Experiment #5: ‘Stuff Mom Never Told You’ [Podcast]

The term “ladyist” comes from stand-up comedian Maria Bamford’s 2001 Comedy Central special. I’d link to it here, but the only place I could find it online is geo-blocked, so trust me when I say that it’s a great set. If you aren’t familiar with Maria’s comedy, she’s a brilliant and inventive comic, whose unpredictable voices and manic grin soften you up for incisive observations about the social attitudes to women, mental illness and depression (and it’s way more fun than I’ve made it sound here). Go check out her latest album, “Ask Me About My New God!“, which showcases some of her funniest and most vulnerable material to date.

I obsessed over that special in the early ’00s, when I was hooked on stand-up. Even then, I recognised something totally different in Maria — not simply because she’s a woman, but because of that complex relationship between her sweet-natured delivery and its more incisive message. The phrase, “I support the ladies; I’m a ladyist” has stuck with me, and seemed a perfect fit for this experiment. The biggest appeal is the silliness of the word itself: it’s meaning is clear, but the construction is so foreign that it undercuts any self-seriousness. Even so, it struck a nice balance between identifying the female focus of this project without infantilising women (‘girl’; ‘girly’) or reducing me to stiff, biological terms. One working title for this experiment was ‘The Double XX Axis’, complete with a cutesy plan for a graph-based rating system, but I couldn’t get past the fact that it’s a pretty boring title. That, and it focuses too much on gender as genetically determined, which I was also anxious to avoid. On top of all that, I was, and still am, very cautious about using the term ‘feminist’ or ‘feminism’ in the context of this project, even though the principle is, I feel, feminist in nature. I never want to be seen to be preaching about the ways in which feminism must be enacted or defined; at its heart, this whole affair is about a boy being more thoughtful about the pop-culture he consumes, nothing more.

After all that, I panicked a little when I started listening to Stuff Mom Never Told You, an excellent podcast that’s mainly concerned with women, and in particular the complex expectations placed upon women. Again, I’m making it sound like a terribly dry affair, but it’s anything but: hosts Cristen and Caroline are naturally charming, and their curiosity and wit make this podcast fascinating and fun. In the last few weeks, it’s rapidly become one of my favourites: like Radiolab, the conversations are so wide-ranging and well-informed that you leave each episode feeling smarter.

The first episode I listened to happened to be very relevant to this Experiment: “Hey Ladies!” saw Cristen and Caroline dig into the etymological roots of the word ‘lady’, and its very complicated history. This is where I panicked. Mere days before, I’d committed to the Ladyist Experiment as a name, but in all my over-thinking, I never considered the loaded meanings of ‘lady’. Was I wrong in my choice of name? (Maybe). Do people find the word unpleasant? (Sure). Cristen and Caroline’s discussion let me off the hook for the most part, thankfully, but it was a reminder to me that I’m on foreign soil here. In a way, this is one of the goals of this Experiment: to root out the lazy thinking, the unchallenged assumptions in the way I think about women, and replace them with more respectful, considerate and nuanced modes of thought.

Thanks for the wake-up call, SMNTY. I hope it won’t be the last.

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Experiment #5: ‘Stuff Mom Never Told You’ [Podcast]

6 thoughts on “Experiment #5: ‘Stuff Mom Never Told You’ [Podcast]

  1. Hey Joel, if you’re not getting paid by someone to regularly write reviews it is a real shame. You’re succinct and specific and I like your tone. As for ‘lady’, I didn’t think of it either, but I have had qualms about the word in the past. ‘Ladies don’t X’, ‘a lady should always Y’, etcetera forever. But honestly? The language and issues you’re dealing with are political and loaded. You’re never going to please everyone but you are approaching everything thoughtfully and considering every angle, so I think you’re doing ok.

  2. _madmogs_ says:

    It IS a loaded term, and I originally only checked out your blog because it was mentioned by a feminist I trust. But you get props from me (which you neither want or need, but hey) for facing the new knowledge and probably the discomfort that came with it thoughtfully and head-on. Most people wouldn’t do that.

    I haven’t heard the podcast in question, but my perception of the term “lady” is that it’s a way of performing femininity, which young women (particularly if white and middle class) are frequently coerced into as the definition of what a woman ‘should’ be (and which I suspect many women who are not white-passing or middle-class- passing find themselves tacitly excluded from). It’s about controlling women and dividing them into ladies and … well, most of the words for not-ladies have traditionally been not very nice. Which is a thing that needs to die, along with the implied hierarchy of Ladies > Those other women.

    But this is just one woman’s view of the word, And mine is no more right or authoritative than any other woman’s view of it (and no less either). I’m British, so centuries of feudalism unquestionably feed into this view. Others’ will vary.

    I wish you good luck with your experiment, and look forward to reading more.

    1. Thanks mogs :). I appreciate how thoughtful and considered you’ve been here. I was a bit wary of even raising the subject and opening myself up to that kind of criticism, so I’m glad that most responses have been understanding.

      The class element is one that SMNTY raised, and that hit me hardest because I should’ve recognised that. My hope is that everyone who reads this is as understanding as you, and allows for my well-intentioned clumsiness. There’s also potentially sleazy overtones to a guy calling women “ladies”, but I hope that it’s clear from the context that I have nothing but respect for women. 🙂

  3. Maria Bamford is fantastic. Have you seen the Special Special Special? It’s a lot of fun, in that particular Bamford way.

    A fresh recommendation for you, since you’re always looking for them – Borgen. It’s a Danish TV series about the first female Prime Minister, and while the cast is more male than female it’s definintly a woman’s story, and seems to have a big focus on the particular experiences of a woman in politics. I’ve only seen the first episode so far, but I intend to keep on with it.

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