Pro-Feminist Podcasting 101: What Is It? And What Can It Do?

Microphone with blurred background

Anti-feminist content by and for men is everywhere online. Social media influencers like Andrew Tate have risen to global prominence and notoriety in the past few years as the ‘manosphere’ of sexist and violence-supportive online forums and digital media continues to grow. But what about pro-feminist digital media? Dr Stephen Burrell and I recently analyzed the emergent practice of engaging men and boys in gender justice through pro-feminist podcasts in an open access journal article in Masculinities and Social Change. We looked into podcasts because they are an increasingly popular form of digital media and because boys and men make up a disproportionate amount of podcast users. Further, feminist and pro-feminist podcast creators have increasingly engaged with this medium as a new way of educating, organizing, and mobilizing men for social change.

In our research, we distinguish pro-feminist podcasts, those focused on engaging men in feminism, from feminist podcasts which address different or broader feminist issues. However, it is important to make clear that boys and men can, should, and do listen to feminist podcasts too. Our research focuses on the specifics of pro-feminist podcasts in order to examine their potential as a complementary approach to engaging men - not as a replacement for a robust feminist foundation.

Our research makes three main contributions that can support scholars, practitioners, activists, and everyday podcast listeners of all backgrounds in better understanding pro-feminist podcasts and their potential. In other words, what are pro-feminist podcasts and to what extent can they support engaging boys and men in gender justice?

First, we situate pro-feminist podcasting within the wider multidisciplinary literatures on critical podcasting pedagogies. Our review shows how scholars in fields ranging from Peace and Conflict Studies, to Sociology, to Gender and Critical Race Studies have explored podcasting as an intimate and creative way to effectively and affectively engage learners, amplify voices, and build communities of resistance for marginalised groups. However, our review also reveals that the overall empirical evidence on the effectiveness of podcasting as an educational method is mixed, and that such work comes with distinct challenges and risks. Critical podcasting is not a quick fix or necessarily an effective or efficient approach to addressing the persistent, pervasive, and systemic problems of gender inequality and violence.

Second, we review the current landscape of English language pro-feminist podcasts available on major platforms like Apple Podcasts and Spotify. We identify two main categories of pro-feminist podcasting. First, some podcast shows focus specifically and entirely on engaging men and pro-feminism, examples include What’s A Man, Let’s Talk Bruh, Breaking the Boy Code, Man Enough, Remaking Manhood, Modern Manhood, and Now and Men. Second, other podcasts are general interest shows, often with more resources and larger distribution networks, that feature single or multiple episodes on engaging men in pro-feminist ideas including TED Radio Hour, NPR’s Hidden Brain, The Guardian’s Football Weekly, and ABC Australia’s Big Ideas. In summary, our review shows there is a growing and diverse collection pro-feminist podcasts currently available.

Third, drawing on insights from feminist scholarship and the critical study of men and masculinities, we examine the benefits, challenges, and risks of pro-feminist podcasting. We discuss the benefits of using podcasts to reach more men, provide engaging entry points, use their conversational style to deepen and personalize learning, and support pro-feminist community building. We contend that pro-feminist podcasts have the potential to be a transgressive cultural counterweight to figures like Andrew Tate and the ‘manosphere’ by highlighting more egalitarian forms of masculinities that challenge dominant cultural norms.

However, we also outline key challenges in producing such podcasts related to the time, expertise, and resources they require. Most notably, getting men to actually listen is a major obstacle to their potential impact. Further, it is not clear who it is that’s listening to these podcasts. Are they reaching men who are already engaged in pro-feminist work and activism? Or is this digital medium reaching new audiences who might not otherwise engage with pro-feminist ideas? Our insights outline how podcasts could potentially be used to engage, educate, and mobilize men, but more research is needed to better understand who is listening, how, why, and to what effect.

Further, there are clear risks in pro-feminist podcasting too. We discuss multiple tensions, contradictions and struggles involved in pro-feminist podcasting - as is the case with all forms of engaging men - which make clear this is not something to be entered into lightly, and must be undertaken with care, reflexivity, and accountability. As we write in the article, "This work involves a continuous dilemma of how to critically highlight issues of masculinity, and provide feminist-informed examples of men defying masculine norms, without further centring men’s positions, voices and experiences in the spotlight."

In conclusion, we argue anti-feminist groups have more effectively used online media to garner public support among men than pro-feminists to date. Thus, podcasting and other forms of digital media and arts can - and must - be an essential domain to expand engaging men research and practice. More scholarship is needed in this area to better understand how and why pro-feminist podcasts are made, who is listening to them, and to what extent such engagement supports more gender-equal and less violence supportive beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors in men.

Interested in listening to pro-feminist podcasts about men and masculinities? XY online has a growing catalog of podcast shows and episodes examples available and my colleague Dr Stephen Burrell recently wrote an article about the Now and Men podcast he co-hosts with Sandy Ruxton.

Link to the open access journal article: 

William McInerney is a research officer at the London School of Economics' Centre for Women Peace and Security.