Women of the Hour

I don’t think I will ever get bored of talking about womanhood. It is my safe space, on and offline. Listening to other women’s experiences helps me to make sense of my own, of struggles I am included in, as well as those I am not.

I rarely feel this more keenly than when I am listening to Lena Dunham’s Women of the Hour podcast. Every week Dunham presents a different theme – friendship, work, sex and being trapped are some examples – and invites a variety of smart women to talk with her about it.

This show is honest, funny, painful and absolutely not, as I have seen it described ‘Girls in podcast form.’ Girls is a show built on satire, while Women on the Hour is all about sincerity.

To state a controversial opinion, I don’t believe Dunham deserves 90% of the shit she gets (the other 10%, I have to allow, but I don’t really think she messes up more than the average narcissist with a Twitter account (so, most users)). My arguments in favour of Lena Dunham are as follows:

  1. She is wildly, frequently and – I think – deliberately misquoted. As someone who has read her memoir multiple times (review here), I have had many frustrating arguments with people who haven’t about its contents. All this without even mentioning the ‘voice of a generation’ thing – a joke from the first season of Girls widely attributed as Dunham’s opinion of her work that she herself has accepted will likely be etched on her tombstone. Before judging Dunham – actually before judging anyone – please read the essay, listen to the interview or watch the show in question. The source material they provide will often give you a better idea of a person than clickbait designed for outraged sharing.
  2. I find it strange that in the television business, which is, let’s face it, mostly white men giving jobs to other white men, it is Lena Dunham who is held responsible for the diversity problem. Let’s be clear, we need all TV to look like Shondaland (if only), we need different voices and groups to be represented. The fault of the total whitewashing of TV however, lies with the majority of producers, directors and screenwriters (i.e. the white men) rather than Lena Dunham.
  3. Lena Dunham would get away with so much more if she was a man. The main reason she gets shit for her radical honesty, her open emotions and her mistakes is that she’s a woman. In a landscape overwhelmed with stories written by narcissistic men, one told by a narcissistic woman is jarring. Because she is – or she was, at the time Girls first came out, which was, let’s remember four years ago – one of few such amplified young female voices, she was given the task of representing everyone, an impossibility for anyone, let alone a bohemian rich white girl from New York. Male screenwriters like Josh Radnor and Dan Harmon – who are, for some reason, only ever expected to represent themselves – can spill their emotions all over screen, tie them up neatly with a joke and be considered great writers. If Lena Dunham does the same thing she is a selfish naval gazer with nothing better to do than obsess about herself. When men write introspective satire its art, when women do it, it’s considered self-indulgence. The response to Dunham’s entire career thus far demonstrates this.

Rant over. Or paused, anyway.

After every episode of Women of the Hour, I have to dedicate a morning to googling the work of every woman interviewed. Shows so far have introduced me to so many women whose work I am now such a fan of. Janet Mock, the writer and trans activist, Ashley C. Ford, a journalist who writes so beautifully it makes me want to cry, hug her and bash my own head against a wall (because I will never, in all my days, be as talented) all at once, Mindie Lind, a singer-song writer with no legs who rides around on a skateboard and Anastasia and Alba Somoza, disability activists who have campaigned for their whole lives for people with disabilities to get equal access to mainstream education.

Also, Gina Rodriguez was on it one time, and she was every bit as delightful as you would imagine.

Just listen to the show. The only way to judge Dunham’s work is to experience it yourself. Most of what is written about her is wrong.

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Podcast of the Month: The Bright Sessions

Up until this point, my radio drama listening has been sporadic at best. I liked the idea of a continuous story but hadn’t found anything that kept my attention enough to listen week-to-week. Then Ashley C. Ford tweeted about The Bright Sessions. I decided to check it out, and was obsessed immediately.

the bright sessionsThe Bright Sessions are the recorded appointments of Doctor Bright, a therapist for the strange and unusual. Her atypical patients include Sam, who travels in time when she panics, Caleb, an empath who can feel other people’s emotions, Chloe, a mind reader, and Damien. Doctor Bright won’t share what Damien can do, but she’s afraid of him.

Doctor Bright has a plan for her patients. She has chosen them carefully. She needs their abilities. We just don’t know what for.

There is just something so damn intriguing about this story. Doctor Bright is a figure half in shadow. We don’t know much about how she came to know of atypical people – she isn’t one herself. Sometimes it seems like she’s one of the good guys. Other times… not so much. It is difficult to get to her true motivations. Chloe catches glimpses of them in her head until Doctor Bright decides they would be better off doing their appointments over the phone (so Chloe’s ability won’t work).

Each revelation is delicious, and leaves you begging for more. The short twenty minute episodes never quite give enough time with the characters. Just as you start to feel that you’re getting a sense of them and Doctor Bright, they are snatched away from you again.

When I reached the end of the season I literally shouted NO in my kitchen and my brother rushed in to ask me if I was okay.

I was not! And I won’t be until the autumn, when season two begins.

I recommend downloading every episode and putting aside an afternoon to binge listen. Once you start this story, you’ll lose interest in pretty much everything else.

Podcast of the Month: Harmontown

Harmontown barged into my life like an unwanted guest a few months ago and took up residence. Despite my resentment, every week when the time comes, I download the next episode.

harmontownBeing a huge Community fan (with the exception of the gas leak year, obviously), I have been aware of Dan Harmon for some time. I, like most people, largely thought of him in terms of sitcoms and the incident with Chevy Chase. Then Harmontown (the documentary about the podcast) came onto Netflix and I watched it out of desperation on New Year’s Eve (I was psyching myself up to go out. I really hate NYE) in the hope that I would catch a few lingering shots of Joel Mchale, ideally shirtless.

So far as a shirtless Joel was concerned, I was left wanting, but what I found instead was a drunken idiot I was equal parts intrigued and disgusted by (Harmon). Watching that movie, I experienced for the first time the strange feeling of rooting for someone and wanting his girlfriend to break up with him simultaneously.

Harmontown (the podcast) is a live show featuring Harmon himself, obviously, comptroller Jeff Davis, dungeon master Spencer Crittenden (although they never really do that anymore) and (usually though not officially) Rob Schrab, Dan’s screen writer friend.

What it’s about is a little difficult to define.

Nerd culture plays a big part. Despite my frustrations with Marvel, I remain the sort of person who can listen to people get passionate about super heroes. Other times – the times when I start to wonder why I’m listening, incidentally – they talk about Dan’s Porn Hub addiction (the girlfriend – then wife, actually – did break up with him), and his thing with mannequin legs…

Schrab can always be relied on to do something ridiculous.

At its heart, though, Harmontown is its audience. It’s a community of weirdos in a safe space being weird together, and that’s reflected in the fact that Harmon doesn’t hesitate to pull audience members on stage for an interview if he thinks they might say something interesting. And – at least as far as I can tell – they are more than happy to oblige. Some of the time the conversations Harmon strikes up with adoring strangers are just silly, but other times the moment takes a turn into something more sincere. Sometimes he’ll talk to someone who’s chronically depressed, or someone he recognises as having had the same sort of childhood he did.

It’s part comedy show, part therapy session.

Sometimes part TMI.

But all the moving parts of this show connect into something generous, weird, and funny.

It’s a strange new obsession for me, this one.