KHOL and Stio recently launched a new limited-run podcast series called “Facets: Voices of the Mountain Life.” In five episodes, Facets explores the passions, tensions and healing that people find while living in a mountain town. The third episode, “Leading the Change,” debuted on Friday, May 13, and the final episode will be published on May 27.
KHOL Executive Director Emily Cohen reported and produced the fourth episode on contemporary pioneering women that have pushed the boundaries in Wyoming’s landscape of extremes. Listen above to hear Cohen discuss her reporting and the making of the episode with KHOL Music and Community Affairs Director Jack Catlin.
The following interview transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.
JACK CATLIN: So, Emily, what initially inspired you to produce this episode?
EMILY COHEN: So, I’ve been in Wyoming for four and a half years now and one of the things that struck me when I first moved here was how much gender dynamics seem to be at play. Whether it was the male to female ratio, there’s just so many more men, or just this notion of a “bro culture,” and this idea of that was part of the zeitgeist. And while on many levels, Wyoming and the mountains did seem to be part of the hyper-masculine culture, it didn’t seem like the whole story. Because when I looked around, I saw many successful women. Women at the helm of some of the community’s most prominent institutions, like the Community Foundation, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, the Chamber of Commerce, and many, many nonprofits. And I just wanted to understand and explore what was going on and maybe see if that narrative could evolve a little bit and have some more nuance.
CATLIN: So the episode touches on some of the historical feats that Wyoming women have accomplished. Can you tell us a little bit about those?
COHEN: Well, I think most people know, at least in Wyoming, about Wyoming’s moniker as the Equality State. It was the first state to grant women the right to vote. That was back in 1869, as you mentioned. And then Jackson had the first all-female town council in 1920. The state had the first female governor in 1925. But now, a century later, we’re not doing so great. Especially when it comes to political representation among women. And now Wyoming is actually the most unequal in the country. So there are now just four of 30 state senators, for example, that are female. You know, we were groundbreaking. There were many milestones for women but those were in many ways a decade old.
CATLIN: So that is a great segue to the next question. With that historical context in mind, how do you see the current situation both in Jackson and Wyoming in general?
COHEN: Well, it’s not great, definitely. Like we talked about political representation here in Jackson. You know, we do have a female mayor and we have one female county commissioner. I think in this episode, Jackson Mayor Hailey Morton Levinson and Lynnette Grey Bull, who was a U.S. candidate for Congress in 2020, both speak to this a lot. They talk about the importance of supporting other women running for office. You know, on other fronts, it’s not necessarily great either. There’s a national policy organization called the Women’s Policy Research Group, and they evaluate the status of women in each of the states in the country. And Wyoming earned C’s and D’s on their latest report card. That’s looking at everything from employment and earnings to political participation and health. In some respects, though, things are improving. There are more women-owned businesses now than there were, say, a decade ago. Women’s to men’s earnings are also improving. It used to be 66% and now it’s 80%. So things are getting better. It’s just slow progress.
CATLIN: So you spent months talking to and listening to all sorts of women in the area. Can you tell us a little bit more about a few of those featured in this episode?
COHEN: The first woman I talked with was Melissa Malm, and she was the first woman on the Jackson Hole Ski Patrol. And this was back in 1978. So that was pretty cool. We actually spent a day skiing together at the resort. And then I also talked with a couple of other women who were pioneers in the mountains, including Catherine Cullinane, who was the first female Exum guide. I also talked with Heather Hansman, who is a ski journalist. I did a recent interview as well with her for her book, “Powder Days.” And then [I] also talked with Sam Eddy, who is the executive director of Womentum, which is a local organization working to promote women in leadership here in Jackson. I talked with Jackson Mayor Hailey Morton Levinson and Lynnette Grey Bull. So, women from all different sides of mountain life. From the mountains in the traditional sense to political involvement.
CATLIN: So Wyoming, and Jackson in particular, present unique challenges and seem to attract courageous people who want to make a mark. This especially applies to women who need to overcome even more hurdles than their male counterparts to precipitate change in Jackson. As a woman with a significant role in the community yourself, here as the executive director of KHOL, what is your perspective on the attraction of living in Jackson and/or Wyoming?
COHEN: You know, it’s a small place. And so opportunities are more available here in a way that they are not necessarily in a city or in a larger environment where there’s just more competition. If you want to do something, you can make it happen usually. For example, I had no radio experience before joining KHOL. I think that if there is the ambition and the drive here, success is very possible. And I think that there’s an attraction in that. In living in this sort of far-flung place. You mentioned this and Sam Eddy from Womentum spoke to this a bit as well in the podcast. This place inherently attracts people who are risk-takers. And then I think there is that added layer of taking that risk, whether it’s in outdoor sports, but also in your career. And so I think if you have a vision for something, it’s very possible to see it through. It’s kind of a grittiness. If you just want to roll up your sleeves, you can make it happen.
CATLIN: While women are making a significant impact in Jackson at local businesses and nonprofits like you mentioned. There’s a long way to go at the state level with only four female state senators. What do you think can be done to get more women in office making decisions at that level. Both statewide and here in Jackson.
COHEN: Encouraging more people to run. I think it’s really as simple as that. And I think the best people who have to really speak to this are other women in elected office, and Hailey Morton Levinson spoke to that as well. But supporting other women. The political parties themselves also need to be encouraging candidates and facilitating that process and getting them on the ballot.
CATLIN: So, Emily, closing up here. Anything else you’d like to share with us?
COHEN: I just think that there’s a lot of complexity on this issue. And now, obviously, with the leaked Roe v Wade draft decision, these issues are on the forefront of people’s minds. This episode is not necessarily political in any way, but women’s equity and opportunity and agency ultimately affect everybody. And we live in a democracy, and democracy is only as good as is who we have in elected office. And if our democracy is not fully representing all of our citizens, then there’s an issue. And so I would just encourage people to think about these issues to take a listen to the podcast.
CATLIN: You can listen to Facets on Spotify, Apple or wherever you listen to podcasts.