While at a friend’s house one afternoon, I overheard a friend listening to a really fantastic podcast. And I know what you’re thinking. “Not another one of those white dude hosts that tries hard to sound not overly geeky yet kinda cool but actually he’s copying that first dude with the glasses.”
This one featured the voices of two women exploring 19th century feminist history with a special emphasis on politics and race. Unlike most lectures you might find in college, the podcast was engaging, accessible, and impeccably researched. I posted up in the kitchen until its end and then I asked what was the name of the podcast. She said, “Stuff Your Mom Never Told You.”
Cristen Conger and Caroline Ervin are the two hosts behind the “Stuff Your Mom Never Told You” project. Along with curating a blog, they regularly produce podcasts that range from all sorts of topics. From “Beyonce’s Feminism” to the etymology behind “ladies” to understanding miscarriage, the podcasts leave listeners feeling informed and entertained. By dedicating a significant part of each podcast to sharing listener feedback, Cristen and Caroline build a community between creators and supporters (which at Feministing you know we’re all about.) ”Stuff Your Mom Never Told You” also has a delightful web series that brings a face both to the creators and the topics at hand. My personal favorite is the spoof on Lean In’s new stock images.
And now, without further ado, the Feministing Five with Stuff Mom Never Told You!
Suzanna Bobadilla: Thank you both so much for speaking with me this afternoon. I’d love to start off by learning a bit more about how Stuff Mom Never Told got started.
Cristen Conger: Back in 2009, I was writing for “How Stuff Works” and we had recently launched the podcast “Stuff You Should Know.” It got really popular and the idea was circulated around the office that other writers should also start up podcasts. I got together with another writer and my original co-host Molly Edmonds and we wanted to pitch something that we as women in our twenties would want to listen to.
I think I had my feminist awakening through the process of pitching “Stuff Mom Never Told You” in witnessing what a revolutionary concept it was for people to grasp. Because when I first pitched the idea it was like “Oh something for women so it will be babies and weddings.” That’s when lightbulbs started to go off in my head and I was like, “Okay we have something to work with here.”
Caroline Ervin: Cristen gave me a call in 2011 and I became her new cohost in the summer of 2011. Similarly to Cristen, I had always classified myself as a feminist; that was never a question or up for debate. But really it wasn’t until I started doing the podcast that I started to learn so much about the context of feminism and where we are today. I fell in love with it and I’m obsessed with it. I just want to keep learning.
SB: It feels to me like that the podcast storytelling world is occupied by male voices or what I like to call “ye olde male geeky guy.” What are some ways that you bring your feminist perspective to open up this space?
CC: I don’t know if this answers your question but you bring up the male, geeky voice. I think one of the bedrock fundamentals is that we want that storytelling when it’s applicable but we strive to be as grounded in facts and studies and history as much as possible. From the get go, we knew that if we were just two women, coming back to the feminist awakening, we wouldn’t have the male privilege of just sitting down and spouting off. People would just dismiss it as chick-chat or it’s like “ladies gabbing.” That’s why we constantly cite sources or post our sources because it’s almost like an insurance policy for us.
I still think even now that women’s voices aren’t endowed with the same type of authority as men’s are. We tend to believe men more if they are speaking something like this than women.
SB: Absolutely. And just as an aside, I think posting your resources is also incredibly helpful for young listeners who might not be able to find this type of content in a super centralized place.
CE: I think you bring up something great when you mention younger listeners. We definitely keep in mind that we are lucky to have a really broad listener base. We might be talking to a 14-year-old girl just the same as we would be talking to a 40-year-old woman or we might be talking to a 25-year-old dude. Since we are lucky to have a broad base, it gives us a platform to deliver a message about women, gender, and feminism and be informative and educational at the same time. I think conversational podcasts are great if they are done right; they can be really funny and you can feel that you are listening to your friends talk. It’s not like we don’t want to be conversational, but as Cristen said we want to be based in fact and we want to arm our listeners with as much information and resources as possible.
SB: It seems like this is a boatload of fun to make from the podcasts to the videos to the blog. What are some of the most enjoyable parts of this creation process?
CE: Well, as I said before the learning is incredible. I tend to read a lot of nonfiction because I can’t stand not learning. One of the most fun aspects for me has been just filling my brain with so much information – whether that is about women or feminism or whether it’s how many people get their private parts vajazzled each year. There is always something fun to learn. But of course the really fun part is that I’m doing it with Cristen who is an amazing, funny woman and so I’m very lucky in that way too.
CC: And right back atcha! Caroline is definitely one of the most fun parts of Stuff Mom Never Told You. Having done it now for so many years, one of the most enjoyable aspects for me with the podcast and the video as well — video is a whole different ball world — for both of them, I’ve enjoyed the privilege of getting to know audience members, especially of reading people’s letters.
The letters that people have sent us are detailed, some sharing stories for the first time. It’s pretty incredible. It is a lot of fun but when there are times when it gets tiring or when we get discouraged, there is almost always a letter that comes in our inbox that makes everything worth it. It sounds cliche but it truly makes a huge difference to know that people are listening and that it matters to them. It resonates with our own personal experiences to know, “Oh hey! People are going through this as well.”
SB: How do you decide which topics to research?
CC: It depends. We have a massive calendar that we keep and it depends on what’s going on, whether there is some current even that we can talk about. For instance, I’m reading up on women in tennis because Wimbledon will happen in late June so we’ll do a tennis episode. It’s current events and also listeners’ suggestions. We love doing listener suggestions when we can. Also things that have been burning a hole in our brains, as well as things that are big in the feminist blogosphere. For instance, Halloween we did a podcast about cultural appropriate because that is something that we need to talk about. What other things do we talk about Caroline?
CE: Well I’ve pulled from my own health. For example, my Web MD anxiety fuels a lot of topics for our podcast. We did a podcast on thyroid issues because I selfishly wanted to learn more. But the good thing about that is that we ended up getting back a lot of feedback from women who were like “Oh my god! I was also undiagnosed for a long time. I also was suffering the same symptoms you were, thank you so much for talking about it.” So we definitely pull from our own lives. As far as the history ones go, that might be if one of us read a cool book about something recently or if we learn about a cool lady figure from history.
And to close things out — you are stranded on a desert island, you get to take with you one drink, one food, and feminist. What do you pick?
CC: I would bring a dirty martini and oysters. And for a feminist, I can’t not say Caroline!
CE: Oh god I was going to say you too! My food, normally I would say sandwiches, but I’d say a cheeseburger. And a drink would be a margarita. And a feminist that I would bring would be Cristen so we can keep doing our podcast from the island.
Suzanna Bobadilla wants to give a special shout out to Iris Gardner for inspiring this week’s Feministing Five. If you know someone that should appear on the Fem Five, give Suzanna a shout at @suzbobadilla