Motherhood in a Climate Crisis
What are women’s concerns and questions when contemplating motherhood in the climate crisis? What methods are effective in facilitating non-judgemental dialogue between women who have made different reproduction choices? This project will use therapeutically-informed participatory theatre techniques to collaboratively explore concerns around reproductive decision-making for women in an era of unfolding climate crisis.
What is being created?
There is a growing number of people in the UK for whom climate change is now an important consideration when deciding whether to have a child. In 2020, a survey of US-Americans who were factoring climate change into their reproductive choices, found 96.5% of respondents were “extremely -” or “very concerned” with the climate impacts that their existing, expected, or hypothetical children will or would experience (M. Schneider-Mayerson & L.K Ling, 2020 Eco-reproductive Concerns in the Age of Climate Change). Despite initial scholarship and a growing public discourse, the research on this issue is sparse.
Both men and women face this pressure. Yet, gendered norms continue to place the burden of responsible reproductive choice at women’s feet (P. Agarwal, 2021). Parenting is still presented as the pinnacle of joy, fulfilment and meaning for women in the UK. Ambivalence about motherhood remains a powerful taboo. And, as conversations about our families and fears for the future often unfold behind closed doors, shared everyday conversation on the topic is limited. If the uncertainty of a fertility timeline is compounded with the countdown to irreversible ecological breakdown, there is powerful potential for overwhelm, further inhibiting open communication on a timely topic.
What did the project involve?
This project used therapeutically-informed participatory theatre techniques to collaboratively explore concerns around reproductive decision-making for women in an era of unfolding climate crisis. The team sought to test a research methodology of participatory workshops, public performance and audience engagement, as an impactful way to recognise the nature and range of women’s feelings and choices. They aimed for this process to reduce isolation and stigma for participants and to create effective resources to stimulate ongoing conversation on the ways that Climate Change impacts women’s lives.
A group of women were led through a series of creative theatre, story, and improvisation workshops to explore, to clarify, and communicate their own unique story of motherhood in a climate crisis. Participants shared their monologues in a work-in-progress ‘scratch’ performance to a small audience. This sharing was followed by a Climate Cafe event, led by the Climate Psychology Alliance to provide an open, empathic space for audience members to discuss their responses to the project’s themes. Short film’s were made of these performances and the audience discussion. Together they form the beginning of an online public archive of stories exploring motherhood in the climate crisis.
Who are the team and what do they bring?
- Maria Fannin (School of Geographical Studies, University of Bristol) carries out research on reproductive politics and the social and cultural dimensions of reproductive technologies. She is interested in how expectations of responsibility and control shape the reproductive landscape for individuals and how the project can bring the insights of participatory methods into conversation with feminist scholarship on motherhood and climate change.
- Celia Turley (Creative producer) with has experience delivering social arts projects including coordinating a forum theatre residency at Bristol Old Vic for people with experience of homelessness and managing a co-created project exploring a centenary of council housing. She is founder of The Resilience Reading Circle, which nurtures creative strategies for radical resilience in the climate emergency.
- Sophia Cheng (With Many Roots) is a climate communications specialist who tackles the climate and inequality crisis through workshops, mentoring and words. She is the UK Co-ordinator of Climate Fresk; she delivers workshops on difficult/climate conversations; and runs a Climate Fiction for Beginners group.
- Liz Mytton (Theatre In Flow) is a playwright with extensive experience of co-creating work with non-actors. This includes Like There’s No Tomorrow, a play about climate responsibility and Shame Shanties, a play with sea shanties about the secrets women keep. She is a writing mentor for City Voices, part of Coventry City of Culture and runs a Theatre of the Oppressed project that explores systems change with marginalised women in Rochdale.
- Jo McAndrews (LifeKind) is a trained psychotherapist and member of the Climate Psychology Alliance who works with children and families around bereavement, trauma and family stress. Recently she has added a specialism in how parents and schools can support children in the face of Climate Change and talks on Climate Psychology across the UK with LifeKind.
What were the results?
The researchers sought to develop an academic output for the journal GeoHumanities section on ‘Practices and Curations’ to bring the documentation of and reflection on the project by the team to others working at the intersection of geography and arts practice.
The research team also sought to develop an online toolkit that will be an accompanying ‘how-to’ for creative practioners interested in developing this work with other communities. The toolkit shared learning from the creative research process, outlined creative theatre activities used successfully in the research process, conversation prompts and tips to navigate conversations on reproductive choice, reflective insights from practitioners and participants and links to additional research and resources.
The team hope to be able to train creative practitioners in this inter-disciplinary approach, to deliver workshops and performances nationally and grow the online story archive and promote public discussion on myriad perspectives on motherhood in a climate crisis. This initial work enabled the research team to develop evidence and learning to inform future funding applications.