Even liberal enclaves - the Brooklyns of the world - hold vestiges of the shame and silencing felt by many in former decades. Ideas about what's acceptable, or how to be, trickle down from parents who grew up in more troublesome times; women absorb and internalize a culture that still just isn't as tolerant as it might someday be.
For Amelia Bonow, founder of the advocacy organization Shout Your Abortion, this realization came right around the time the U.S. House of Representatives voted for a bill to defund Planned Parenthood in 2015. In conversations with her friends about bill, she noticed something important was missing.
"I'm from Seattle, and I'm definitely in a really liberal, radical, queer circle of people that sort of talk about everything," she says. "But I wasn't necessarily talking about my own abortion experience, and I was starting to feel sort of strange about that - and not good about that."
What followed was an off-the-cuff Facebook post about her abortion, which unexpectedly went viral. Over the next several days, Bonow says thousands adopted her #ShoutYourAbortion hashtag, which prompted her to start an organizing group of the same name. She'll appear representing that group on the "Bible Belt Abortion Storytelling Tour" coming to Mudlark Public Theatre March 15.
[jump] Shout Your Abortion's work, Bonow says, is based around the idea that abortion is very common - close to one in four women will have an abortion in her lifetime, and pins distributed at its events say "Abortion Is Normal." Because of the deep polarization and politicization surrounding abortion as an issue, women often do not feel able to talk about their abortion experiences and process them in the way they would with almost any other life experience.
Bonow says she's even spoken to people who work for organizations such as Planned Parenthood who feel this way - "[They say] 'anything I say could be fuel for the opposition.'" The culture of silence prevents women from sharing abortion experiences both good and bad, and keeps discussions about the reality of abortion planted in the rhetorical and theoretical, rather than the personal.
"The anti-choice movement is relying on silence from pro-choice women who have had abortions," Bonow says. "That's just another level of suppression that happens."
With Shout Your Abortion, this is the second tour Bonow has made of the South. She's accompanied by collaborator Poppy Liu, a Shanghai-born artist from Queens who helped found intersectional storytelling group Collective Sex. This tour will visit cities including Asheville, North Carolina and Gainesville, Florida in an effort to prompt real conversations about abortion, and open space for women who may not have had the opportunity to speak about it in the past.
At the event, Bonow will give a short talk on how she thinks talking about abortion publicly is a form of activism and has a "revolutionary" character. Liu will perform some poetry and screen her 12-minute short film Names of Women, which was inspired by her own abortion experience. (You can also watch it online.)
The second part of the event is a talkback which encourages participants to talk about changing the way we discuss abortion. "It's just a conversation that so many people haven't ever had, or haven't ever felt safe having," Bonow says.
She's most excited about the talkback portion of the event, where she learned a lot about the challenges of being "unapologetically pro-choice" in the South on their last tour.
"The people that are holding it down in [conservative Southern cities] are so brave and so committed. ... You put more on the line to do that kind of work in the first place," she says.
Although the event is open to all genders, men may be asked to let women in the audience speak first. Contributions from people of color also are strongly encouraged and may be elevated at the show.
This event and others like it may provide a small counterpoint to a political climate that seems increasingly hostile to abortion rights. But for Bonow, the most important thing is offering women a women a place to speak where they couldn't before.
"For me, it was something I did want to talk about," she says. "I realized the only reason I wasn't doing it was like, defaulting to stigma. And I didn't want to do [that] anymore."
The Bible Belt Abortion Storytelling Tour is in New Orleans at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 15. It's at Mudlark Public Theatre and admission is free.