By Jorja McAndrew, Assistant Producer.
“The reality is, if you didn’t have discharge you’d have a dusty vagina” India laughs, Ellie gasps and I spit out my water. This was just another day in the life of making 28ish Days Later – a podcast for BBC Radio 4 and BBC Sounds.
For those unfamiliar with the series, it’s a 28 part podcast not entirely about dusty vaginas but rather the wonders and troubles of the menstrual cycle which took us about 6 months to make once production had kicked off. It looks at the social, cultural, historical, sometimes political and always scientific experience of menstruating from day 1 of the bleed to day 28 of the cycle. It’s also a series I’m truly very proud of helping to make as an Assistant Producer at Listen Entertainment. So, here’s what I took from the whole experience and don’t worry, this is not a list of 28 things I learnt from 28 days – though I’ll admit, the BuzzFeed Gen-z in me is screaming to do so.
I first came onto the project as a freelance AP. Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m a geek for anything to do with feminism so it was kind of a dream series to land in my inbox – big thanks to the series exec producer Suzy Grant for that one. On the other side of it, I didn’t really know what to expect. As a freelance AP, quite often you’re on and off a job picking up random bits here or there but this was a 28 part series so I was in for the long run or at least hoping to be. I also didn’t have too much experience in producing science-based shows, and imposter syndrome was causing a memory of me getting 32% on a high school biology exam to run around my brain several times a day. That was fun. But flashforward to this current day, and I’m now (delightfully so) staff at Listen and even got my first full producer credits on the series. I also really, really loved all the science in it. So, cliché as it may seem, my first take away is *insert dramatic drum role here*, go for it, even if it’s a little out of your comfort zone.
The second thing that I learnt, is making the most of those you are working with. It seems obvious, but in 28 Days although we were all women, we all had different strengths, ages, experiences and backgrounds and though I can’t speak for the other amazing women in the team, I learnt an incredible amount of things. On a practical level, I picked up so many great productions tips but on a personal level I learnt so much about being a woman in the industry. Whether it was our wonderful presenter India impressively doing the whole series with a tiny baby, or Ellie and I taking the time together to digest some of the deeply saddening interviews or research we had come across, it was a team of women supporting women, and it rocked. Moreover, outside the production team and in the wider team at Listen, it was heartening to see the team so excited about a topic that for various reasons (as the series explains), is kind of awkward. So with that in mind, I guess my second take away is to soak in the experience of others around you. It will only make you and the series better.
The last thing I took from it, is that there actually is space and want for a series like 28ish Days Later in the industry. If you had told me even a year ago I’d be working on a series about the menstrual cycle, I probably would’ve scoffed. As the series explains, there are so many things that women and menstruators have been cast aside from, including equal representation in the media. Within 28ish Days Later for example, we ran a theme of menstrual illiteracy throughout the series. Menstrual illiteracy is essentially lack of awareness and knowledge towards the cycle that runs across society from within schools, to research to medicine and to the daily experience of women. In other words, menstrual stigma propped up by the patriarchy, means that the menstruating body is kind of unknowable and so we don’t really see it in the media or anywhere for that matter very often. However, if one thing is evident from interviewing so many fantastic contributors for the series and the warm response we had from its launch, it’s that audiences actually really want and need to hear about these sorts of taboos. I hope 28ish Days Later sets an example of the benefits and importance of telling, researching and championing these sorts of topics in audio.
28ish Days Later was a honour to help create, and I’d like to offer a final thanks to all the contributors who gave us their time, experiences, and voices for the series. Particularly those fighting to be heard.