“We started talking about the way the body gets treated in the medical system, particularly around pregnancy and fertility,” Valente said.
“It looks at the political and the personal, the idea of being a good mother or good pregnant person, and how that intersects with our ideas about gender, and about how pregnant women should behave in public. Even simple things like, ‘Is she allowed to swear?’”
Valente said Unwoman tackled ingrained views. “These mythologies build an environment where people don’t feel like they are doing a good job.
“The stakes of having an abortion or a miscarriage are built higher because of society’s expectations of what women should want. Being pregnant, or a mother, or wanting children – all those things that we are very familiar with and have lots of archetypes for is just so different for everyone.”
The Rabble regulars Dana Miltins and Mary Helen Sassman perform a two-hander Valente describes as, “a quite difficult, sometimes funny, sometimes gross conversation about their birthing histories,” with Yumi Umiumare standing in for Stone in the visually abstract, absurd final act depicting a much older pregnancy.
Annalise Matthews, a mother of one from Sunshine, is among the pregnant women who open the show. Working in RMIT university’s equity and diversity unit creating better pathways to tertiary education for under-represented high schools, she saw the call-out on the Substation’s Facebook page the day she discovered she was pregnant again.
Ten weeks in, the creative process was appealing, and the subject matter important, she said. “I can meet other women at the same stage as me in life and have a shared experience where we can connect on that level. Pregnant women aren’t often heard from in a forum like this, so that’s really empowering.”
Childcare is provided during Saturday rehearsals, and the ensemble received a self-care talk from revered childbirth educator and doula Rhea Dempsey.
An element of the production that appealed most to Matthews was spoken-word testimonies – read by a young woman, Mila Jennings between each act – collected online from a huge number of women.
“Because it can be anonymous, people are sharing their story in a way that maybe they felt they couldn’t before, because I guess it makes it less scary and removes some of those barriers,” she said.
“I’ve been really fortunate in my fertility journey, but I have a lot of family and close friends whose experience hasn’t been so great.”
Valente hopes Unwoman will give voice to more women, sparking vital conversations. “I feel like we’ve really gone backwards in the way we discuss these issues,” she said.
“Just beneath the surface there’s a philosophy within our legal and political systems that a mother’s body is government property in some way, and that is a very, very old idea that keeps rearing its head in lots of terrifying ways.”