We consume much of our media by proxy: by listening, overhearing, and exchanging stories with those around us. Constantly on the move, many of us rely on radio, audiobooks, podcasts, and music to fill the quiet spaces in the commute or morning jog. It’s easy to open Spotify or Audible and let the algorithm decide which new title to listen to or what is “trending” in the charts. Audiobooks are essential to those long summer road trips. In the style of the New York Times list “What (Books) to Listen to This Summer,” this particular compilation is a playlist with an added bonus: curated podcast-novel pairings designed to enhance the listening experience through both mediums. These pairings focus on the recent surge in dystopian novels that explore the future of women’s health and reproductive rights.
There are quite a few recent novels that deal with “dystopian futures” in which our world is threatened either economically, politically, or environmentally. Perhaps the most magnetic of these are the ones in which women’s health, bodies, and rights have been regulated and restricted by political means. These titles, like Margaret Atwood’s acclaimed The Handmaid’s Tale, do massive work in generating conversation around reproductive healthcare and women’s rights. Why is there a threat to our freedoms? What do these freedoms look like to us? How are we each impacted by this discourse? Until recently, I never had to think too much about birth control or if I even wanted to have children. Now, these topics consume the media and my mind. It’s helpful to have a fictional way to explore the potential fallout that faces us when our government makes decisions about our bodies. These novels offer context and shine a beam of empathy into a situation that has become highly politicized. Ravenous for more information, I took a dive into digital conversations surrounding health, reproductive rights, and motherhood.
Novel: Red Clocks by Leni Zumas
From Portland State University’s own Leni Zumas, Red Clocks follows the lives of four Oregon women whose stories are affected by recent government restrictions on their bodies. In an imagined future, abortion and in vitro fertilization are illegal across the US, and access to adoption is limited. The lives of four women are woven together to illuminate the complexity and anxiety that comes from the loss of bodily autonomy. Zumas has her finger on the pulse of a tangible and real threat to healthcare and freedoms.
Podcast Episode: “The Abortion Wars, Part 1: The Last Clinic in Missouri” on The Daily
The Daily takes a look at two different midwestern states tackling abortion legislation in opposing ways. This first episode in a two-part series explores what Missouri is doing to erradicate all abortion clinics in the state and how that affects residents of the state. As a companion to Red Clocks, this podcast offers a real-time look into the current political movement in some states.
Novel: Before She Sleeps by Bina Shah
In Before She Sleeps, Shah imagines a not-so-distant future where men vastly outnumber women. The government regulates reproduction, requiring women to take multiple partners in order to reproduce faster to “save the planet.” Yet some women resist. This novel shines a light on the dangers of gender selection, seclusion, and authoritarian control.
Podcast Episode: “The Abortion Underground” on Science Vs
Science Vs uncovers the painful history of America before Roe v. Wade and interviews two revolutionary women who ignited a movement for women’s health and reproductive education in the 1970s. This podcast puts the facts in front of the taboo and infuses fact and science into a debate that is often overwhelmed with emotion. Similarly to what Shah has done, Science Vs gives voice to the revolutionary women who take big risks for what they believe in.
Novel: Motherhood by Sheila Heti
In Motherhood, Sheila Heti explores the meaning of motherhood: what our mothers teach us and what motherhood or the pressures to become a mother can imply for each of us. This book was particularly relevant after I heard women around me talk about their decisions about whether or not to have abortions, get IUDs, or even adopt children.
Podcast Episode: “What If You Regret Becoming a Mom?” on The Cut on Tuesdays
“When the baby comes, you’ll change your mind.” But what if motherhood isn’t for every woman? This episode of The Cut examines motherhood, choices, and personal identity through candid and truthful conversations with mothers and those who chose not to go that road. As a companion to Motherhood, this podcast follows up with more honest perspectives from women in various places in their lives on a subject that we don’t often get to dissect so boldly.