As a dedicated listener to a variety of podcasts, I began to wonder why – why do I like to listen to people talk at me, but not quite to me? The experience of listening to a podcast is odd; like eavesdropping on a conversation that is directed at you, it both questions and ignores you. The podcast is both independent from and dependent on the listener. In the lockdown era, there was, what feels like, a rapid increase of podcasts which provided a method of safe and sound connection in a time of uncertainty, change and reflection. Alongside the silence of the outer world, the loudspeaker was picked up indoors, transmitting speech and conversation through people’s headphones. Looking over some of the podcast charts, there appears to be a high number of podcasts featuring women in conversation. Women discussing life through their diverse personal experiences, their lifestyle, politics, history, art, health, and other intricate complexities of life. This collection of diverse women’s voices, which have been previously silenced and marginalised, causes me to question – do the women speak through podcasts in spite of or because of the listener?
The podcast allows a person’s actual voice to be heard, not through their writing style or tone, through their creative representations, or scripted presentations – in the most honest cases podcasts expose an authentic voice. The voice, in a podcast, is one of omnipotence, unable to be immediately questioned or interrupted by the listener, unlike many other speaking forms. Then, perhaps there is no surprise that the often marginalised voice of women has an affinity with a format that cannot be interrupted or talked over. It allows a space, a silence, a freedom to speak from a perspective or authority frequently minimised by stereotype. A woman’s voice discussing the variety of life from current political affairs to self-help to conversations about real life experiences can be seen as a statement of existence and significance in the great variety of life.
Does the independence of podcasts speak to an autonomy that people perhaps admire and are intrigued by? The stark individuality of a podcast, a recording of speech that exists in the world whether people listen or not, gives it a sense of neutrality- a media that asks nothing than to be heard, what a person does with it is up to them. Listening to a podcast also appears to be as inclusive as a person wishes, they can reply to the podcast if it gives an email address for example, or simply be a spectator. Thus, there is an autonomy in being a listener, from being able to take on what you wish from what is being said. However, in all its liberation of women’s voices, it is perhaps not always the most accessible form of expression, and so may in fact isolate despite its reach.
The plethora of women’s voices through the media of podcasts is supported by the paradoxical nature of it. It enables a space for the marginalised and diverse voices of women to speak and be heard. Yet, it also gives space for the listener to hear in their own time and own place, independent in their engagement with the media.