Your work as a writer and filmmaker questions ingrained expectations of womanhood. How did you come to take on this role?
I was living these expectations every day–and trying to make sense of the pop culture messages about how to do womanhood ‘correctly.’ I felt bad about how I looked, wondered whether I was too smart and threatening to men, and worried that I was single into my 40s–even though I was actually living a pretty fun life.
I’ve tried to get to the bottom of these messages with the questions I ask in my films so I can show them for what they are: false assumptions that are so taken for granted we don’t even notice how stupid they are. At this point I want to throw something against the wall every time someone tells me how ‘real’ women act or feel. All my work, films, writing, speaking, social media platforms exist to challenge these messed up messages.
One recent example from an article I wrote for Self: Growing up, I absorbed the message that menopause marked the end of my value as a woman, a depressing thought. But then when I went through it, I felt only joy and relief because I didn’t have to deal with periods or birth control ever again. Sure, there are physical and emotional changes that aren’t always fun, but it is so freeing and powerful not being beholden to my reproductive system any more. I got lovely feedback from women in their 20s and 30s who had never read a positive menopause story before.
Tell us more about what you are seeking to achieve with your newest documentary, My So-Called Selfish Life?
My So-Called Selfish Life starts with the assumption that all women want and will have children. Why we equate womanhood with motherhood, and how do these assumptions affect women’s lives? Why are we steered onto one specific path of heterosexual marriage and parenthood, and never learn there are other paths to explore? Of course, there are many people who want to be parents and love being parents, but it’s a choice, not an assumption.
The subject of the film challenges the judgment and stigma aimed at women without children, so that everyone can make decisions about their bodies and lives–whether they want kids or not.
What other topics have you tackled in your films?
In one way or another, my films examine how we create our own identities as opposed to those we’re given by society. I Was A Teenage Feminist looks at what it means to be a feminist in the 21st century, and begins with my own attempts to reconnect to the power it gave me in the 1970s watching Free To Be…You And Me. How To Lose Your Virginity examines the myths and misogyny around our so-called precious gift, and offers a new way of looking at the process of becoming sexual. I want people to know they are not crazy or alone in the way they feel. This is the goal of our #SelfishSelfies project, an ongoing series of one minute videos submitted by our mostly childfree and childless audience that we post to social media. Everyone is welcome to submit!
What can men and women do to support your mission in everyday life?
When we’re told the world is a certain way, we should ask why. How valid are these assumptions, and who benefits from them? Question the idea that there is only one true path. We should also be fighting for full reproductive rights, so everyone can control their bodies and lives, and make the choices that are best for them.
On a more practical level, how can we support your work more directly?
As an independent female-led production company doing work challenging the status quo, individual donations are our major source of funding. We’re currently in the rough-cut editing stage, and we need to raise about $70K to finish My So-Called Selfish Life by this summer. We recently received a generous grant on the basis of film clips we created with donor funding. So, individual contributions, no matter how small, continue to help unlock the door to larger funding.
What resources do you recommend to those who wish to learn more?
Many people I meet aren’t aware that there is a robust online community discussing issues around not having children, by choice or circumstance. We’ve created a Resources page at the My So-Called Selfish Life website that should help folks get started in their explorations.
Therese Shechter is a filmmaker and writer based in Brooklyn. Her work fuses humor and personal storytelling to disturb what’s considered most sacred about womanhood. She is currently writing and directing the in-progress documentary My So-Called Selfish Life. She most recently directed How To Lose Your Virginity (2013) about the mythology and misogyny around our most precious gift. She also curates The V-Card Diaries, an online story-sharing companion to that documentary, which was exhibited at The Kinsey Institute’s Juried Art Show (their first interactive piece). Her other documentaries include the award-winning I Was A Teenage Feminist (2005) and How I Learned To Speak Turkish (2006), which have screened from Rio de Janeiro to Ankara to Seoul.
A frequent public speaker, she’s presented her work at festivals, conferences, galleries, social justice organizations, and college classrooms, including Harvard’s Rethinking Virginity conference, and numerous events with Planned Parenthood. Her work is in the collection of over 300 schools, orgs and libraries. Therese has written about filmmaking, feminism, sexuality, and the childfree experience, for publications including Self, Real Simple, Topic, Bust, Bitch, The Nib, and The Chicago Tribune. In her spare time, she co-hosts the podcast Downton Gabby, a funny feminist dish on media by and about women.