Dr. Lisa Corrigan and Laura Weiderhaft bring their “Lean Back: Critical Feminist Conversations“ podcast home to Fayetteville 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 28, for a live recording. If you are unfamiliar with the series Paste Magazine called, along with “Chapo Trap House” and NPR’s “On the Money,” a top podcast of 2017, you are missing out. The hosts spend around 30 minutes covering one topic, such as “Shame,” “Girlhood” and “Vulnerability,” in an easy-to-listen-to, conversational style. What makes the series so good is that both Corrigan, an associate professor of communication and director of Gender Studies at the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Arkansas, and Weiderhaft, a standup comedian and self-described professional malcontent, are smart and funny. I’m talking incredibly smart and funny. Everyone should be listening.
I spent some time last week with Corrigan and Weiderhaft to get their thoughts on their favorite episodes, Ivanka Trump (there is an entire episode devoted to her) and how a systemic lack of information is harmful to vulnerable communities. You can listen to the podcast here or here. Catch the live recording in person at Nightbird Books on August 28 at 6:30 p.m.
What are your favorite episodes? Where should new listeners start?
Corrigan: “Consent” is my favorite because I basically just word vomited all over the Internet as I was listening to people talk about how we need to teach kids consent. I’m like, they need sex education. We need to talk about property rights and privacy and justice and what that looks like. Consent is such a small piece. I just lost my mind. We just came in and it was fire. I think it is, in some ways, politically one of the most salient podcasts that we’ve done in the last season, for sure.
I think my other favorite is “Intimacy,” because that is one of the themes that undergirds so much of our praxis and content, because we really think the culture needs more intimacy to ameliorate and to end a lot of the structural oppression we are talking about. Whether it is racism or sexism or hetero-sexism or homophobia or transphobia or Neo-Nazis. I just think we need to be doing more intimacy work to re-knit together communities where people are sharing risk and sharing reward.
Weiderhaft: I also really like “Boundaries.” We’ve got good feedback on because boundary setting is something that people don’t do. The message of our podcast is about or originated with women at work. That’s a place where boundaries have never favored women.
Corrigan: The “Manifesto” episode is good because it sort of sets out our rationale and the motivation behind the podcast. We think that leaning back is an appropriate response to this moment of late capitalism and white supremacy and aggressive hetero-sexism.
Tell me about your fans. Who is listening?
Corrigan: We call ourselves a feminist podcast. Feminism is a practice. It is not just about women. We had a post in April that went viral to 5.4 million people and had four weeks of a thousand people joining the Facebook page. That has been crazy. We have a ton of male listeners. We have a bunch of non-binary people and trans men and cis men that are just devotees.
A common theme in your episodes is how some populations suffer from a lack of information. You talk about it in “Girlhood,” “Gaslighting” and “Fuckboys.” How does it harm people to be denied information?
Corrigan: Yeah, I mean structurally it happens in State Education board meetings when they set curriculum for the state. Certainly in a state like Arkansas where we don’t have comprehensive sex education, it seems hard for me to talk about consent with teenagers when they can’t even label their body parts and have no accurate health information in school and have purity culture instead. It is unreasonable to deny people sex education and then punish teenagers who get pregnant. It is grossly unethical. On the whole, women get shame instead of information. And people of color get blame instead of education. A podcast like this helps fill the gaps by creating scripts and language so that people can start thinking about their own experiences and where they might have made different decisions if they had different information available in any given moment.
Weiderhaft: It’s about the hyper capitalization of our culture. There is an incentive to not educate people about themselves or give them a dialogue for complex thoughts. They are just supposed to shut up and do a good job. It is a real brutal system where it is easier for everyone if they just all do the same thing and are very compliant. So, I like that we are having these conversations on the podcast because I think people do what their parents did and do what they are told. And check off all the boxes they are are told they need to check off. And they are not happy and there is a crisis. So, I like that we have this dialogue where people can grapple with the fact that like all of this is a construct that adhere to because we don’t have other resources to access different ways of being.
You do an entire episode about Ivanka Trump. Let’s talk about her.
Weiderhaft: How can you give advice from that standpoint where she has access to resources that literally almost no one who can read her book possibly has? Working hard is not how she got where she is, so how are we supposed to take her seriously?
Corrigan: Yeah. The lack of awareness about inherited generational wealth and tax shelters? Really she just had a ghostwriter just clip a bunch of inspiration porn for her vision board. It is just a series of random quotes. It is the most self-indulgent, narcissistic production of faux feminism dressed up as concern for women. It is really grotesque.
Weiderhaft: If you are trying to point at someone who is a perfect adherent to patriarchal capitalism, I don’t know if you’ll find a better example. She does nothing to open up space for people who aren’t like her or who aren’t like what men expect women to be.
Corrigan: She’s a handmaiden. She’s laughable. They laugh at her. That’s why all of the international press pictures when she goes abroad are of her being literally heckled. The pictures of her and Angela Merkel are amazing.
What about another famous daughter, Sarah Huckabee Sanders?
Weiderhaft: I don’t know if being a public face to defending lying is a good starting point for a political career.
Corrigan: She’s like marginally better than Scaramucci. She was not well compensated for that trash job. If I were her, I’d try to land a Fox gig (Note: this interview was done before Sanders announced she would be working at Fox).
What are you listening to and watching?
Weiderhaft: I just listened to the new Sleater-Kinney record. It is very good. My favorite album this year is Laura Stevenson [“The Big Freeze”]. Mellow pop songs. She is actually going to be playing in Fayetteville later this fall.
Corrigan: I have been listening to Gregory Alan Isakov a bunch.
Weiderhaft: We both love to watch “Fleabag.”
Corrigan: We both watch a bunch of stand-up. I just binge watched “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” I hate Jerry Seinfeld though, but he does humility well and he does intimacy well. The first episode of the new season is with Eddie Murphy. So, I went back last night and watched “Raw.” It was so edgy and it was so explosive. It was so good. And I’ve been thinking a lot about black comedians in the contemporary moment and with Dave Chappelle abdicating the show and just sort of doing tours. I’m just sort of thinking about where the explosive stand-up comedy is right now.
Weiderhaft: Everything right now is just so hyper-curated. Comedy has become that. Very scripted. For that reason, I like things that are interview format.
There seems to be a lot of women really thirsty for authentic advice. They want something that if they go to work and see these things that feel are wrong, they are empowered to act. How does your podcast help?
Weiderhaft: People do the things they think they’re supposed to do to be happy. And then are like, “What the fuck?” when they aren’t happy. And we address that pretty consistently.
Corrigan: The therapeutic is not necessarily a bad mode of engagement. But when it tends towards evangelicalism and revival, like Marianne Williamson, then it’s junk science and snake oil and woo woo and “The Secret” and Oprah bullshit. But when it tends toward authentic intellectual engagement and moving fluidly between levels of analysis of power between the interpersonal and the structural, then they actually have tools right to interpret themselves.