Joyful Raven, writer/performer of “Breed or Bust,” on having a deeper conversation about motherhood and choice.
I asked Joyful what inspired her piece.
“My piece is about a woman’s right to choose. And to be honest it was the abortion I had that inspired me. It’s been percolating in my system for five years.
“I noticed how often in society as a grownup woman I was in the midst of people talking about their fertility, babies, and childbirth and I often fell silent. I was unable to speak about my experiences with pregnancy and fertility because it was a taboo subject.”
She confided, “I also have a strange compulsion as a closeted stand-up comedian to say the thing that shouldn’t be said. I wanted to know myself better and to understand why I’d made the decisions I’d made and how they were affected by the society I was in and the company that I kept.
“Often times ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-choice’ are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Both are completely entrenched in their perspective.
“I had a great desire to bring nuance to the subject.
“The reality of our fertility and our choices to stop pregnancy or decide not to be a mother is a lot more nuanced and filled with all kinds of subtlety, sadness, grief, joy, and exultations than are usually apparent in that conversation.”
I chimed in, “That is part of the American experience, the lack of nuance in the public discourse.”
I asked her what it means these days to be a woman.
“I called my show “Breed or Bust” because historically, womanhood has been linked to motherhood. More than ever there’s a rising number of women who are choosing – or having it chosen for them – not to be mothers. For me, I’m exploring what womanhood looks like without children. I’ve most likely passed that time in my life (except for miracles, which I’m open to).
“I’m on the edge of Gen X and Millennial. If I had been born later, I might have more readily embraced some sort of gender fluidity because I’ve always chafed up against the limitations society has provided me as a woman. I’ve always chafed up against relegating my power to my sex appeal and the household. I’ve always been outspoken: I’m too loud, too this, too that for womanhood. So I’m trying to redefine what womanhood is for myself.
“I see the world in terms of masculine and feminine. We all embrace the qualities of both. To be a woman is to be a human, and to be feminine is to embrace intuition, depth, darkness, the nighttime, and the moon.
“We’re stuck in a highly masculine society. I’m in my masculine a lot – running my own business, marketing, and putting myself out there. So I’m making sure I leave space for my feminine, which is rest, quiet, nurturance, and creativity.”
I asked, “What about you might surprise people?”
“I’m such a loudmouth.” Then, she immediately backtracked, “Though I’m not, really! I also have a very secret side.”
“People who don’t know me don’t know that I grew up off the grid. In the woods. I didn’t have electricity until I was 11 or 12, and we were without a phone. I grew up very country, very rugged, without a lot of TV, and with no pop culture.”
She explained, “I come from a lineage of activist theatre-makers.
“Now I also teach and coach storytelling and work with a lot of immigrant stories. I’m often surprised by how much I relate to them. I too had to learn about American society. Of course, as a white woman, I was very much afforded certain privileges of being an American from day one; I speak English, and I have residency.”
I asked, “What effect did a lack of American culture have on you?”
She said, “As a young adult, it was awkward because I didn’t share any of my peers’ references. I was an outsider. On the positive side, I feel I’ve been gifted with a non-rule-following perspective. I see possibilities and other ways to do things where others feel hemmed in. Because my parents were environmentalists, I’ve always been connected to the natural world.”
She added, “My rebellion is throwing away plastic bags and having paper towels in the house.” We both giggled.
I wondered, “What do you want audiences to come away with in this 30-minute show excerpt?”
“I want people to come away with a more nuanced understanding of the complexity of the choices that reproductive bodies have to make. These aren’t blithe decisions. I want them to have more empathy for female, uterine-embodied people.
“Even for pro-choicers, and I consider myself strongly in that camp, I want everyone to have a better understanding of both ‘sides.’
“Let’s uncouple womanhood from motherhood. We’re mothers in many ways.
“I serve this heavy topic with a heavy dose of humor.”
To read more about Joyful click here.