What’s Her Name: Feminist Podcasts and Remembering Women’s History

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Produced by Olivia Meikle and Katie Nelson, two sisters who teach history and gender and women’s studies at two
different universities, the What’sHerName women’s history podcast tells the stories of fascinating women you’ve never heard of, “but should have.” Launched in 2018, the podcast’s goal is to excavate the stories of women whose life stories were left out of our historical narratives and create a space for figures, from many different time periods, to reach into the present and connect with people today. Each episode of the podcast features an interview with a scholar, expert or author discussing the life of a forgotten or lesser-known historical woman. Meikle and Nelson then add context, commentary, and period-appropriate music to create a finished product. They have highlighted astronomers, philosophers, philanthropists, hot-air-balloonists, martyrs, madams, writers, and warriors. Featuring women’s stories from every time period and all around the globe, these stories prove that throughout all human history, women were making profound, lasting and daring contributions to the world.  And not in the background, as historians would have it — women played important roles at the forefront of innovation, the arts, politics, science, education, and leadership. The podcast is heard in over one hundred and fifty countries, and has had over 600,000 downloads.

Using Sue Morgan’s retrospective of theorizing feminist history, this chapter utilizes feminist academic scholarship, focusing on several areas of discussion related to the early theoretical developments in feminist and gender history, feminist history’s response to the ‘linguistic turn’, lesbian history, and the concept of ‘difference’ as examined in the writings of black feminists, post‐colonial critics and Third World scholars. I argue that in rewriting historical narratives through the insertion of women’s stories, the What’sHerName podcast advances feminist history in the digital era, and represents a renaissance in women’s history from its foundations as a second wave movement to applications in the age of social media.

In the 1960s-80s, second wave feminists used the ethos of “the personal is the political” to challenge patriarchy and enact the concept of solidarity, or “sisterhood”, in order to criticize the male domain of capitalism in the making, distributing, and consuming of culture. They used consciousness-raising groups to put women in conversation with one another and reclaim their common interests, including lost “herstories”.  They undermined hierarchies of artistic and educational production. Not without controversy, in continuity with civil rights, LGBT, counter-culture, anti-war, and anti-capitalist movements, they prototyped an intersectional approach to feminism, which we see echoed today as a hallmark of the #metoo era. What’sHerName is made by, for, and about women. It is a kind of virtual consciousness raising circle for women’s history. Forth wave feminist creators like Meikle and Nelson use these principles in the making of their podcast and represent a renaissance of second wave values. This chapter hopes to contribute to the gendered conversations about women, history, and value that is currently experiencing a resurgence thanks to the rise in popularity of feminist podcasts.