An introduction to The Story of Woman: what’s the story?

[00:00:00] Section: [00:00:00] Podcast introduction

[00:00:01] Overdub: [00:00:00] Hello, welcome to The Story of Woman, the podcast exploring what a man-made world looks like when we see it through her eyes. Woman's perspective is missing from our understanding of the world. This podcast is on a mission to change that. I’m your host, Anna Stoecklein Lau and each episode I'll be speaking with an author about the implications of her absence - how we got here, what still needs to be changed, and how telling her story will improve everyone's next chapter.

[00:00:34] Anna: Hello. Welcome friends. Thank you so much for being here. My name is Anna Stoecklein Lau and I am thrilled to be in your ears right now. I wanted to set the scene for this podcast it and what I mean by the story of woman and why I think it's so important because as you probably already know woman hasn't exactly been a main character in our story so far.

And when I say "woman" in The Story of Woman, I mean the group of female identifying humans, both historically and today. And I wanted to clarify that because we don't often hear the term "woman" used in this way, because when we talk about a group of humans, we usually say man or mankind.

And that is part of what I have a problem with. Not exactly the grammar itself, though language does shape our ideas and the way that we think. So when we say "man" we do actually imagine a man and that has much wider implications that we won't have time to get into today. But the real problem I have is that man, doesn't just represent woman grammatically those words are a representation of a much deeper problem, a problem that's been around well, pretty much forever. So in this episode, I'm going to tell you a bit more about that story. And then at the end, I'll tell you about how this podcast is trying to solve for that problem. 

Transition music?
[00:01:56] Anna: So I grew up in the middle of America. Hey to all my St. Louis crew out there! But in the middle of America, in the community, I grew up in, feminism wasn't a thing. It was never acknowledged or talked about, so it's not something that ever really crossed my mind.

 One reason for this was because of the privilege I, and many others in my community enjoyed as white, middle-class, able-bodied and able minded people. But the story I was told, and the story I told myself, was that equality had been achieved and feminism was a thing of the past, fought and won. And when I looked back, I could see that I was in fact better off than my ancestors, so I believed that story. But of course this story was missing some key pieces of information. For example, it didn't take into account that there isn't a single country on the planet in which women collectively don't have less money and less economic opportunity than men. 

Or that globally one in three women will experience violence in her lifetime with, on average, one woman killed by someone in her own family, every 11 minutes. Or that one in five girls in the world are married before 18. Or the 830 women die every day from preventable causes related to pregnancy. Or that at the current rate, gender equality in the highest positions of power will not be reached for another 130 years.

None of this was included in the story And you may wonder, well, why not? These all seem like pretty important points of information to consider when forming an opinion on the cause of feminism. And there are a lot of different answers to that question, most of them true, but I believe the core of it is that these things weren't taken into account because the story was never looked at through woman's perspective. If it had, we would have seen all of those things and it would have been a very different story. 

That example of my community and my younger years is a very obvious example to help demonstrate the much larger problem, which is that woman's perspective is missing from everything. Firstly, because man has designed and led every aspect of our world from creating our nations and our governments to our medical and educational institutions, to our religions and our language. And of course, even writing our history. Our story. 

 But also even when we do tell the story of woman, it's something separate from the story of humankind, she gets her own special category. I mean, think about it, there is soccer or football, and then there is women's soccer and women's football. There are scientists, and then there are women's scientist, all of those stats, I just rattled off? Women's issues, something separate as if the existence of those problems doesn't impact all of humanity. I mean, we literally say it's a man's world and call all humans, man. So in that kind of world, women our niche. 

If we are authors, for example, and we don't want to be considered niche because we want to appeal to all people, we might write under a pen name, like J K Rowling, or we may opt for a man's name or even "anonymous" as has been done by women for centuries, just to be considered human first, instead of a special category of human. 

In this world, men are the standard and women are kind of slight deviation away from him. You know, "a man's a person" and "a woman's a woman". And I'm far from the first person to point this out. Simone de Beauvoir famously called women "the second sex" in her book of the same name and more recently, Caroline Criado Perez coined the term "invisible women" in her book of the same name, writing about the default male culture that we live in, where we see humans as kind of male, unless proven otherwise.

 And we don't even have time to get into all the ways this belief has been described by men throughout the years. Like Aristotle who called women "mutilated males" or Charles Darwin who believed women were less evolved than men and that any attempt to educate them could damage the process of evolution. Or Freud who saw man as the standard and woman as a castrated man with penis envy. And if you have not taken psychology 1 0 1, I promise that's a real thing. I did not make it up. 

 So the bigger problem is that our entire world was built with women in this separate, special category. With woman's story and perspective, not taken into account. Some consequences of this are very clear, the wage gap, lack of representation and leadership, communities that think feminism is a thing of the past,, but because this is how it's always been, most consequences are kind of centuries long ripple effects that are so deeply embedded into our world, that they are all but impossible to see... unless you are looking. And that is essentially the premise of this podcast. I'm interviewing authors of non-fiction books that explore all the different parts of our world from woman's perspective, exposing all of these ripple effects and the consequences of leaving women out. Our world is shaped by gender. So when one half is left out, the story of humankind becomes something else entirely. because We don't have the full picture right now. By adding women back in, we can begin to really understand our world and discover a better path forward for all people. And this is the only way we will change the story of mankind to the story of humankind.

And the kicker to all of them, part two of this story, is that gender, that is the classification of man and woman, is completely made up. We humans invented it and then put people into two different boxes, one labeled man, the other labeled woman and characterized each box with certain traits and abilities and expectations. One box can rule the world and the other box can change all of the nappies. Or diapers change all the diapers. This is probably a good place to give the disclaimer that I am an American living in London. So you may notice a combination of British and American English because I can no longer control it. 

But anyway, all of this about gender may be old news to some of you and brand new to others. That's why I think it's just worth mentioning up front that gender is different from sex, which refers to the biological characteristics like chromosomes, hormones, reproductive organs. Gender interacts with sex, but it's different. It's the made up part. And it's not to say that it's not important or that it doesn't have a role in society or that biology has nothing to do with it, but just like money isn't real, but a collective belief and agreement we all share about its value, gender is also socially constructed.

I heard Glennon Doyle, the author of Untamed, describe it like an act or a performance that we all have to put on in order to fit into society. So there's a woman act and there's a man act. And each comes with their own set of rules and expectations, their own supposed skills and character traits and even their own costumes. And if you don't follow the performance that is expected of you, you're punished. So men who cry are weak and women who are ambitious are aggressive and unlikable. And because it's made up, gender varies from society to society and can change over time. That's why in some societies today, men wear what others would classify as skirts and dresses. And in the past, men wore long wigs and heels and the color pink was a boy colour. 

And to build on that performance analogy. If being a man or a woman is an act, we know that each role is as equally important to society and that the show can not go on without both parts, but the stage that we are on has been imagined, created and defined by men. They have written and directed the show. They have assigned themselves the most meaningful and heroic parts all while giving women the supporting roles. But just giving women equal parts will not make them equal, as long as the script, the props, the stage and the direction are all still held by men. The basic inequality between us lies within the framework: the stage, set, props, script, direction, which is why we need to rebuild the framework, and we need to rewrite the story.

And of course it's not the differences between men and women that we should be focusing on anyway, because we are so much more alike than we are different. And when we divide humans into categories and assign certain traits, personalities, and behaviors, what we do is we restrict the other half from getting to experience those. So no one is able to be fully human because they don't have access to what's in the other box. 

And also it's not to say that those who identify as women, aren't more nurturing or more empathy. on average or that men aren't more physically strong or more aggressive, on average. But first of all, that is an average and can't be applied to all individuals. And also there is so much social gendered film on top of how we currently live in the world that we don't know what is truly a bit more natural for men and women, because our world is shaped by gender and from the day you are born society's rules about gender influences who you become in the world.

So these are a few reasons why woman's story is so important. Number one, so we can understand and begin to correct for all these centuries long ripple effects that are deeply embedded into all of our countries, our institutions, and even into ourselves. Number two, by adding her back into our main narrative, we can begin to understand what it means to be fully human, and then we can begin to live as such. And thirdly, on a more basic and personal level, because gender shapes our entire world, just knowing this information and how it shapes your life, the people you interact with, your experiences, your workplace, your home, everything, even the way you view yourself, it's going to make life better because you're going to understand it better.

I'll give you a quick example of myself. In doing this podcast, I've experienced a lot of imposter syndrome, borderline debilitating, where a few times a week, I am asking myself basically, who do I think I am creating an interview podcast, trying to address one of the most enduring and complex challenges that has existed throughout all of history with people much smarter than I unable to resolve it. When I have no podcasting, interviewing or solving the world's problems experiences. But as I am creating this podcast and speaking with these authors and reading their books, I am learning over and over again why I am made to feel like an imposter. 

How since the day I was born in my little girl, baby body, I have absorbed messages from the world telling me to smile and behave and be a good girl who makes sure everyone around her is comfortable and cared for. And definitely don't say, or do anything that threatens the social order. And how, since the day I was born in my little girl, baby body, I have absorbed messages that teach me to doubt myself to question if I know what I am talking about, not to be brave and bold and daring, but to be small and quiet and perfect. And that my brain doesn't really even matter that much, as long as I am nice to look at. 

And by the way, this is all within the context of having a pretty privileged life as a white, middle-class American with access to education and parents that treated her the same as her brother and told her, and truly believed, that she could be whatever she wanted to be.

Hey, mom and dad. Thanks for being here. You may be the only two out there right now, so thanks for showing up. 

But unfortunately it has to do with a lot more than parents. Because again, since the day I was born in my little baby girl body, all around me, all I saw was that it was almost exclusively men in positions of power, whether that be in homes, governments, companies, or movies. And I saw that it was almost exclusively women that were the submissive, bashful help mates or sex things to those men and power. 

So I keep learning all of this and it starts to make sense. I guess it's like what Oprah would probably call an "aha moment". It's not that I'm incapable or unworthy of this attempt, it's that I live in a world that has made me believe that. And understanding all of this makes feeling like an imposter so much easier. I can't say it's gone away, but when you learn why and realize that there are much bigger forces at play, that knowledge comes not only with a great amount of emotional relief, but also just the ability to see so much clearer and begin to unlearn and overcome this feeling.

And this can be applied to so many things. Why do I keep getting interrupted in these meetings? Wait a minute, I just said that point and no one listened, but when he said it, they said it was the best idea they'd ever heard. Why is my doctor not taking what I am saying seriously? Why do none of my clothes have pockets? And why is the line for the women's bathroom always so long. For real, this is a ripple effect from our default male world. 

So reason three for the importance of woman's story is all the benefits to your own life and wellbeing. Which means you don't have to be the proud AF feminist marching on the streets, though of course I would love for you to be that, I would love for all of you to be that, but one step at a time. 

And all of this goes for men, as much as it goes for women because men, you live in the same world. So it's also shaped by gender. Actually, I would like to give a shout out to any man that has made it this long into the podcast. You are a trailblazer because as we will learn in this first season, men are not known for taking an interest in woman's perspective of the world, which is what has helped lead us to where we are in the first place. But I want to make myself clear that this podcast is for you as much as it is for women. On top of permitting men to show basic emotions like caring and sadness, there is so much evidence out there showing that countries and institutions and even personal relationships benefit greatly the more gender equal that they are. 

It's not a zero sum game, just because one side progresses does not mean the other side, regresses. Quite the opposite actually, when one side is held back, we are all held back. So the only way men and society can progress to the full potential is if we all can. And while this podcast will focus on the context surrounding gender, it's important to highlight the added layers of bias when factors such as race, sexual orientation, gender identity, ability, economic status, and even age come into play. We will be exploring all of this along the way and I'll interview authors who write about these intersections, but it's worth mentioning upfront that any time we talk about these ripple effects and the consequences of women being left out, it's inherently worse for anyone in those intersections because they have another bias layered on top.

And just like the story of humankind has defaulted to the story of mankind, the story of womankind has defaulted to the story of one kind of woman, and she is white among other things. But woman doesn't have just one story, she comes in all different shapes, colors, religions, abilities, and so on. And that is what makes her so beautiful.

All right. That's probably long enough. Let's get into the podcast, shall we? As I mentioned, I don't have experience solving the world's problems, not even close. That's why I'm not trying to, this is the most you will have to hear from me because this podcast is about creating a platform for those who are the experts to come on and tell us about the story they have written.

These are authors writing about the economy, medicine, authority, marriage, cities, and every different aspect of our world, but writing about it from a woman's perspective, illuminating all of those ripple effects, showing us how we got here, and a pathway forward to improve the lives of all people.

If books, aren't your thing. Don't worry. I know not everyone likes reading and that's okay. A bit like the feminist AF marching in the streets. I would love for all of you to love reading non-fiction books, as much as I do, but I know that's not realistic. And most of you are women and women do on average 15 hours more in unpaid labor each week compared to men. So you're probably pretty busy. So my plan is to make this information accessible, even without having to read the book. Or to inspire you to start reading them. And there are so many documentaries, movies, art galleries, plays so many things out in the world that you can immerse yourself in and have fun with that show us the world through a woman's perspective and I hope to recommend and introduce these types of mediums as well.

There are a few recurring sections in each episode that I'll just quickly mention now. We've got a tongue-in-cheek section...

Overdub clip
[00:20:39] Overdub: And now for men are losers to in gender inequality. Of course these are not women's issues. These are everyone's issues because as long as women are held back from their full potential. So are we all.

[00:21:00] Anna: ... where we explore all the ways, the topic and discussion negatively impact men and what they stand to gain by adding woman's story back in and creating a more equal world. See men, you even have your very own section. That's how important you are to this fight. 

We've got another tongue in cheek section in which authors tell us what feminism means to them, because this is one of the most controversial in multi meaning words that is out there, with some people, seeing it as a word that means equity among all people, or just simply that women are in fact human beings. While others feel neutral about it, such as my younger self, or a bit uncomfortable and uneasy about it, even if they aren't exactly sure why. And then there are people like this:

Overdub clip
[00:21:48] Overdub: " Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream." "Bitter, nasty, ugly, man-hating, empty horror show, lesbianic sort of feminism." "Which is what feminazism is essentially all about." 

[00:22:06] Anna: 

that think feminism is going to be the destruction of the nuclear family and in turn the world. And we can begin to understand all these very different perspectives about feminism when we recognize that, one, there have been people claiming feminists are man-hating feminazi, lesbians since way before the term feminist even existed. I mean, I haven't even launched this podcast yet, and I've already gotten angry messages asking why I hate men. 

And two, feminism, this movement for women's equality, is going to be a little skewed depending on the person's exposure to woman's perspective in the first place, as we saw with my younger self. So

Overdub clip
[00:22:48] Overdub: And now for the feminism gets a bad rap because the narrative has been just a bit, one sided corner. 

[00:22:57] Anna: So the more exposure someone has to a woman's story, the more likely they are to see it as a positive movement, striving for equity among all people and the less exposure, the more likely they are to be in the feminazi camp. 

So the purpose of this section is really to explore all the different meanings feminism has to people and to recognize the turbulent history of that word, and hopefully have a little laugh.

And the last recurring section is a section called Your Story...

Overdub clip
[00:23:26] Overdub: And now for Your Story, the part where you are invited to reflect on this story, as it relates to your own life. Think about it, write about it, talk about it. And if you wish share with the community... whether or

[00:23:43] Anna: I'm going to do a separate, short, much shorter than this one, episode to explain this section more, but I'm trying to create a space for us to connect with one another. So you can send in your thoughts, experiences, questions, and recommendations, and they may be included in a future listener led episode or shared on social media. Because while I think just learning about these things is the first best thing anyone can do, connecting with others is the second best thing. But more to come on that. 

We've got 10 incredible authors this season, we've got Katrine Marçal, the author of Who Cooked Adam Smith's Dinner? and Mother of Invention, who is writing woman's perspective back into the economy. Since Adam Smith, the founding father of economics, created the entire basis of our economic theory without considering the "free" work women do feeding and raising all of the world's humans...

Overdub clip 
[00:24:40] Katrine: When women do something or a good at something, we see it as some kind of natural female ability, which doesn't require many skills and then the economic logic dictates that, well, if it's a natural female ability then you know, why should we pay them very well? 

[00:24:57] Anna: ... which helps us understand where we are today with women continuing to do the vast majority of unpaid care work and it's still not considered of economic value, even though without it, as we have seen, the economy collapses. 

We've got Elinor Cleghorn, the author of Unwell Women, who is writing woman's perspective back into medicine, since Hippocrates, the founding father of Western medicine, whose teachings from the cornerstone of our medical ethics today, women as weaker, slower, smaller versions of the male human ideal, whose entire being was defined by her uterus. And of course her sole purpose was to bear children... 

Overdub clip
[00:25:37] Elinor: We can't separate medicine from the world. We really do have to face up to the fact that medicine is a male dominated practice and art throughout its history has always endorsed and justified dominant ideas about patriarchy. 

[00:25:53] Anna: ... which helps us to understand where we are today with women continuing to be disbelieved when it comes to their own bodies and experiences, where women are left out from the medical studies so we don't actually know how many life-saving medications interact with the female body, and where we continue to define woman by her children or lack thereof and governments still try to control her uterus and what she does with it. 

We've got Mary Ann Sieghart, the author of The Authority Gap, who helps us understand why women, even the most powerful world-leading women, are still not accorded with authority and have to grapple with being interrupted and explained to.

Overdub clip
[00:26:33] Mary Ann: It is a symptom of men thinking that they are superior to women. And that's why it's a mother of all gender gaps. Because if we're not going to take women as seriously as men, we're not going to hire them as readily, promote them as fast or pay them as much. So all the other gaps that we see are as a result of our default assumption, being that men are basically better than women.

[00:26:54] Anna: We've also got professor Gina Rippon, a neuroscientist who writes about the myth of the female and male brains. Farida D and Arab gender researcher, who writes about feminism from an Arab woman's perspective. Dr. Krystale LittleJohn who writes about the uneven burden of reproductive politics. Leslie Kern who writes about reclaiming space in our man-made cities and streets. Paula stone Williams, a transgender woman who writes about what she learned about power and the patriarchy after transitioning at the age of 60. Katrina Majkut who writes about outdated marriage traditions that perpetuate gender inequality. And Asha Daya, whose book contains inspiring stories about female identifying people who are changing the world. 

So it's a pretty incredible lineup. These women have very important stories to tell, and I can't wait for you to hear them. If you're feeling pumped and want something else to absorb before the first episode comes out, might I recommend Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Ted Talk: We Should All Be Feminists. If you haven't already seen that, I'll put it in the show notes. Or browse the hundreds of books like this one on The Story of Woman website and start reading one of those.

And a final note, I do not want to imply that women weren't doing anything throughout history. Women have always been contributing to our world. And at the same time fighting back against a society that has relentlessly tried to silence them. They haven't always been recognized or remembered or sometimes their husbands or another man were given credit for their contributions, but they have always been there. It's just harder to be remembered when you don't have any control over the narrative. 

But just like there are ripple effects from women's exclusion, there are ripple effects every time we push back and every time woman's story is told .You, just by listening to what these authors have to say, are creating your own ripple effects. Every protest you participate in, every book you read, every conversation you have, or every time you share this podcast, for example, you're moving her from the margins back into our main n arrative. You're just down the stream from all the women and those who support women that came before you, making your own waves and every little ripple matters.

So thank you for being here. I am so excited to discover and tell the story of woman with you. And to finally start changing the story of mankind, to the story of humankind.

Throughout all of this, I welcome feedback for making the podcast and community better. Ideally helpful and constructive feedback, uh, if you don't like the podcast, I would say just don't listen. But if you like the idea and what I'm trying to build, feel free to help me make it better. I love collaborating and connecting with people. And of course, I also invite you to subscribe and share with your friends and all of the usual things. Even these actions make their own little ripple effects. See you soon.

💌 Sharing is caring
Anna Stoecklein
Anna Stoecklein
Founder, Producer, Host