Swollen: Ordinary to Extraordinary Pregnancy and Maternity

deadline for submissions: 
June 1, 2017
full name / name of organization: 
American Society for Theatre Research, 2017

Monsters are linked to the female body in scientific discourse through the question of biological reproduction." The capacity of the female body to grow, change, and produce new life has been a simultaneous source of fear and wonder, while incidents of monstrous births and the opacity of those same bodies drove centuries of speculation about how and why the process of reproduction could 'fail.' As medical understands of pregnancy grew, the possibility of non-biological reproduction in the form of Frankenstein’s monster or Stoker’s vampirism opened new frontiers of extraordinary bodies to people the popular imagination. Susan Caldwell, in a different cultural context, refers to the mother goddess in the Hindu Pantheon as a terrifying mother. The moniker aptly summarizes confusion surrounding the female body in patriarchal faith systems. Female energy is both revered and feared.

We continue to confront the myriad ways in which pregnant bodies are othered today. Insurance companies categorize pregnancy as a disability, suggesting all such bodies are abnormal; accommodation of pregnant and nursing bodies in the workplace raises accusations of special treatment; postpartum issues can permanently alter the female body well into maternity. This working group proposes to study the way in which pregnant and mothering bodies push the boundaries of social, medical, and theatrical performance, particularly when this process results in extraordinary bodies, from multiple births to children born with disabilities to those affected by the Zika virus. In many cases, we can consider the pregnant body itself extraordinary because of the social, cultural, or political discourse which surrounds it--when African-American women in our hospitals die at exponentially higher rates during birth than white American women; when pregnant refugee women are doubly or triply invisible because of the intersections of race, gender, and bodily status;when women with disabilities are confronted by medical professionals who assume pregnancy is not, and could not be, a wanted thing for them.

This working group will begin with the gathering of full papers from each participant. Rather than simply being about the discussion of these works, the participants will also work with visual images and auditory examples of their work that will be compiled into a media presentation at the time of the conference.The biological process of birth and maternity are sensual, and this reimagining of the body through images and sounds will help us consider the body from a different perspective. These sounds and images will be our jumping off point into a wider discussionof the pregnant body, where we hope to consider the following questions:

  • How does the “normal” body behave within pregnancy and maternity? Can a definitive performance be pinpointed?
  • What are the hidden issues within the performance of this extraordinary body?
  • While women have gained much ground in the fight for equal rights, how does this extraordinary body operate within a world where women’s bodies come under attack?

Paper topics could include the laws and controversy surrounding breastfeeding, the online propagation of pregnancy norms, the disruption a pregnant body can have on a performance, the ways the ritual of birth confines the body’s performance, and the regulation of the pregnant body through cultural and social standards such as “body after baby” and other tropes of female beauty. In addition, this working group seeks to understand what society considers the “normal” pregnant body; medicine, for example, as worked to minimize symptoms such as morning sickness as a way of controlling the grotesqueness of pregnancy. Bodies continue their extraordinary biological journey following birth, and discussions of what makes the (extra)ordinary maternal body is also welcome. From the way the monstrous pregnant body brings the view of society sharply into focus, forcing law and cultural norms to tightly bind pregnancy and maternity performance, to the way that the pregnant body is revered and considered divine, rarely does pregnancy render a body’s performance as anything but extraordinary. We seek topics that explore all aspects of the pregnant and maternal body to interrogateboth extraordinary and normative performance.

For any specific questions, please contact the working group convenors at alicia.corts@stleo.educhelsea.phillips@villanova.edu, and arnab.banerji@lmu.edu.

Please note that all submissions must be received formally through the ASTR website here. The form will allow you to indicate second and third choice working groups if you wish; if you do so, note that there is a space for you to indicate how your work will fit into those groups. The deadline for receipt of working group proposals is 1 June 2017 and we anticipate that participants will be notified of their acceptance no later than 30 June. Please contact the conference organizers at astr2017@astr.org if you have any questions about the process.