How the ‘Stuff Mom Never Told You’ podcast empowers women to advocate for themselves and others

There’s no blueprint to fighting for gender equality and no special training either. So what’s the first step?

“To get connected. To get online or go to your local or community organization and find a way to connect to other women,” said Ai Jen Poo, in a recent podcast interview. Poo is the director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and she has seen the power of such connections through her successful organizing to get a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights passed in New York state.

Because of that work, Poo was one of several women profiled in the “ChangeMAKERS” series published by the “Stuff Mom Never Told You podcast” (SMNTY) in March. The series features women championing new laws and new norms in American society, including a soccer star, a career firefighter, and a documentary film duo.

Cristen Conger

During typical SMNTY episodes, co-hosts Cristen Conger and Caroline Ervin discuss the history and cultural constructs around different careers, political issues, trends and other gender-related topics. The show often highlights groundbreaking women of the past, and though Conger and Ervin celebrate those impressive ladies, they know that the achievements can sound intimidating.

“It seems like this huge thing, because we’re taught that it happened like all of the sudden, one fell swoop, BOOM. Like the big bang of trailblazing,” said Conger during a Skype interview with ivoh.

By speaking with contemporary women, Conger and Ervin were able to ask their guests about the steps they took to affecting the world around them.

“We want listeners to walk away with the sense that regardless of who they are, regardless of their station in life … that we all have tools in order to make change,” said Conger.

Click image to listen to Ai Jen Poo’s podcast interview.

The celebrity platform of World Cup athlete Abby Wambach, for instance, is not something that everyone has at their disposal. Her confidence could be, though.

Since retiring from soccer last fall, Wambach has set out to tackle the gender wage gap. In her interview with SMNTY, she said: “I’m not wanting to change the world. I’m going to change the world. … I will not let myself fail at that.”

Wambach’s declaration holds a lesson for many women, said Conger: “It goes so much against the socialization of girls — to be humble, don’t be too braggy, definitely don’t be bossy.”

Maintaining confidence can be tough with few role models to look up to, though. In another “ChangeMAKERS” episode, firefighter Regina Wilson discusses that challenge

Wilson is one of only 10 African-American women among more than 10,000 professional firefighters in New York City. She describes entering the auditorium for the written exam to join the force: “You could count the number of black people that were there and really count the amount of women, so it was an intimidating atmosphere … I really had to make the decision in my mind not to leave and to take advantage of the opportunity.”

Caroline Ervin

The importance of seeing examples of successful women is what drives two others featured in “ChangeMAKERS”: Dyllan McGee and Sammi Leibovitz. They are the filmmaker and the creative director behind MAKERS, a collection of thousands videos telling the stories of remarkable women. The platform is also what inspired Conger and Ervin, who conducted their “ChangeMAKERS” interviews during a women’s empowerment conference hosted by MAKERS.

In the SMNTY episode featuring McGee and Leibovitz, the pair discuss the idea that girls need “to see it to be it” when it comes to different careers, as well as making change.

“We have to flood the marketplace with these stories so girls know they can do it,” says McGee.

Her statement is reflected in Conger and Ervin’s motivations for the “ChangeMAKERS” and  their podcast more broadly. The pair often hears from SMNTY listeners — women and men — that the show has inspired them to take up the feminist label and become advocates for themselves and others.

Conger said she didn’t expect that result when launching the podcast in 2009: “I definitely wanted to make this new kind of media and wanted it to be specifically for women and something that I would want to listen to. But until we really had an audience and that kind of deep engagement we have now, it didn’t dawn on me the potential for changemaking that it had.”

The co-hosts said their “ChangeMAKERS” interviews also gave them insights on how to keep making a positive impact.

“There were so many fundamentals that all of them brought up: accepting failure, not marginalizing what you do, taking pride in your skills and interests and talents. And really persevering,” said Conger.

“ are all just naturally, doggedly determined. And that’s inspiring,” Ervin said. “It was neat to see this group of very different women who all had in common an incredible passion and drive to get done the stuff that they believed needed to get done.”

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