When Alex Casey started her On the Rag column a few years ago, she could not have foreseen she’d one day be getting a Brazilian wax on camera.
But after The Spinoff column evolved into a podcast, and now a web series, and Casey was joined by Leonie Hayden, and Michèle A’Court to host it, it seems it was only a matter of time.
L-R: Leonie Hayden, Michèle A’Court and Alex Casey.
On the Rag is a monthly round-up of what’s been happening in the media and in culture for women, seen through the eyes of the trio. Casey says its mission statement is to “show the unseen/unspoken world of womanhood’, and Hayden describes the result as like having a wine with your girlfriends.
“You go into that sort of special space where the way you speak with each other is different to if you are in mixed company,” Hayden says.
And looking at the names of their episodes, it’s easy to see why.
‘I survived my first Brazilian wax’, ‘Women can wear suits and men can wear skirts', ‘Man meatballs, royal greetings and hairy legs’, ‘Why is everyone obsessed with Jacinda’s womb’ and ‘Why no parade for the women’s rugby team?’ are listed in their podcast archive that goes back to 2016. The conversations in each are shaped by the everyday experiences of Casey, Hayden and A’Court and all acknowledge that they are not trying to provide high- level analysis on the topics. Rather, they are about having a yarn and it’s through this that listeners are able to relate.
Casey says for many of those listeners it’s a relief just to hear people openly talking about body hair, body odour or embarrassing sex-related topics.
She notes a particular episode about period horror stories that struck with a lot of women.
“It was nice to hear from people who said they’d never heard anything like it before and it made them feel better.”
Not only can the topics of discussion be revolutionary, but just the fact three women have the mic to themselves is, in itself, revolutionary.
“You don’t get that often in mainstream broadcasts,” Casey points out.
And beyond it being Casey, Hayden and A’Court behind the mics and camera, who are already of different ages and backgrounds, they add it’s also important On the Rag includes other cultural identities.
“We are very much about including other cultural identities and make sure we are representative in as much as us thee can be representative of groups that aren’t ours,” Hayden says.
In a recent episode, the trio was joined by Mahvash Ali, a producer for The Project NZ and a Muslim woman. Together, they talked about Muslim feminism and institutional racism in New Zealand.
Support to expand
Like The Spinoff’s other projects, On the Rag wouldn’t be possible without support, which comes from The Women’s Bookshop for the podcast, and NZ On Air for the video series.
The application for the video series followed production of The Spinoff TV that Casey and Hayden say whet their pallet for video content.
Having produced a few On the Rag-themed segments for The Spinoff TV and seeing how it struck a chord with the audience, they decided to put in an application for funding and NZ On Air was keen to lend a hand.
A’Court is a TV veteran and Casey and Hayden gained experience hosting The Spinoff TV and now fronting their own show, they say there’s a few TV-ways they’ve rejected such as having a full face of makeup, having their hair done and a meticulous script.
Their relaxed presence suits the chatty, unscripted nature of the episodes and though the audience can’t see it, behind the cameras – the pro-woman attitude continues with an all-female crew.
Aside from a few ring-ins, the set design, camera operators, directors and producers are all female and Hayden says it makes the trio feel happy, relaxed and able to do whatever feels right.
A tight-knit community
Having already generated a loyal following with the podcast, Casey says the web series was a way to get even closer to listeners. Their audience agreed, as some took the time to knit and crochet the set.
As well as needlework skills, the listeners have also contributed their own stories to On the Rag, with social media forming the channel of communication between Casey, Hayden and A’Court and their fans.
At the time of writing this, On the Rag’s Facebook page has 3,500 followers while its Instagram account, which launched in January, has 900 followers.
There’s also a closed Facebook group called On the Rag 24/7 in which listeners share stories from their own lives as well as funny content like memes, which has 2,500 members.
It’s those communities of listeners they’ve created that Hayden and Casey refer to when speaking about their highlights from the years of On the Rag.
Hayden says one of her proudest moments was their response to Donald Trump being elected as the president of the United States, which saw the team come together for an “emergency podcast”.
“All three of us were devastated about what that would mean for women and it turned out that’s exactly what our listeners wanted and needed,” she says.
“The episode was really emotional and cathartic for us and then we were able to put that into the world and the feedback from listeners was that it was exactly what they needed in that moment and they were grateful for that.”
That ability to be able to make listeners feel better is also reflected in Casey's proudest moment.
During the time Grace Millane was missing and later found dead, Casey says there was a lot of women expressing fear and concern as well as a lot of women travelling in New Zealand.
They decided to open the On the Rag 24/7 page and let people come in and share their stories and fear.
“It felt like a moment we were able to have an online space that didn’t exist anywhere else and we were able to contribute something that people might not have been able to fund somewhere else,” she says.
“I was pretty proud that a little podcast was able to do that – even if people didn’t know they were there because of the podcast.”