Our Final Answer on 'Too Many Women'

Tracy Wilson

Yesterday, we got this message to the Stuff You Missed in History Class inbox, under the subject line, "Female focused":

About a year ago a listener commented that your podcasts had become mostly about women. I was a relatively new listener and hadn't noticed a bias. After now listening intently for the past 12 months I'm tending to agree. Perhaps you could rename [the] podcast, stuff you missed in history class mostly about women.

Let me start by saying just how fed up we are of getting basically this exact same email (which we also get in the form of tweets and Facebook comments, and one-star reviews that we "only" talk about women). Our predecessors got this message, too. And we've pretty much handled it the same way. Even though it should not be a problem to talk about women more than we talk about men, we've gone back into the archive and looked, and what we've found is that a sound majority of our shows that could be classified as "men" or "women" are about men. Even through dedicated, continual effort to talk about women, we still don't even come close to a 50/50 split. (We also make a concerted effort to talk about other underrepresented groups, which does include men of various races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, religions, etc., which accounts for a big chunk of why we're nowhere close to parity in terms of gender.)

Because I was pretty irked at getting this exact same (incorrect) complaint yet another time, from yet another person who apparently hasn't heard about all the research examining that people perceive women as being more prevalent in a group than they really are, and probably also hasn't examined their own implicit bias, I decided to do a thorough look at all the episodes Holly and I have done together and answer this complaint one last, definitive time. Emphasis on the "last" ... anybody else who emails us about this is getting, at most, a link to this post, but we're just as likely to delete it unanswered at this point.

I sorted our episodes into five categories:

The ungendered episodes are about things or events that aren't easily classified as being about a particular gender - such as most of our "Unearthed!" series, episodes that discussed multiple people of different genders, or episodes that were about a whole community, like our recent show on the Deaf community on Martha's Vineyard. A lot of this was really a gut-level judgment, and many of them could have just as easily been filed under one of the two categories for men, but I was feeling generous. Only one (white weddings) could easily have been filed under women, had my gut felt differently when I was tallying last night.

To answer some anticipated questions: Two-part episodes count as two episodes. I counted the end of the "year" as the last of our Unearthed! episodes for that year, because that's what we consider the end of our year of programming. Trans men are men and trans women are women. We also have three podcasts on subjects whose gender was, in some ways, ambiguous: Joe Carstairs, Sylvia Rivera, and Christina of Sweden. (We discuss the ambiguity around their gender in each of those episodes, so I'm not going to re-explain the nuances here.) I considered putting these three subjects into a "gender-nonconforming" category, but, ultimately, because we used female pronouns for all three on the show, I included them in the totals for "women."

Our grand total:

  • 92 men or groups of men
  • 66 women or groups of women
  • 62 events primarily or exclusively about men
  • 4 events primarily or exclusively about women
  • 117 Ungendered subjects

There's a helpful pie chart of this breakdown at the top of this page, using the stereotypical blue-for-boys, pink-for-girls for added emphasis.

And, just to make it super clear that we haven't suddenly skewed only toward women's stories (which, even if we did, how is that a problem, exactly?) here's 2016 to date:

  • 10 men or groups of men
  • 11 women or groups of women
  • 8 events primarily or mostly about men
  • 0 events primarily or mostly about women
  • 14 ungendered episodes

Here's your chart.



2013, beginning in when we joined the show.

Allow me to suggest that if you think these charts represent a show that is "mostly about women" or talks about women "too much," that the problem is not us, our work, or our subject matter.