Jenny Kaplan and Erin Gibson are using their voices to amplify women’s stories that have been erased from history. Jenny co-founded Wonder Media Network, an audio-first media company that uses stories to inspire action, to promote equality and justice, and to introduce empathy into politics, business, and culture. She also hosts their podcasts Women Belong in the House and Encyclopedia Womannica. Erin Gibson hosts the podcast Throwing Shade with her co-host Bryan Safi. She also hosts a new podcast titled History: The Shequel. We chatted with Erin and Jenny to find out how they got into podcasting and how they use the power of storytelling to advance important issues.
How did you first get into audio?
Jenny Kaplan: I first got into audio as a reporter at Bloomberg News. I was on the Global Business Team, covering the beverage, tobacco, and cannabis industries. Fellow reporter Lindsey Rupp and I decided to pitch a podcast called Material World to tell the stories behind all the things people spend money on. There’s something so special about hearing people’s unique voices telling their stories. Audio brings personal stories to life in a way that isn’t possible on the page. It feels intimate and breeds empathy.
Erin Gibson: Podcasting, for me, was a way to continue speaking about women’s issues and the way media talked about and to women. I was hosting a segment called Modern Lady on a show called Infomania that ran on CurrentTV — our biggest advertiser was the upside down tomato plant, so we were really bringing in the viewers :) Modern Lady was the first comedy job I had that had some real meaning to it, and I didn’t want to stop when the show ended. It was also the place I met Bryan Safi, who I do Throwing Shade with. He was talking about LGBTQ issues on the show and since there’s a strong similarity between misogyny and homophobia, we joined forced to team up for a podcast. It was liberating to be free of the censorship rules of television and talk about whatever we want on a podcast. You don’t have that kind of freedom in many other forms of media, and podcasts are fantastic for what we do because we can dive into subjects for an extended amount of time and people can take us with them wherever — on their commute, while they’re doing laundry, in the shower. It’s a very intimate medium in that way.
Tell us about your latest podcast!
Jenny: Our very first show at Wonder Media Network, Women Belong in the House, is back! Season 2 launched in March. Last season was about what it’s like to run for the House of Representatives. This season dives into what it’s like to get to work once you’re there. I wanted to time the premiere with Women’s History Month as a nod to the historic role the women of the House have played — a record number of women currently serve in the chamber. I didn’t realize at the time how important the content would be in light of COVID-19. The freshmen of the 116th Congress have dealt with everything from a government shutdown to impeachment hearings to the pandemic. It feels more important than ever to understand what that means and how our public servants work.
Erin: For the past 9 years, I’ve been ovaries deep in women’s issues du jour, but I am always looking at the now. Then two things happened. First, I took a tour of Ben Franklin’s house in Philly — where they have actors dressed up as the historical figures — and there was a woman dressed up as his partner, Deborah Read. The actress playing Deborah was telling a little girl and her mother in the basement of the museum that she was the reason Ben was able to pull off so much, cause she was left behind to run all the businesses and keep everything in order. At the time, I was also reading Gail Collin’s “America’s Women” which is drinking from the firehouse of forgotten and ignored women who lent this country their backs so we could have what we have today (as infinitely flawed as it is).Those two events were the eye openers I needed to remind me that women weren’t just being ignored now, they’ve always been ignored! There were so so so so so many women who shaped this country and the world and don’t get the recognition they deserve, so I started keeping a list of these people, who did things like fight the Nazis, going to medical school when it was impossible, opening up restaurants, ending gender taxes, etc. That’s how my new podcast, History: The Shequel, was born. And what a better way to discuss history than to do that with a teen, AKA the future of America? So my co-hosts are a rotating cast of teens from ages 12–19.
Why did you decide to focus on telling women’s stories?
Jenny: Our mission at WMN is to amplify underrepresented voices, to inspire action, and to introduce empathy into politics, business, and culture. I was first inspired to start the company when my mom decided to run for Congress. I looked around and felt like the stories of the record number of women candidates weren’t being told well. Too often, we see the same stories and the same people featured on the news and in our history books. We want to change that.
What need do you think you’re filling?
Jenny: We’re telling stories that too often don’t get airtime — whether they’re current or historical. For example on Encyclopedia Womannica, we feature women every day who we should have learned about in history classes. We didn’t. I hope that by highlighting these incredible stories, we inspire girls and women to dream bigger and expand what they think they’re capable of.
Erin: There are a lot of amazing podcasters celebrating the people of the past, and women of the past, but I wanted to go further and talk about womyn that few recognized. And I want to tie the subject to current events, to show the strides we’ve made (or haven’t). For example, in our episode on Apache warrior princess Lozen, we tied that to awareness of missing indigenous women in the US and the crisis we have on our hands as their disappearances are being ignored by governments in both Canada and the US. The struggles don’t always stay the same, but they change and it’s important to me to show that there is still a lot of work to be done.
Has it been difficult to source these stories?
Jenny: These stories are all around us. My favorite part of my work is brainstorming new show and episode ideas.
Erin: Not at all! Celebrating these women and sharing their hardships is the least I can do as someone who is enjoying the roads they paved for me. And hopefully their story will inspire someone listening to take action in their own way to make their world better and brighter.