Podcasts in France carve out a new and necessary space for women’s voices
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With women making up 53 percent of freelancers, 19 percent of editors-in-chief and a third of interviewees, there clearly is no gender parity in French media. A collective of women journalists, Prenons La Une, is determined to change that. Its spokesperson, Lauren Bastide, hosts a weekly podcast La Poudre. One of the most popular in France, it is devoted exclusively to women.
Lauren Bastide spent a decade working as news editor at Elle magazine, surrounded mainly by women. She admits she was probably "slightly protected" from discrimination and harassment.
But her experience as columnist on prime-time news-entertainment show Le Grand Journal was a true eye-opener.
“I realised that as a woman on television I was not expected to think much, I was more expected to smile," she says. "They were not expecting me to bring serious subjects to the table."
When she suggested talking about a feminist issue "they would ask for something fresher or funnier" and didn't encourage her to take part in the conversation either.
“It was really hard for me to be able to interrupt and speak when the issue was interesting to me.”
The mansplaining thing
The daily news programme had around 20 guests a week but only three or four of them were women.
Despite having watched plenty of television she'd never been aware of just how absent women were from prime-time news shows.
And when they did come on set "they were often mansplained, interrupted, a comic would come on the set and make a comment about their dress or their hair. That made me really angry."
After three months she left and decided to create her own podcast.
The need to let women speak
In November 2016 Bastide launched La Poudre (powder-puff), a simple formula where each week she interviews a strong woman in a hotel room for an hour.
Writers, activists, historians, women in entertainment...her guests have included leading rabbi Delphine Horvilleur, Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo, porn actress and writer Ovidie, actress Aïssa Maïga and French-Moroccan activist Latifa Ibn Ziaten whose police officer son was killed in the 2012 Toulouse terror attack.
With just over four million listens, it's become one of France’s most popular podcasts.
“La Poudre is nothing more than a one-hour space for a woman to speak about what she cares about, without being interrupted," says Bastide with a sigh. "It’s incredible, sad in a way, that people found this so revolutionary. I’m just letting my guests speak, but I guess there was a very strong need, a need for women’s voices in society."
She cites recent data by the CSA media watching showing only 31 percent of voices on French TV and radio are women.
La Poudre has encouraged other podcasts and Bastide says it's satisfying to have helped drive "this feminist podcast movement in France”.
Getting past the gatekeepers?
So the growing number of podcasts is getting more women’s voices and stories out there, but can they improve the situation for women journalists in the media overall?
“Podcasts are an incredible tool of freedom and I’m not surprised so many women journalists were inspired to create their own podcasts," Bastide explains, "because even when you try and push the walls from the inside, you’re always going to get a moment where the obstacles are bigger than you.
"It’s really hard to make the media change, especially in France where there is this big tradition of institutional medias created after WW2 and they were supposed to carry all these humanist and progressive values so it’s hard to criticise them.
"But they are also places where men are in charge a lot and when you’re a woman in this media you can be a warrior, you can want to change the world but you always end up being alone.”
Women journalists club together
There’s clearly work to be done to get past the male gatekeepers. Cue Prenons La Une (let's seize the front page) - a collective of women journalists lobbying for gender parity in the media and against harassment.
On 13 April they organised the first national gathering of women journalists in Paris. 350 women, including many young freelancers, came together to share experiences and come up with concrete strategies to put forward to the Ministry of Culture.
“We thought we had to organise a horizontal discussion,” says Bastide, the collective's spokesperson. “In feminist history, solutions often come out from women meeting together and sharing their experience because when you share what you’re going through you’re able to see what is part of the system and you understand how the same schemes are repeated over and again."
They reached four main conclusions: extra funding for newsrooms that respect gender parity; figures on the numbers of women in press and on the web; a module on sexism and homophobia in journalism schools; and the creation of a special status for women freelancers on maternity leave.
They also want an end to the wage gap, currently 300 euros per month in favour of male journalists.
“Prenons La Une has been fighting against the wage gap and pushing for women to take responsibilities for a long time," says Bastide, "and now the conversation is more about harassment and sexual harassment in the media. We think those two questions are basically linked. A woman cannot defend herself against a harasser, she cannot even speak out if she’s badly paid and in a precarious situation."
Sexual harassment in the workplace and online
The issue of sexual harassment hangs heavy in French media. In February this year a secret group of male French journalists known as the Ligue du LOL (the Laughing Out Loud League) was accused of coordinating an online campaign of harassment against mainly women writers and feminist activists.
The main outlets were liberal and left-leaning . . . Libération, Les Inrocks, Slate France, and Télérama . . . and the harassment so extreme that some women abandoned their careers in journalism altogether.
While Ligue du LOL was operational a decade ago, other sexist groups have since been outed.
"It's still going on," says Bastide. "There was a slag group in the Huffington Post and stories from Vice France."
“I’m very proud to be part of women journalists today," says Bastide, "because they are courageous enough as the women in the movie industry were a couple of years ago with #Metoo" (known in France as #balancetonporc).
In a sign of progress, Les Inrockuptibles culture mag recently appointed women as editor and deputy-editor.
“Marie Kirschen, the new editor, is an active member of our association, so we take it quite personally," Bastide laughs. "But I think they had no choice, they couldn’t name anyone other than a feminist woman after what happened.”
Underrepresentation of women can no longer be ignored
"I think we're moving forward, I'm quite optimistic," says Bastide. We made a lot of noise and it's hard now to ignore the question of misrepresentation of women in the media and inside the newsroom. I think it's changing. And the more women are in charge, the more women will be in charge!”
Encouragingly, La Poudre also has an increasing number of male listeners.
"There's still a big majority of women but we're reaching especially young men who come to some of our public recordings."
While Bastide admits it's probably often a daughter, mother or sister who's sitting the men down and putting headphones on their heads "listening to individual women's stories makes things more concrete and accessible to them".
Women's stories in English
There were a few non-French women Bastide desperately wanted to interview so she did it in English. British writer and journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge on her book Why I'm no longer talking to white people about race and Greenland author Niviaq Korneliussen's book Homo Sapienne about four queer characters. Bastide says both works have had a big impact on her.
And three episodes from La Poudre's first season have been dubbed into English: prize-winning author Leila Slimani, journalist Sophie Fontanel who's written about letting your hair grow grey, and movie director and Afro-feminist Amandine Gay whose ground-breaking film Ouvrir la voix gave a voice to black women in France.
"I was interested to see if La Poudre could go international and hope there’ll be more." The ball's in our court.
This interview was done for RFI's new Spotlight in France podcast.