Prologue. As I’ve noted before, I listen to a lot of podcasts. Perhaps too many, as it takes a lot of work to keep current; this is partially because there is such a resurgence in the number of really good podcasts. I’m learning about more and more everyday, and there just isn’t time to listen to the podcasts that sound interesting. Now I’m “old-school” on my podcast listening: I actually download them daily to an actual iPod, as opposed to using streaming data to listen to them on a mobile platform. I find that I can only listen to spoken-word podcasts in certain environments (primarily those where I’m not consciously using the “reading” portion of my brain): driving, shopping, working out, walking. Further, I can’t just sit back and listen — if I do that, I’ll fall asleep (which I blame on conditioning from the vanpool). As a result, I’m regularly backed up on podcasts; my typical backlog is on the order of 15 podcasts, not counting Woodsongs.
Boy, I’m starting to feel like Ira Glass opening an episode of This American Life (one of the podcasts I listen to).
So the other day, I’m shopping at Trader Joes and listening to a recent episode of the Startup podcast. Startup was the first podcast from Gimlet Media, and originally told the story of the startup of Gimlet. It has gone on to look at other startups, such as DatingRing, but it occasionally tells Gimlet’s story. Right now, they are doing a half-season on Gimlet, and the latest show tackled the question of Diversity.
I strongly urge you to give it a listen. This episode explores the level of diversity of Gimlet Media. Although they have made an effort for male/female balance, they are working to correct a significant white/people of color balance. The episode explores why that divide exists, how diversity begets more diversity, and why the question of diversity is more than skin deep. That’s meant to be literal: for there are questions of diversity across religion, orientation, political spectrum, etc. Alex Bloomberg of Gimlet rightly points out why diversity is so important: it enables them to tell a better story that exposes all sides of an issue.
This post consists of three acts (no, that’s not right). Well, there are three articles that came across my feeds this week that illustrate this so well.
Act I: Dating Apps. The first was a post by Ferrett Steinmetz over on LJ (you do remember LJ, right). It explores a new dating app: this time it is one developed by women for women. Dating is similar to porn, in that what women want and need in the experience is often drastically different than men, and yet it is mostly a male-centric industry that is producing the product. This results in an inherent bias in the product towards the male point of view. Nowhere is it clearer than this dating app: whereas men want to see the widest variety of women, the women only care about those men who are somewhat local, who are congruent on interests, and who have a mutual interest in them. In fact, it restricts the profiles that you can see to those where there is a mutual match of criteria. This is a clear example of what a different perspective can bring, and why that perspective is so important.
Act II: Wearing the Hijab. The second was an article in the Washington Post, which was subsequently echoed by other outlets such as NPR. The article looked at the recent movement to support Muslim women by wearing head scarves as a show of solidarity. The problem? No one asked Muslim women what they thought about this. Modern Muslim women haven’t adopted the headscarf out of choice or even out of religious reasons; it has been forced upon them by the male-dominated atmosphere of Islam. They would prefer an approach that actually encouraged Islam to liberalize its attitude towards woman, instead of reminding them of their second class citizen status. It is as if society said they wanted to support Jews by dressing in long black frock coats, growing long beards, and wearing tzittzit and kippot. So where did the headscarf notion come from? People who did not understand the Islamic culture, but “meant well.”
Act III: The Theatre. Broadway Bullet, Episode 608, was specifically focused on women’s voices and diversity in the theatre. Again, this is an issue I’ve brought up many a times — as recent as last week, in fact. In order to draw audiences to the theatre, we need to have diversity in the writing of the shows. We need diversity in the casting so that what is on stage reflects what is (or what should be) in the audience. We need diversity in the back and front of house production and creative positions as well. This diversity ensures we hear the voices we need to hear. But far too often, theatre go for what is safe, and that is shows often by white men aimed towards the white mindset.
Post-Logue. These are just three examples, and show why diversity is so important, and is so much more than tokenism. It is a change of attitude, a desire to bring not only diverse people but diverse viewpoints to issues. These articles — and it is emphasized in the Startup Podcast — show how these diverse viewpoints can improve the end product, often by coming at issues from a very different place and experience.
P.S.: You’re probably wondering why I chose the userpic. Two Gentlemen of Verona — at least the musical version from the New York Shakespeare Festival — was one of the first productions that emphasized diversity and color-blind casting. It wasn’t a bunch of white men spouting Shakespeare.
P.P.S.: So what podcasts do I listen to? Here’s the current subscription list: The Allusionist, BackStory, Broadway Bullet, The Ensemblist, Freakonomics; Gastropod; Invisibilia; Irish and Celtic Music Podcast; LA Observed; Opening the Curtain; The Moth; NPR Technology; Planet Money; The Producers Perspective; Quirks and Quarks; Reply All; Science Friday; The Specialist; Startup; Theater People; This American Life; Wait, Wait, Dont’ Tell Me; The Woodsongs Old-Time Radio Hour; and 99% Invisible. There are quite a few more I’d love to add to the list, but I just don’t have the time. [ETA: Over the weekend, I added Surprisingly Awesome and Answer Me This.]