In the dark and seedy cabarets of Weimar Berlin, where sex was a performance and decadence was king, one woman ruled the room. Born to artist parents at the turn of the century, Anita Berber was destined for a life on the stage. Famed for her kohl-rimmed eyes, her bright red hair, and her provocative burlesque, Berber became an underground sensation. But she was just as infamous for her scandalous bisexual affairs and hotel orgies as her avante-garde performances, and with dances named ‘Cocaine’, ‘Morphine’, and ‘Asylum’, you know she partied as hard as she danced! So join us in the end-of-the-world liberalism of Weimar Germany as we trace this Expressionist queen to the stage and beyond!
During the turbulent years of World War II the pool halls and billiard rooms of the U.S. were quiet: the men who had once dominated them had gone off to fight. But after the war a new buzz brought audiences flooding back to professional billiards, and an unexpected star was on the rise. Known as the ‘First Lady of Billiards’, Masako Katsura hailed from Japan, where she had already established herself as a national champion. But after meeting and marrying an American serviceman, Katsura found herself in the U.S., where a resurgence in the sport meant she stood to become the world’s first female billiards champion. So come on and chalk your cue (that’s not a euphemism…) as we delve into the world of a woman whose ball skills (also not a euphemism…) helped to pave the way for a league of sportswomen in the 20th century.
When Wendy Carlos released Switched On Bach, the first classical album recorded on a synthesizer, she radically transformed people’s understandings of what electronic music could do. At the time of the album’s release, Wendy was also six-months into hormone therapy and struggling with her rising fame and anxieties about how the public might react to her transition. But Switched On Bach was a huge success and Wendy went on not only to critical acclaim, but to work with famed composers and film directors, including scoring Stanley Kubrik’s A Clockwork Orange and The Shining. Join Lauren and our special guest host, Deviant Women’s own composer India Hooi, as we discover how Wendy Carlos changed music forever!
Carolyn Layton had an idyllic childhood. Daughter of a socially progressive Methodist minister father and peace activist mother, she grew up believing passionately in social justice and racial equality. After marrying Larry Layton, a conscientious objector, the two began a new life together, a life founded on their shared principles of equality, freedom and social progress. Then they found an incredible new church, that seemed to share and espouse the values they held most dear: The People’s Temple. As Carolyn became progressively more involved with the organisation and its charismatic leader, Jim Jones, she started to change, and it wasn’t for the better.
Join us as we chat to Laura Elizabeth Woollett, author of Beautiful Revolutionary, about how Carolyn became implicated in the greatest loss of American life until September 11 and the complexities of how we remember the mistress of Jim Jones.
After fleeing her arms-dealing husband and his castle in the Austrian countryside, Hedy Lamarr made her way to Hollywood and the open arms of MGM Studios. She was going to be a star! The only problem: she’d gained a risque reputation for herself in the Czech film Ecstacy. This temptress image is one that would follow Hedy for much of her career, despite the fact that not only was she an extraordinary talent, she was also an extraordinary mind. Because little did most of Hollywood know, Hedy spent her evenings working on an invention that would go on to change the world forever! Join us as we journey through wartime Vienna to the MGMs studio lots, and watch the thrilling and devastating downfall of the bombshell, Hedy Lamarr.
As colonial powers muscled in on 18th century India, one woman rose from obscurity to become the leader of a powerful and formidable mercenary army. From the life of a dancing girl to life on the battlefields, the Begum Samru was feared and respected not just by her troops, but also by those who held the highest power. But she loved just as boldly as she fought, and her heart led her to desperate measures of Shakespearean proportions. Follow us into the wild and vibrant streets of the Mughal Empire as we trace the legendary life of the Begum Samru.
Marsha P Johnson was a legend of Christopher Street, a revolutionary trans and LGBTQ+ activist, and a leading figure of Stonewall. Famed for her extravagant floral headdresses, her bright red plastic heels, and her generous spirit, Marsha made a name for herself not just as a drag queen, but as a mother to the queer street and trans youth who needed her. Together with her best friend, fellow trans activist Sylvia Rivera, she created STAR, the Street Transvestite (now Transgender) Action Revolutionaries, and advocated for the rights of the most marginalised of her community. Join us on the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots as we celebrate the life of one of Pride’s most important figures.
In part two of our look at the history of reproduction rights in America, we trace the life of Pat Maginnis: a grassroots activist who campaigned tirelessly to change America’s abortion laws. After two harrowing years spent working in an army hospital in Panama, it was Maginnis’ personal struggle to find safe and legal abortion providers in the U.S. that cemented her desire to enact change. Pounding the street corners of San Francisco, Maginnis and ‘The Army of Three’ helped thousands of women, while across the country grassroots organisations sprung up in a pushback that would eventually culminate in the landmark case of Roe v. Wade. Join us as we take a look at the life of just one of the many women who struggled for change, and whose legacy we fight to protect today.
In the early 20th century the highly restrictive Comstock Laws made it almost impossible for American women to gain access to, or an understanding of, contraceptive methods. Arriving into the impoverished communities of New York city’s East Side, nurse Margaret Sanger saw women struggling with enormous families of children, the health ramifications of multiple births, and the horrors of back-alley abortions. This motivated her to act, starting a campaign of birth control advocacy that would form her life’s work. In the wake of the recent attacks on women’s reproductive rights in the U.S., the first of our two part episode looks at this controversial woman’s career, and the fundamental changes brought about by her life long work.
Famous today as the overlooked illustrator of the influential Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot Deck, in her own time Pamela Colman Smith was something of an enigma. Known for her lively and enchanting Jamaican folklore performances, her publishing press and literary magazine, and for her extraordinary miniature theatre, Pamela – Pixie to her friends – wove magical worlds where women had agency and gender was fluid. But she was also a woman cloaked in mystery, and who was often Othered by her contemporaries. Join us, together with PCS scholar Elizabeth Foley O’Connor, as we travel from England to Jamaica, New York and Cornwall, tracing this elusive and enigmatic woman.
Along the rivers and waterways of Mexico, a woman’s cries can be heard in the night. Punished for the crime of infanticide, La Llorona wanders in the dark for eternity, ready to snatch away unsuspecting children. But while her story makes for perfect horror film fare, there is more to her than meets the eye. With echoes of the Aztec goddess Cihuacóatl, her significance as a symbol of women’s agency and power has been reclaimed in modern feminist reimaginings of La Llorona lore. So turn the lights down low as we prepare for a ghost story that reveals much more about prescribed gender roles than Hollywood would like us to think…
Infamous as the ‘Mad Queen of Madagascar’, Queen Ranavalona’s reign is remembered as one of violence and tyranny. But she was also a queen with a noble mission: to protect the sovereignty and traditional practices of her people from the enormous and oppressive colonial forces of the French and English. Her methods, though, were inventive. Come with us to the island of Madagascar to discover a queen unafraid to poison a witch or two (or a few thousand), hang herself some Christians, and lead her nation to its industrial revolution.