One of the pleasures of podcasting is the room it gives women to chew over shared life experiences. It is the ultimate safe space in which to discuss lady matters candidly and free from interruption. Among my preferred women-only pods are Unladylike, which answers listeners’ queries about sexism; Call Your Girlfriend, where two friends discuss everything from periods to politics; and The Guilty Feminist, in which women unpick the contradictions of 21st-century feminism in front of a live audience. While we’re hardly starved of podcasts made by and for men, increasing numbers of them are actively tackling themes around masculinity, among them The Modern Mann, A Gay and a NonGay, and comedian Russell Kane’s recently launched Boys Don’t Cry.
There is, clearly, value in keeping these gender-themed conversations separate, but what happens when men and women examine the issues together? Enter The Gender Knot, a transatlantic podcast co-hosted by the London writer and broadcaster Nastaran Tavakoli-Far and the American journalist and “token straight white guy” Jonathan Freeman. Now into its third season, the show aims to untangle concepts of masculinity and femininity and to thrash out gender differences, a common sense idea that nonetheless seems rather radical.
In each episode they invite an expert to help them grapple with issues such as why we’re scared of ambitious women, men and their feelings, and the extent to which self-worth stems from sex. Among the guests so far have been the relationship therapist Esther Perel, the gender-fluid actor Nico Tortorella and the author Mark Manson. While the topics are approached in a spirit of fair-mindedness and mutual respect, conversations can become heated and agreement isn’t always reached. This is very much the show’s appeal.
The latest episode is entitled Women in Business: What Should They Keep Doing? Tavakoli-Far speaks to the Seattle-based tech investor and author Jonathan Sposato who, since 2015, has invested exclusively in women-only startups. He describes how female entrepreneurs are “pushing a much larger rock up a steeper hill” to secure financial backing despite evidence showing that the greater the involvement of women, the better the products and profits. Examining the different ways male and female CEOs pitch and communicate, Sposato notes how men are likely to make outlandish claims about their new business while women are more measured and realistic, which is often interpreted as a lack of confidence. “Instead of telling women how to communicate differently, or how to speak differently, it’s high time to train men to listen better,” he says.
If some of the solutions proffered by The Gender Knot seem optimistic, there is still depth and nuance here. Tavakoli-Far in particular is a thoughtful interviewer who isn’t afraid of pushing guests on the stickier issues. It’s heartening to learn that, thus far, the podcast’s listenership has been 52 per cent male and 48 per cent female. This alone would seem like progress.
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