The Liturgists Podcast has long been one of my favorites. A voice of progressive faith and non-fundamentalist conversations about God, the blend of music, meditation and discourse was always a rare gift.
But something changed for me over the past few months and I stopped listening. I could no longer handle the way they treated female guests on the show.
I looked back at three different episodes to see if I could identify the problem and this is what I found:
There are three behaviors that occur repeatedly:
a woman makes an intelligent, on-topic point and the men do not respond to her subject matter but respond with a joke. Or...
they respond by talking about themselves, their own stories, struggles and questions—basically re-centering themselves—
and sometimes, the men will talk right over her (interrupting/silencing).
The male hosts inadvertently diminish the voice of the female guest by:
- derailing her talking points with jokes
- diminishing her commentary by going off-topic
- not responding to her points at all, and
- re-centering the conversation on themselves.
I actually thought this was an amazing episode and had some really beautiful moments. Hillary McBride was the guest and she provided brilliant commentary about how shame functions in our lives and how it even affects our bodies.
The trouble starts during the group conversation (beginning at 45:00). As soon as Hillary begins to respond to the questions, things become problematic. The men do not respond to her points but respond with jokes or with their own personal stories. Here’s a list:
A joke about masturbation
A joke about being helpless on a desert island
A joke about favoriting someone’s tweet while on the toilet
A joke about using a gendered pronoun
A joke about Calvinists listening to the podcast
A joke about God’s wrath
A joke about “turtles all the way down”
A joke about back hair
A story about Mike McHargue’s own experience of shame
At this point, Hillary turns the conversation into a therapeutic exercise which ends the joking and leads to some genuinely authentic moments. However, in my mind, the damage was already done. Her subject matter had already been hijacked.
Here are a few more examples:
In an episode called "Names," the female guest shares a poignant realization she had while reading the book of John (15:26) and the men do not respond to this at all. Instead, Mike McHargue launches into a different topic. Later in the show, the female guest shares another story (32:00) and again, there is no response. No followup questions. No further discussion. Instead, Mike McHargue shares another story. Again and again on The Liturgists Podcast, it's as if women are speaking into a void and their words are neither acknowledged nor discussed.
In another episode called "Pale Blue Dot," a female climate change scientist is the guest. While she is given plenty of time to speak without interruption, the same strange dynamic occurs: the men neither engage or discuss her commentary. Either her comments are followed by a musical fade-out, a different question or one of the men changing the subject entirely. It was so strange to me that I wondered if they had intentionally edited the show to sound like a woman sitting alone, talking to herself.
The podcast bills itself as the progressive voice of faith but it functions just like other patriarchal media. Which is to say, it’s two white guys leading and dominating a conversation.
I know the guys are trying to change this, even describing themselves as "reluctant participants" in one episode that addressed female-centric material. I guess what bothers me is the implication that because they WANT to be inclusive, they are. That just because they WANT to be an allies, they have already achieved it.
Defenders of The Liturgists have said that because The Liturgists "give their platform to women," they are, in fact, true allies. It upsets me that women are supposed to feel grateful for being “given” The Liturgists' platform. It reminds me that women are always supposed to be grateful for any scrap that falls from the men's table.
In my mind, allyship is like trust: it's earned. Being an ally is not a declaration. Not a trophy you are handed upon retweeting progressive activists. And inclusivity is not just about inviting marginalized voices to speak, it's also about HOW those people are treated.
The Liturgists like to say that they want everyone to know that whoever you are, you are welcome. But how is this possible when women's voices are silenced? To me, that's just performance allyship.
Mike McHargue talks about how he wants to make things right for the ways he perpetuated harmful beliefs and behaviors in his younger years, but as with all of us, one's advocacy can only go as far as one's healing. One has to wonder if the reason why there is so much silencing behavior is because the podcast's hosts are still wrestling with their own spiritual trauma.
Here is what i would love to see from the liturgists:
- Become better listeners: never interrupt a woman while she's speaking. When a woman makes a point—respond to that point (after she's done speaking). Engage her commentary. Ask questions. Acknowledge and respond to her words. Don't use her commentary as a springboard for your own story. Don't ignore her commentary by moving on to the next topic without engaging her first points. Don't re-center yourself.
- Cut back on the jokes: I know that humor keeps people interested but when dealing with serious subject matter, jokes about masturbation are crass and beneath the dignity of the guest you're hosting.
- Adopt a posture of humility and willingness to learn rather than being "the experts." When you listen to great interviewers—take Oprah, for example—you will see that she takes the role of learner. She truly seeks to understand her guests and their subject matter. Their commentary is not used to re-center herself.
May The Liturgists Podcast can become the inclusive, welcoming space they are trying to be. I sure hope so because I'd like to listen again.