Podcasting as a Feminist Space for the Disclosure of Trauma and Intimate Embodied Experience: The Heart podcast as a case study of Quiet Activism.
Authors: Karathanasopoulou, E. and Williams, H.
Editors: Trier-Bieniek, A.
As podcasting is becoming an established form of audio media, we have a chance to study it in relation to its similarities with radio but also as a distinct form or, even, medium (Llinares, et al., 2018). While much previous work has focused on radio as a confessional medium (for example, analysis of the phone-in), in this chapter we examine the capacity of podcasts to facilitate confession and testimony in light of the increasing supply of listen-on-demand programmes. We contemplate the producer-listener dynamic, the facilitation of empathetic relationships and the place of participatory media in programmes dedicated to themes of consent and sexual violence. Using The Heart podcast by Kaitlin Prest as a case study, this chapter analyses aspects of the production, content and affect of the mini-series No, and includes reflections on audio recording and headphone listening practices in the context of trauma, consent and disclosure. Building on other examinations of Prest’s work (for example Spinelli & Dann, 2019 and Verma, 2018), and on Karathanasopoulou’s own work on radiophonic intimacy (2015), this chapter will take an explicitly gendered and feminist perspective.
The #metoo movement established the disclosure of sexual violence via social media as mainstream and offered participants a platform to share experiences, receive support and feel part of a community. In response to this, we explore the use of audio methods such as podcasting as a conduit to describe traumatic, embodied experiences and the ways in which non-visual media can provide a safe, positive environment to reveal intimate and deeply personal information. We are particularly interested in the tension between the disembodiment of audio media and the embodied nature of these experiences.
Disclosures of sexual assault to peers or family members often elicit unhelpful responses such as blame, disbelief or anger (Lorenz et al., 2018). In The Heart the listener is party to those reactions as producer Kaitlin Prest initiates conversations on sexual consent with friends, family members and (former) partners. Thus, while she collates personal testimony and the perspectives of others to make sense of these intimate incidents, she demonstrates the multi-layered and highly subjective nature of consent in the context of gendered power dynamics. If the use of #metoo allowed individuals to see themselves counted as a 1 contributor in a much larger narrative of endemic sexual harassment and inequality, The Heart offers listeners the opportunity to participate, witness, challenge and empathise in one person’s experience. By being invited into the room as Prest negotiates sexual encounters, has sex and discusses her subsequent feelings, the listener is invited to consider their own past experiences of potentially manipulative, coercive or forced sex. This chapter looks to examine the idea of intimacy, a core concept within radio studies, as it emerges within Prest’s work and particularly within the context of consent and sexual violence. Audio intimacies, then, emerge as a complex set of diverse experiences for both the listener and the producer, ranging from feelings of connection and comfort to feelings of being ‘too close for comfort’.
The result can be profoundly discomforting but also emancipatory – simply talking about sexual violence can constitute a revolutionary act given the stigma and victim blaming prevalent in Western society. By making private, intimate experiences public and centering female perspectives, The Heart highlights the disparate, gendered perceptions of the same interaction in nuanced ways. In the same way that #metoo underscored the universality of women’s experiences of male harassment, we argue that The Heart is an example of both ‘quiet activism’ and public scholarship.
This work seeks to build on and contribute to a growing number of diverse scholarly works on women and podcasting (ex. Richardson & Green, 2018, Werner et al., 2020 and Lindgren, 2018), while also paying tribute to past work on women and radio (ex. Mitchell, 2000). Werner et al. note that: “Despite this rise in podcast consumption, there are still important sex-based differences between podcast hosts and listeners. The 2019 Infinite Dial study also found that among monthly podcast listeners, women lag behind men, with 46% of listeners identifying as women and 54% identifying as men.4 Similarly, the role of podcast host has traditionally been held by white men and has been slow to change” (2019:1).
Our contribution examines the idea of ‘quiet’ activism within the context of podcasting where female voices and experiences are amplified. Kaitlin Prest and the The Heart are of particular interest because of Prest’s own pushing of boundaries when it comes to content and what might have been traditional expectations of a female voice in the media.
This chapter takes an interdisciplinary approach which combines radio studies and gender studies to offer a unique insight into podcasting practice through the lens of contemporary discussions of non-consensual sexual experiences, gendered power dynamics and accountability.