Filmmaker Bronwen Parker-Rhodes's two films, After Birth and Menopause Stories, celebrate what is often forgotten, glossed over, and intentionally narrowed—the changes, both physically and emotionally—women's bodies undergo with childbirth and aging. Through her films, Parker-Rhodes gives us an intimate, complicated, and illuminating look into the transitions women face, it's the conversations we feel that should happen frequently and without the usual stigmas attached.
Here she gives us a glimpse into the motivation behind her filmmaking and why we need more open discussions about the female body.
How did the idea for the series (both menopause and postpartum stories) develop? And what interested you most about each?
Almost straight after I gave birth to my son I thought, how has no one told me it was going to be this awful recovering? That led me to start talking to fellow mothers about their different experiences and then led to making After Birth. There is so much about the female body that doesn’t get discussed enough and many women struggle and suffer in silence because of it.
The idea for Menopause Stories came quite soon after completing After Birth, I just started thinking about what else isn’t discussed more openly regarding the female body—and especially pivotal moments in a woman’s life where her body changes drastically. Even though I haven’t started menopause yet myself, I feel very strongly that it’s kinda nuts most women don’t know anything about it until they're going through it themselves.
Up until, well, as long as I can remember menopause has been a taboo topic. And not just taboo in a dinner party kind of environment, but taboo even between women, either of your age, or older/younger. Your video is part of breaking that stigma, but what did you learn from the women you interviewed about why that stigma even exists?
I think the stigma exists because of the world's obsession with youth. It’s become almost shameful to age as a woman (which is completely disgusting). As soon as we start talking more openly and really celebrating the incredible things that women can do—and especially older women who have more life experience and can often offer more to society—the sooner we can break this ridiculous taboo.
Your own mother is profiled in the short. Had the two of you discussed her experience with menopause prior to your making the film?
I’m embarrassed to say we hadn’t. She just dealt with it alone, as many women do.
How has the film been received?
Incredibly well. I’m humbled by the number of women who have reached out to me since this film aired, most wanting to share their own experiences and be included in this conversation. I think that’s the biggest takeaway from this film—as soon as you start a conversation like this, so many women are willing and actually quite desperate to speak up and be heard.
You are in your mid-thirties and have not yet gone through menopause; what wisdom did you glean from the women you interviewed?
That there is so much to look forward to! Yes, there are struggles, but the idea of finally being free from the rollercoaster of hormones sounds incredible. Making this film has also really made me think a lot more about how society views women, especially older women.
Your film is contributing to what I hope will become a larger conversation around the evolution of women's bodies. How would you like to see these topics presented between women and by media/art/ literature in the future?
It’s important that this conversation is heard by men, too. All the women who took part in Menopause Stories did so because they wanted women and men to hear their words. This is not purely a conversation for women.