U student’s podcast ‘takes back’ female narrative

A Carlson student launched the show to discuss stigmatized health issues impacting women.

Nick Wicker

Half of the population could be using these products, but they’re rarely discussed out loud.
 
A new monthly podcast launched by University of Minnesota graduate student Elise Maxwell is aimed at opening a dialogue about women’s sexual health and other stigmatized issues across digital airwaves.
 
“The Speculum” podcast, which debuted last month, will spread the word about menstrual cups and other products sold by Maxwell’s women’s health company, Ova Woman. 
 
Ova Woman reviews, explains and sells menstrual cups, small plastic cups meant to catch blood, and absorbent underwear. Maxwell said the company plans to sell more products in the future, including a small, dildo-shaped ice pack.
 
She said focus groups of 10 to 30 women use and review each product for up to three months before they’re sold online.
 
“Right now, it’s hard to find out about these products,” Maxwell said. “We review these new products that are coming out.”
 
But she said she thinks her monthly podcasts might help lift the silence surrounding feminine care products.
 
Maxwell works with Cindy Traxler, a former associate administrator in the University’s School of Nursing and now a freelance writer living in Missouri, who’s also the podcast’s co-host.
 
“Elise brought forward to me conversations that women kind of know but know quietly,” Traxler said. “Elise and I are trying to take back part of the female narrative.”
 
She said people often overestimate how much women understand about their bodies and their health, which drove the creation of the program.
 
Melissa Saftner, a University nursing clinical associate professor and a certified nurse midwife, has spoken as a guest on several Speculum podcasts.
 
She said she hopes her input will convince women to speak more openly about the topics in the show. 
 
“I hope women at the end of it will feel more comfortable about their body,” Saftner said. “I want women to know that they’re normal, and it’s great that we’re all different.” 
 
So far the duo has released two episodes, titled “Douching” and “Lady Parts,” and Maxwell said they hope to continue co-hosting the show. 
 
She said the two felt it was important to capture diverse opinions over the podcast — Maxwell is a white student, while Traxler is an African American woman with an adult son — and so far listeners have responded positively to the pair’s candid talks.
 
“I really wanted this not to be a white millennial talking with other middle-class white millennials,” Maxwell said. “I just want this to be very approachable from a variety of 
women.”
 
Saftner said many women have similar questions regarding intimate health. However, few feel comfortable asking, even with their doctors. 
 
“Some of the podcasts discuss topics like douching and vaginal discharge,” she said. “I see that regularly in my clinical setting, and so I can offer advice that is grounded in science … maybe not the information women get on the Internet.”
 
Maxwell said she has a list of more than 20 topics for future episodes, some of which listeners have suggested. In the days since its launch, the program has attracted just fewer than 100 subscribers.
 
Tess Trejo, nutrition senior, said she is a “proud user” of the menstrual cup and is glad to see a podcast like “The Speculum” take off. 
 
She said talking about women’s care is easier with her friends than with the general public.
 
“The thing about this podcast is we can bring forward those topics that are kind of whispered about and women might not feel comfortable talking about,” Traxler said. “The podcast allows that language to be much more public.”