Podcast Activism & Social Change

This time last week (as I write this), I was sitting at the Royal Albert Hall with my mum and five thousand other feminists, emphatically singing along to Gloria Gaynor’s iconic anthem: I Will Survive. 

We were there for the filming of The Guilty Feminist podcast, a podcast that has always been filmed in front of a live audience, albeit not always such a large one. In fact, it was then that I learned that this sold out show finds its roots at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, starting off as a crowd of thirty, the majority of whom Deborah Francis White, the host, readily admits were already saved as contacts in her phone. 

So, how did it go from thirty to five thousand? From Fringe to Albert Hall? 

This is the power of the podcast. In this scenario, the goal was to bring together individuals with a shared sense of purpose, to turn discussion into action, and to equip a diverse crowd, uniting them for the advancement of a cause. In other scenarios, podcasts have been used to raise awareness, to crowdfund, to lobby for new legislation, to protest, to persuade, to inform, and to hold people, companies, and entire industries accountable.

Podcasts are emerging as a powerful new medium for communicating to audiences all over the world, at virtually no expense. Ultimately, if you possess one of the nine billion mobile phones used worldwide (that’s right, there are more mobile phones in use than there are people using them), chances are, it’ll have a microphone. And, if you have access to the internet, you have the tools necessary to make a podcast.

If Deborah Frances White can turn a subject like feminism into a sold out Royal Albert Hall event and over a quarter of a million downloads, it led me to wonder - who else is doing this? What are the most amazing outcomes prompted by this empowering new medium?

In answer to that question, here are a few podcasts I’ve listened to recently that are worth checking out...

1. Seeing White

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A series from the podcast “Scene On Radio” from the Center for Documentary Studies, “Seeing White” looks at the racial structures of America, focusing on dissecting the oppressors rather than the oppressed. This might well be the reason behind the podcasts’ extraordinary success - confronting the deep-rooted causes of white supremacy rather than looking solely at the symptoms. “Seeing White” instead focuses on whiteness — how it began and how it has shaped the majority of American institutions — rather than blackness, helping frame a new conversation on race.

2. Phoebe’s Fall

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Phoebe’s Fall investigated the story of Phoebe Handsjuk. The 24-year old  was found dead at the bottom of a garbage chute in a luxury Melbourne apartment block in 2010. The coroner declared it a tragic accident; however, the circumstances were suspicious, and the family questioned the verdict. The popular six-part series dropped in 2016 and triggered questions surrounding the shoddy police investigation, shedding doubt on the coroner’s findings. The podcast also raised the issue that only one coroner’s verdict had successfully been appealed in the whole of Australia since 2008. This was then debated in the Victorian state parliament which led to a change in the Coroner’s Act. Go podcasts!

3. The Teacher’s Pet

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The Teacher’s Pet was released in 2018, chronicling the disappearance of Lynette Dawson. Lyn and Chris Dawson appeared to have the perfect marriage: he was a star footballer and popular high school teacher, she was a devoted wife and mother. But, when Lyn went missing under highly unusual circumstances, eyebrows were raised. The Teacher’s Pet exposes the dark secrets that were buried thirty-six years ago, and listeners will soon find out this is no highschool sweetheart fairytale. The podcast digs deep into a cold case which was left unresolved, uncovering startling new evidence, leading to a new trial where the judge declared he was in "almost uncharted waters" due to procedural and legal considerations prompted by the podcast.

4. Bodies

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Allison Behringe explores women’s bodies in a show that addresses topics often discouraged or dismissed as “oversharing”: sexual encounters, menstruation, breastfeeding etc. Each episode starts out by examining a particular bodily issue, then zooms out to examine the greater context. These are the extended conversations women often have in private—with friends, in ladies’ rooms, online, and especially when doctors can’t or don’t help. The podcast is intersectional (doesn’t only focus on privileged white women’s issues), and manages to draw attention to subjects her listeners may be socialized to ignore. This podcast has had a huge social impact, simply because no one can stop Behringe from making the podcast that was so sorely needed - one that, arguably, would never have been commissioned. Go, Allison!

5. Refugee’s Stories 

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We all know about the war in Syria, and a lot of us may have an opinion about it, but very few of us have had the opportunity to sit in a refugee’s tent and listen to their story firsthand. Refugees’ Stories aims to change that. By the end of the series, audiences are left with one overwhelming sentiment - empathy. Why? Because, despite the teargas, the dread and fear at the prospect of being separated from their loved ones, and the many other horrors facing the refugees in their journey, the podcast taps in to the everyday: arguments amongst spouses (surprisingly familiar), likes, dislikes, childhood memories - all far closer to home than can be imagined. The podcast is a reminder that fundamentally, we are more similar than we are dissimilar - wherever we live, whatever the circumstances.

 

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