Podcast Review: The S(o)uper Bowl, #MeToo and IPR’s ‘Unsettled’

DVIP Souper Bowl Supper

Clarion Hotel and Highlander Conference Center — Thursday, March 7 at 5:30 p.m.

DVIP Souper Bowl is in its 22nd year. — Taylor Kiser/Unsplash

Last Sunday was the day set aside for the Super Bowl — LIII this year — traditionally a celebration of forms of masculinity that combine competition, violence and women (and, new this year, men) who cheer for them. Although some media attention continues to point toward the violence that surrounds football culture (from concussions and injuries to the injuries famously suffered by animals and partners), the event of the Super Bowl nonetheless remains one of the few cultural moments celebrated by a majority of Americans.

The Domestic Violence Intervention Program in Iowa City also hosts its annual Souper Bowl supper (now in its 22nd year), to be held on March 7 this year. Although no data supports the common myth of a spike in incidents of domestic violence caused by the Super Bowl, it is not a stretch to see that the glorification of football and the violent suppression of women share roots in how American masculinity is performed. Plus, even without an increase around the time of the game, the yearly number of (only) reported occurrences of domestic violence remains troubling. The Domestic Violence Intervention Program (DVIP) served 1,746 clients — over 800 from Iowa City, Coralville and North Liberty — throughout 2018. In other words, at least two people per day, on average, seek out service and support from DVIP in our local area.

This year’s Super Bowl arrived in a cultural moment where an increasing number of men and women have become thoughtful about the nature of masculinity and how it is represented in culture. This is largely through the mediation of #MeToo and subsequent hashtagged revelations, such as #WhyIDidntReport, which have provided a space where women and men are able to openly share moments when the traits our culture identifies as “masculine” damage lives.

One of the best resources I have found that provides tools for thinking through the relationship of how masculinity is celebrated in our culture — and the frequently problematic consequences of doing so — is IPR’s podcast Unsettled: Mapping #MeToo, released just before Thanksgiving 2018.

Because I don’t listen to many podcasts, I was late to hear this 10-part series — despite my interest in issues related to #MeToo. This was my loss. The series carefully surveys the cultural landscape a year after #MeToo in a way that is educational and empowering. The production team curates a series of conversations that wholly avoid being didactic, moralizing or blaming.

The podcast’s content culls hours of conversations featured on Talk of Iowa with Charity Nebbe and one episode of River to River with Ben Kieffer [disclosure: I appeared as a guest on Talk of Iowa as part of an episode that appears in the series]. Each episode of the podcast focuses on one element of what seems to have led to the situation that became public after #MeToo, citing conditions that led to the situation and asking guests to discuss ways of changing these conditions.

Almost all guests are experts in their respective fields — primarily social workers and educators — who have amassed not only education but also practical experience working with and talking about issues in society that many find uncomfortable or challenging. The conversations inform listeners about the cultural assumptions that continue to lead to violence against women and ways to work toward changing these assumptions. It proactively provides spaces and resources for those interested in continuing to make the world a better place.

Part of what enables the podcast to work is its production design, anchored in both a historical and conceptual arc that allows each episode to work both independently but also as a logical part of an ongoing conversation. It begins by featuring Tarana Burke, who started #MeToo on MySpace in 2005, and ends with Alyssa Milano, whose tweet about #MeToo in 2017 went viral. Episode Two is a discussion of how to talk about consent as the joy of yes rather than avoiding “no,” with a desire for shared joy rather than avoiding legal issues. This is followed by episode three, featuring three men, which starts with a conversation about Roy Moore and ultimately reinforces the message that the real implication of #MeToo for men is permission to have good, healthy sex and sexual attitudes — moving away from the fear of bad sex, allegations or legal disputes.

Episode four looks at Mollie Tibbetts, a runner murdered for refusing a man’s advances, and features a trio of women who discuss how to feel empowered in an environment where male entitlement has lethal consequences. The middle episodes — five, six, seven — explore the origins of problematic models of masculinity in terms of its nature, its context in parenting and its reinforcement in culture. The following two episodes once again remind listeners of the stakes of changing the attitudes and expectations we have of men: Focused on domestic violence and sex trafficking, these feature important conversations with survivors, social workers and legal officials who have deep knowledge.

Concluding with Milano reminds listeners that the world has changed and is changing — but that everyone needs to continue to effect change in their individual as well as their social lives.

In short, the trajectory of the podcast is one that offers breadth in its consideration of the problems and complications that arise when earnest humans wish to think about the consequences of misogyny in contemporary culture. It offers an unflinching depth that shows why the issues matter — notable, for instance, is episode nine’s indictment of sex trafficking in terms of a steady demand for paid sex by men who often do not wish to know about the stories of the women involved.

As a whole, the podcast frames male entitlement as a problem that affects men as well as women (although the damage to women is more extreme): one that everyone needs to solve. The effect of the podcast is to offer hope, at the end of each episode, that individuals can look at #MeToo as empowering a change to healthier, happier individual lives — as well as helping to frame a better society for now and for the future.


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Although I initially disliked the inclusion of callers, many of whom were defensive or merely reiterated the positions of the guests, I came to find them equally important and revealing. The majority of the callers were men, men whose voices I do not generally hear in my circles, and one can hear the fear with which they attempt to hold their context and understanding of the world in relation to the one that had just been presented. There’s an honest amount of confusion and a great deal of defensiveness. On the flip side, listeners can hear the great patience and care with which host Charity Nebbe frames each call with respect, allowing a voice to the sentiments held by many and deftly passing the caller to one of the experts on hand. It gave a taste of how much patience and care women regularly need to take in speaking to men.

This helped me appreciate that Nebbe and the women who produced the episodes and podcasts — Lindsey Moon, Emily Woodbury and Katelyn Harrop — had to do a lot of emotional labor to allow a man like me to understand how misogyny is a widespread problem, as well as offer tools useful for improving my life. The series is framed by women, largely (although not exclusively) for men — to empower, not diminish them. It is self-aware and steadfast in doing so — acknowledging the dominant nature of patriarchal and masculine assumptions as one that define the roles that men and women play as a default.

Even the episodes that talked about women’s safety were framed as women needing to be aware of themselves in terms of male assumptions about violence and entitlement. But rather than painting women or men as victims, the producers and panelists — including Nebbe — frame humans as co-responsible. The conversations are empowering. While they may be anchored in a particular context (for example, the episode about Mollie Tibbetts), they also work to provide a set of tools for men (as well as women) to hear. It is telling that many of the guests assembled to speak about masculinity are men, as though the producers understand that men do not know how to listen to women.

In addition to empowerment, the podcast also offers education. On a passive level, listeners can learn how to think more expansively about both the causes and consequences of #MeToo a year later — as well as how to think and talk about it more productively. Beyond this, however, the series offers a treasure trove of individuals who are competent helpers in this world, people from all over the state of Iowa who have devoted their lives to helping everyone, including the most vulnerable, lead fulfilled, safe, joyful lives.

Although the conversations will occasionally fade out to highlight a number, the one criticism of the podcast that I have is that its website doesn’t offer a list of the organizations and numbers that are mentioned throughout the podcast as an easy reference point and resource. Given the statistics offered throughout the show, one suspects that many listeners would welcome a voice that will listen to and believe a story with compassion and empathy.

Finally, the podcast offers exposure. As is made especially prominent in the episode focused on domestic violence, much of what kept the culture of masculine entitlement “invisible” until #MeToo was a blend of stigma and shame dealing with sexuality in general — sexual assaults in particular. The podcast episodes offer a narrative arc that shows how our social inability to speak about sex in a serious way, beginning with how we speak to children about issues of respect, pleasure and anatomy, leads to a culture of silence where fragile men use violence to coerce women toward joyless interactions.

Nebbe closes each episode by asking guests about changes sparked by #MeToo: If nothing else, the podcast reinforces a need to continue to have positive and empowering conversations without causing or fearing shame. It also inspires listeners to know that at least some in the world are willing to listen, to believe and to support. Although many women still have reasons to fear men in their life, the series exposes new reasons for hope.

I’ve spent most of my life listening to music to the exclusion of all else, but this podcast was revelatory of the good work being done in public radio — not only in terms of the curation of each episode, but also in terms of the resources presented by the podcast that provide a set of tools for transforming a post-#MeToo landscape into something valuable. The stories and conversations really frame how to be a better human in this world, whether one is sexually active, male, female, young, old. The conversations all model respectful discourse.

I would highly recommend listening to and thinking through ways that IPR maps #MeToo — and I hope that IPR will launch a second iteration of this series that continues to examine how to work together to create a better world.

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