of those who did, approximately 85% were women. What follows are my own thoughts, combined with observations and opinions from those who responded to my questions. Without getting too investigative, or too scientific, or too statistically inclined, there seem to be a few main factors (and many smaller ones) contributing to the egregious imbalance of MHPs to WHPs.