On Tuesday, WNYC Studios launches the third season of its acclaimed podcast The United States of Anxiety, with an examination of gender in American politics and the wave of women working to dismantle male power structures with the 2018 midterm elections.
A record number of women are running for office this election season, and many more will play pivotal roles as activists, organizers, and voters. As Democrats ride a wave of activism and seek to take over the House, The United States of Anxiety will explore if and how their efforts will change anything in a country where power remains concentrated in the hands of white men.
The series will chronicle the experiences of women candidates and citizens who are getting involved in the civic process across the nation, and also profile the lives and careers of women who led political movements throughout our nation’s history.
The United States of Anxiety is hosted by Kai Wright and features reporting from various WNYC contributors.
“In 2016, the ‘women’s vote’ was not as unified as many thought or hoped it would be, with 53 percent of white women voting for the Trump presidency,” said Wright. “Two years later, and in the wake of the #MeToo movement, the conventional wisdom is that there will be a ‘wave’ election of women of all backgrounds who are no longer taking male power for granted. In this season of ‘United States of Anxiety,’ we’re seeing an electorate call into question who this democracy serves and whether men still have a singular claim to power in American politics.”
The first two episodes of the third season of The United States of Anxiety are available now at wnycstudios.org, Apple Podcasts, and all other platforms.
New episodes will be released weekly through mid-November. Topics will include:
September 18: We meet two women whose lives illustrate our current political moment. Jennifer Willoughby, the ex-wife of White House staffer Rob Porter and one of the first voices of the #MeToo movement; and Saily Avelenda, who lost her job after her congressman asked her employer to curb her political activism. (Reporters: Amanda Aronczyk and Nancy Solomon)
September 18: We look back at 1992, the previous “Year of the Woman,” for insight on what it would and would not mean if 2018 is a wave election driven by women. We speak to former Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum (R-Kansas) and former Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland), who were the only two women in the Senate prior to that election. We also speak with former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun about her decision to run in that historic election and about becoming the first black woman to serve in the Senate. (Reporter: Kai Wright)
September 25: We travel to Tennessee and recreate the state legislature’s dramatic fight over ratifying the 19th Amendment, a nasty battle that turned on one big question: Would giving women the right to vote imperil white supremacy? We profile the leader of the anti-suffrage campaign, Josephine Pearson, a savvy political operator who found inventive ways to frighten legislators about the prospect of black women voting. We then return to the New Jersey suburbs, where we take a closer look at the movement that Saily Avelenda has helped build and notice something troubling: it’s lilly white. (Reporters: Kai Wright and Nancy Solomon)
October 2: We go to Montana to learn the story of Jeanette Rankin, the first woman elected to Congress, in 1916. We explore her life and career — as a renowned radical, a peace activist, a populist, and a lesbian. Then, Christina Greer (Fordham Univ. political scientist, host of The Aftermath podcast) and Alexis Grennel (campaign consultant, politics writer) sit for an unmoderated dialogue on whether voters should care about the gender of their elected officials. (Reporter: Mara Silvers)
October 4: Just 51 women have ever served in the United States Senate, alongside more than a thousand men. Thirty-eight of those women are alive today, and we have set out to interview each one of them about their experience. In this episode, we play parts of those interviews and direct listeners to WNYC’s Instagram feed to hear clips of all of them. (Reporter: Jessica Miller)
October 9: Ida B. Wells is often remembered as a journalist and as an anti-lynching activist, but she was so much more than that. As a black woman, she challenged both white and black power structures. Biographer Paula Giddings and Brian Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative walk us through Well’s history. Then WNYC’s Rebecca Carroll and actress Amber Tamblyn pick up a dialogue they began on Twitter, when Amber — a white woman with a huge social media platform — made offensive remarks about Rep. Maxine Waters, a black woman who is often caricatured as angry and difficult. (Reporter: Kai Wright)
October 16: We go to Georgia, where Stacey Abrams is mounting a campaign to become the first black woman elected governor in American history. Abrams’s has argued the Democratic Party has failed to woo conservative white voters in the region for nearly two decades now. She believes a true effort to mobilize people of color and progressive white women will produce a majority. If she’s right, she may fundamentally change Southern politics. Then we return to the New Jersey suburbs, where Mikie Sherrill has captured national attention as an example of the perfect candidate for Democrats in 2018: A conventionally attractive, Navy fighter pilot, married, mother of four. She’s the favorite to flip a seat held for decades by Republicans. But what does it tell us that you need Sherrill’s bio to be a successful woman in politics? (Reporters: Kai Wright and Nancy Solomon)
October 23: How do we perceive power? What cues prompt us to believe, “Here’s a person who can lead”? Many of those cues are gendered, and voice is a crucial one. So we visit a speech therapist to learn about the physiology of voice — how and why men and women have distinct vocal characteristics — and we explore how those distinctions are used against women who pursue power. Then we look back at the 1977 National Women’s Conference in Houston. We talk with women who attended the event with optimism. They ask themselves, what went wrong? (Reporters: Jim O’Grady and Karen Michel)
October 25: When Hugh Hefner launched Playboy, he invented a new way to use women as sex objects for men. But he also created a new identity for men. Before Hefner, masculinity was associated with braun, physical skills, and outdoorsmen. Hefner created what he called the “indoor man.” In his vision, a scrawny, aging man in a bathrobe could have anything he wanted — including unlimited sexual access to the “girl next door.” We revisit Hefner’s history and consider its legacy in the context of #MeToo. Is Donald Trump the ultimate indoor man? (Reporter: Sara Fishko)
November 5: On the day before the election, we’ll open with our panel of analysts and discuss how the gender gap will impact this election. We’ll consider the career of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and speak with her, former Gov. David Patterson, and key players in the New York State Democratic Party about the senator’s rise to power. Decades after the first Year of the Woman, and on the heels of Hillary Clinton’s two presidential campaigns, Gillibrand is one of several women on the short list for the party’s presidential nomination in 2020. What is to be learned from her career about how women move into powerful positions in Washington today? (Reporter: Brigid Bergin)
November 13: It’s the week after the election, and either an historic gender gap in voting has remade Congress — or, well, there’s a lot of disappointment about that gender gap not materializing. We’ll talk to our panel of analysts about what happens next in Washington. Then octogenarian activist Dolores Huerta — who helped create the farm worker and Chicano movements, among others — sits down with her daughter for an unmoderated, intergenerational conversation about fighting for justice as a woman.
The United States of Anxiety is supported in part by the Economic Hardship Reporting Project. Additional support for WNYC’s election coverage is provided by Emerson Collective, New York Community Trust, and New York Public Radio Trustee Dr. Mary White.