The Bindercast is billed as the only podcast exclusively devoted to female and gender non-conforming writers who are working across genres and fields of writing. At first I thought, seriously? It’s 2016 and this is the only podcast produced by and devoted to women’s voices? Sadly, it’s true. A quick scan through podcasts for writers indicates there is not one, I repeat, not one that is hosted, produced, and dedicated to women’s voices listed among the top programs.
The Bindercast smashes the Bechdel-Wallace Test named after Alison Bechdel, the MacArthur Award-winning writer/illustrator of Fun Home who coined the test of gender bias in her 1985 comic, Dykes to Watch Out For. According to the test, every work should follow these three criteria: 1) it has to contain at least two women, who 2) talk to each other, about 3) something besides a man.
Launched in December 2015, The Bindercast is a production of Out of the Binders, Inc., nonprofit dedicated to increasing the diversity of voices in the media. Back in October of 2012, then Presidential candidate Mitt Romney answered a question about gender pay inequality by saying that his staff brought him “binders full of women” who were qualified to become members of his cabinet. Romney’s comments nearly broke the Internet, and although they inspired many parodies they also inspired plenty of outrage.
Fueled by Romney’s comments, Leigh Stein and Lux Alptraum formed Out of the Binders, an organization devoted to advancing the careers of women and gender non-conforming writers. The group has since sponsored highly successful bicoastal conferences called Bindercon whose aim it is to connect writers “with the skills, knowledge, and networking opportunities they need to get ahead.”
In each episode, The Bindercast tackles vexing questions with humor, intelligence, and the occasional expletive. Issues such as whether to write for free, how to balance art with a day job, whether women need permission to tell their stories, and how to deal with internet trolls, to name a few. It is co-hosted by Stein and Alptraum, and produced by Jennifer Lai.
I listened to the first podcast on the train returning from my second Bindercon in New York City. The episode featured Roxane Gay and Emily Gould. It is said that a good indicator of diversity is looking across the room and seeing a familiar face mirrored back, but with the Bindercast, a good indication is hearing familiar voices inside your head. So when I heard Gay—a writerly idol of mine—say “I’m just a girl who likes to write,” it felt like a rallying cry.
The Bindercast asks and allows audiences to listen to women. Although its main audience is women and gender non-conforming writers, these conversations need to be heard by male ears and can also be valuable to creatives in all fields. The lone criticism of The Bindercast is that it could be marketed more widely to these audiences. But that, too, is a circular argument, because a podcast by women, for women, and about women wouldn’t need to exist if there was already sufficient space for a diversity of voices.
Hearing is identifying.
In a recent episode, “Jillian Lauren Doesn’t Need Your Permission,” bestselling memoirist Jillian Lauren holds forth on the difficulties of balancing her family’s feelings about her writing (she says she felt her parents disowned her after her first memoir), and what it takes to craft a memoir that sells in a over-saturated market. Her latest book, Everything You Ever Wanted, is about the adoption of her son Tariku from Ethiopia.
As someone struggling with those very same issues in writing my own essay collection about adoption, it was empowering to hear her say “I haven’t always had control over some of the things that have happened in my life, but I do have control over the story of them.”
Most recently, The Bindercast talked with Aparna Nancherla, who went from stand-up comedy to the writer’s room at Late Night with Seth Meyers and FX’s Totally Biased. Alptraum points out that when Nancherla got her gig with Totally Biased, the writer’s room was pretty diverse with three women writers, “which is sadly considered a high number.”
One time we were pitching a story where they had come out with like, yogurt catered to men,” Nancherla said. And we were trying to address gendered products period … and we pitched it in the room and the guys were like, ‘Oh, is yogurt a girl thing?’ and we were like, ‘Have you never seen a yogurt commercial?’ It was a bizarre moment … because when you have all men in the room they can’t represent what’s really going on, and they can’t argue because they’re clearly missing something that’s right in front of their faces … you can only really represent your own.
The Bindercast succeeds in representing the experiences of women writers who tell their success stories, and talk honestly about their failures. In doing so, they dissect the daily struggle to keep writing. Doing so gives struggling and established women writers the agency to persist.
“I think you have to write for free at some points in your career to get started, but I think you have to write for free for outlets that deserve your writing,” said Roxane Gay in the first Bindercast episode.
So never write for free for an ugly website, for one, I mean that doesn’t even make sense, and you want to write for free for a magazine that can give you exposure so you have to be savvy. I wrote for free for many, many, years, it didn’t even cross my mind that I could ask for money, which was my fault, but you know we [women] tend to sell ourselves short, but then slowly but surely people will start to offer you money, and at first the money seems negligible but it’s still compensation which is very nice and then, if you’re lucky and you work hard—it’s a combination of both hard work and luck—you can get to a place where you can say no to writing for.
The Bindercast punctuates advice-loaded episodes with bonus readings by the writers they interview. You can hear, among others, Emily Gould read from her book, Friendship, or Morgan Parker reading In Search of Morgan, Season Three, Episode Twenty-Four, or Jillian Lauren reading from Everything You Ever Wanted.
VIDA and the annual VIDA count remind us that women’s voices matter, and that the nature of literature, and how we talk about writing, is changing. In that respect, The Bindercast is an important bellwether for marshaling diverse voices beyond the white .
When Hillary Clinton is accused of vocal , and repeatedly implored by white males to smile more, or when the participants at Bindercon are shouted down and harassed on Twitter by @as well as a cabal of angry men, then certainly we need more women’s voices.
Listening to women is a form of political action.
Also available at Stitcher http://app.stitcher.com/browse/feed/77091/details
Produced by Jennifer Lai
Cohosted by Leigh Stein and Lux Alptraum
Logo design by Ruth Tam
Megan Cullhane Galbraith is a 2016 Saltonstall Fellow and Director of the GIV/Young Writers Institute at Bennington College. You can find her work at Catapult, PANK, Literary Orphans, and Hotel Amerika, among other places. Her essay, “Sin Will Find You Out,” was a Longreads Pick of the Day and No. 3 in The Top 5 Longreads of the Week (March 2016). She is at work on a collection of linked essays titled The Guild of the Infant Saviour. She is a graduate of the Bennington Writing Seminars. Connect @megangalbraith