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April 9, 2018 | by  | in Arts Podcasts | [ssba]

Five Women

CW: sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour in the workplace.

Five Women is a podcast episode produced by the popular radio show This American Life. It details the experiences of five women who worked for Don Hazen, the executive editor of the left-wing news magazine Alternet. The host, Chana Joffe-Wait, delves into the histories and lives of these women leading up to their first encounters with Hazen. It’s not simply reportage — we hear these women speak for themselves and tell their individual truths, which is a rare occurrence in an industry saturated with male-centric narratives.

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, Hazen’s history of sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour towards his female employees has come to light. Deanna, Onnesha, Tana, and Kristen share their experiences working for Hazen, while Vivian offers an alternative perspective as his long-term partner.

Deanna, Onnesha, Tana and Kristen all met Hazen at a young age, while attempting to enter the journalism industry, which is notorious for its competitive nature. Hazen portrayed himself as a guide and mentor to these women, however these relationships quickly became exploitative. This included forcing women to view explicit images, having unprotected sex with women and failing to disclose that he had a sexually transmittable infection, inappropriate touching, and coercion. Alongside these specific incidents, Hazen fostered a culture where non-sexual forms of power and manipulation were made possible.

Five Women successfully illustrates the breadth and complexity of sexual harassment and power dynamics in the workplace. Often in the reportage of these stories, the nuances and subtleties of power that permeate the workplace are minimised or dismissed. However, it is these exact subtleties that make working life difficult for women on a daily basis. For example, one of the women asked Hazen for a pay rise, but was denied. Hazen instead asked personal questions about her financial situation and offered to pay her rent. Although on the surface this may not come under the umbrella of what we consider “inappropriate”, the individual recognised that this was Hazen’s play at power over her personal life.

What makes this podcast so refreshing is the nature in which it individualises the experiences of these women. In doing so, it subverts the traditional narrative of victimhood and shows that there is no “right” way to be a victim. These women all had widely varied responses and reflections in regards to Hazen’s behaviour, and the podcast is successful in rendering all of these as valid. It should be recognised that this episode was produced entirely by women and focused solely on female stories. This is a testament to the value and importance of  women telling their own stories, and amplifying those of others.

The beauty of podcasting as a medium is its ability to eternalise the voices of these women in a way that written work is often unable to. These voices are not metaphorical, they are the actual voices of women telling their stories in their own words. This gives their stories a tangibility, rendering it impossible to dismiss the recollections as empty commentary.

Ultimately Five Women is well worth your time. It speaks to the multitude of experiences women face both in and out of the workplace. These voices should not go unheard.


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