What to listen to this International Women's Day: Inspiring podcasts and speeches for today and beyond
From Oprah’s Golden Globes moment to CBC’s Finding Cleo, these audio picks are worth multiple replays
March is Women's History Month and on the 8th falls International Women's Day — a time we aim to honour trailblazing figures who fought to make the world more welcoming of women's humanity and ambition, celebrate the Canadians whose work in fields like STEM, education and the arts continues to inspire us, and devour stories that challenge us to reflect on the experiences of women across the globe.
If you're an audiophile, like me, who's jumped face first into the podcast phenomenon we're living through, you've come to the right place. Below you'll find a collection of podcasts and speeches by women that uplift, educate, make us feel warm and cozy or maybe just a little less alone — all sorted according to whatever audio experience you may be looking for.
If you want to learn about women who've been left off the front pages
I was taken with this podcast from The Wing (a chain of co-working spaces for women with locations across the United States) upon hearing its focus would be on women throughout history "who were too bad for your textbooks." Aside from being a snappy tagline, it's a framing that feels especially vital in our current cultural moment as we begin to reexamine our once-trusted storytellers, and how their outlooks may have influenced whose stories got told and how. The storyteller at the helm of No Man's Land is Alexis Coe, The Wing's in-house historian. With each episode, Coe's thorough research and thoughtful probing helps paint a fuller portrait of defiant women who've been overlooked by society in some way — from LGBTQ activists of the early 20th century, to artists whose sensational deaths have eclipsed their pioneering work. Start right from episode one, which centres on "Queenie" aka Stephanie St. Clair, who ran an underground gambling ring in 1920s Harlem that provided the black community with a place to invest their money when no banks would take it, yet whom has still somehow not been the subject of a major Hollywood biopic.
You've probably seen the headlines about Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics team doctor who's been accused of sexual assault of over 300 women and girls. Maybe you even watched as those survivors — some famous, many not — addressed Nassar in court last January, their voices shaking yet steadfast in their admonishment of both him and the system that covered his tracks for decades. Believed, a limited-run podcast from Michigan Radio and NPR, is not just a story about Larry Nassar. Rather, it's an equally painful and hopeful attempt to answer one of the resounding questions of the #MeToo movement: how did this all happen, and keep happening for so long?
By centreing each episode on one woman's story, moving chronologically through Nassar's career, the series puts a strikingly human face on this enormous tragedy, highlighting that survivors are anything but a monolith. And while it's worth tuning in just to learn about the resilient women who risked so much to see Nassar brought to justice, hosts and journalists Kate Wells and Lindsey Smith do a remarkable job of anchoring the series with strong reporting and an optimistic outlook that never overshadows the story they're trying to tell.
This award-winning podcast hosted by CBC journalist Connie Walker is anything but your average true crime fare, though it does focus on a missing person, a web of misinformation and a family plagued by grief. Cleopatra Nicotine Semaganis was a young Cree girl when she was taken from her community in 1970s Saskatchewan as part of the Sixties Scoop, and separated from her siblings, who were adopted into different (non-Indigenous) families. While the other Semaganis siblings all reconnected as adults, they were unable to find Cleo and presumed her to be dead, maybe even murdered, though the question of what really happened to her continued to loom large.
Walker's investigation starts with one single photograph of Cleo — the only tangible memory the siblings had of their sister — and through careful reporting and countless interviews, she weaves a story that transcends the classic true crime structure by shedding light on the real, human suffering stemming from our country's treatment of the Indigenous population. Walker is also able to pull off something most true crime podcasts cannot: she actually answers the question that sparked this whole investigation and finds out what happened to Cleo once and for all. And while she retains a professional and journalistic tone throughout, it's clear the heartbreaking story is also personal for Walker, who is herself Cree and from Saskatchewan; it brings a real emotional undercurrent to the storytelling that keeps you listening right to the end.
If you want to feel like you're at brunch with your smart, badass besties
Hysteria strikes the exact balance I look for in weekly podcasts: it provides thoughtful, fact-based commentary on current events, while still dishing out a retort on the Real Housewives that'll send the coffee I'm sipping straight into my nose. It's name — a cheeky send-up of the condition women get charged with when exhibiting behaviour that thought to be unruly — also embodies the show's tone. And it applies that tone evenly whether the topic at hand is the ongoing fight for reproductive justice in the United States, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez's big cape energy or a broader issue like the triumphs and limits of female friendships or what we're actually supposed to do with all that student debt we've accumulated.
The Crooked Media original is hosted by Daily Beast and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia writer Erin Gloria Ryan, who's joined each week by a rotating group of women co-hosts including Alyssa Mastromonaco, former Deputy Chief of Staff to President Obama, comedians Grace Parra and Kiran Deol, actor Michaela Watkins and more. While juggling that many voices and opinions in one show could feel chaotic in less capable hands, here it adds a free-flowing looseness to the conversation. It's also one of those jump-in-wherever-and-you'll-be-fine kind of podcasts, so start with the latest ep, then work your way back through the archive at your leisure.
Nora Ephron, the witty scribe who practically defined the modern rom-com by penning classics like When Harry Met Sally and You've Got Mail, has always had a sort of big-sister-telling-you-about-her-bad-date quality. That shines through clearly in this commencement speech she delivered at her alma mater in 1996, which has come to be one of the most well-known of its kind. It's rife with her signature brand of self-deprecating personal anecdotes, the motivational mantras these talks tend to be littered with and a pointed analysis of how women in the public eye were being treated at the time. Ephron's speech still feels eerily relevant in a way that makes you wonder how much progress the last twenty years has really brought, but that also makes for a particularly impactful listen. Despite all of that, Ephron keeps things lighthearted, urging the listener to "embrace the mess" of life, "take things personally" when your gut tells you to, "break the rules" and make "trouble on behalf of women" everywhere — all welcome reminders any day of the year.
Aside from acting as a excuse to hear the infectious Robyn track of the same name pulse through your headphones, Call Your Girlfriend feels like a weekly cozy couch chat with your closest pal — if both of you were incredibly well-researched and at your pithiest. Touted as a "podcast for long-distance besties everywhere," the show is co-hosted by New York-based digital strategist and writer Aminatou Sow and L.A.-dweller, journalist Ann Friedman who pride themselves on maintaining the healthy mix of high-brow and low-brow discussions that make CYG so compelling. Featuring interviews with badass women like legendary activist Gloria Steinem and feminist journalist Rebecca Traister, and meditative chats on topics like Instagram-induced existential dread and the messy coalition that is the Women's March organization, it's a podcast that never fails to ditch its warm-blanket quality even when tackling the tough stuff.
If you could use a little inspiration (and maybe a good cry)
Wanda Robson — sister to civil rights activist Viola Desmond, whose likeness and legacy is now eternalized on our ten dollar bill — may not be a name you've heard before, but once she starts speaking, her quick timing and comfortable wit will make you feel like you've known her for your whole life. When she took the stage at Historica Canada's Black History Month celebration in Halifax back in 2016, Robson, then in her early 90s, made it her mission to not only commemorate the work and bravery of her sister, but turn her family's story into a larger lesson about the importance of education in the fight for equality in this country. In the span of fourteen minutes, she urges the listener to reflect while frankly describing the racism she and her sister faced as young women in 1940s Nova Scotia, elicits giggles while ribbing her husband for interrupting her flow and brings up a whole swarm of dueling emotions as she shares her own post-secondary path, which she embarked on at age 73. And since you probably won't be able to get enough of Robson's inspiring grit and insatiable joie de vivre after hearing to her speak, continue the listening party by checking out more of her words here and here.
It was obvious from the moment it ended that Winfrey's speech acceptance speech at last year's Golden Globes ceremony would be one for the ages, and revisiting her words a year later crystalizes that even more. Rather than using her time to thank her team or deliver aimless anecdotes about her Hollywood cohorts (hi, Jeff Bridges), Winfrey delivered a powerful reflection on the budding #MeToo movement that didn't centre the couture-sporting celebrities in the room — all donning black in solidarity with Time's Up — but instead called attention to domestic workers, like Winfrey's own mother, and other working class women whose stories of sexual harassment and assault don't typically get top story status in The New York Times — or any publication for that matter. Speaking with a measured confidence that sparked rumours of a presidential run (and reminded us why she's the best at this whole thing), Winfrey shared the impact that figures like Sidney Poitier, Rosa Parks and Recy Taylor had on her life and career before presenting her thesis: that "speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have." And as she wraps the whole thing up by proclaiming in her iconic bellow that "a new day is on the horizon," you start to believe it, too. *Sniff*
Intrepid seventh-grader Aubrey Urbshott took home award after award for this smart, pensive speech delivered in 2016 to a room full of adults who are audibly struck by her poise and message. You will be too. Urbshott begins by greeting the crowd in Ojibwe and explains right off the bat why the topic she's about to speak on is so pressing to her: Urbshott herself is Indigenous and "a girl." While her speech mainly functions as a factual overview of the inquiry into the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls of Canada and the significance of wearing red to honour those whose untimely deaths went unrecognized for so long, her words convey a unique sense of urgency, reminding us that so many of these victims look and sound just like her — curious, ripe with the capacity to bring meaningful change and deserving of our care and protection. Skip to 2:00 in to get right to her speech, and spend your International Women's Day filled with hope for the next generation and the resolve to help them flourish.