- Introduction to Part II
In Dael Orlandersmith’s Forever (onstage at the New York Theater Workshop, May 2015), the author performs an eighty-minute monologue in which her protagonist battles to speak the truth about herself, truth that is at the same time inevitably truth about her mother.1 The difficulty of truths about the mother, the drama it generates, and how those dramatic truths enter stage history are the concerns of the essays presented in this special section.
In what sense does the maternal need to be re-examined, why now, and why pursue this inquiry via studies of British and North American theatre and drama since the 1970s? One answer lies in the inadequate social support, and contradictory cultural concepts, surrounding contemporary Anglo-American motherhood. Although “motherhood and apple pie” refers to something regarded as an unquestionable good, maternity is presently both problematic and potentially dangerous for individuals and states.2 Most women in Western societies appear to have greater reproductive control than ever thanks to reliable contraception, new technologies for circumventing infertility, and sophisticated means of monitoring pregnancy; nevertheless, maternity remains a significant risk to health. According to Amnesty International’s report “Deadly Delivery: The Maternal Health Care Crisis in the USA” published in 2010, two to three women die every day during pregnancy and childbirth in the United States; an update one year later indicated that the United States’ maternal mortality rate had worsened from forty-first to fiftieth (as compared to other Amnesty-ranked countries). Figures published in the Lancet in May 2010 also show increasing [End Page 125] maternal mortality in Canada, Denmark, Austria, and Norway.3 While Western societies struggle to find effective policies to promote mothering that will support development of the community and the individual, actual conditions for mothers in some of the wealthiest countries are deteriorating.
A UK government study reported in the Guardian in 2008 revealed employment discrimination against pregnant women and those of childbearing age;4 according to Save the Children’s 2007 “Mother’s Index,” employment conditions are worse for mothers in Canada and the United States than in the United Kingdom. Analysis published in the New York Times (August 9, 2014) summarizing recent economic research concluded that generous maternity leave policies in European countries inhibited women’s job opportunities and promotions while lack of leave in the United States discouraged labor force participation outright. “Mothers on both sides of the Atlantic, then, pay a price for the structure of family leave policies.”5 As the conditions of motherhood change, the demography of motherhood is changing also, affected by social and economic pressures not fully understood. European governments attempting to reverse the downward trend of birth rates (falling, for native-born women, since the 1970s) have met with scant success.6 At the same time, racialized discourse has framed the reproductive rates among marginalized populations as a social danger: the British Daily Mail raised the issue of what was seen as excessive Muslim fertility.7 While some demographic change may be comparatively uncontroversial, such as the increase in average maternal age in the United States, it nevertheless entails an alteration in individual maternal experiences and in family histories. Other changes, such as the number of births to unmarried women—almost four out of ten in the United States in 2015; rising faster in the United Kingdom during the 1980s and 1990s than at any time in history—require adaptations in political, social, and economic structures even as they indicate shifts in sexual mores, family patterns, and maternal responsibilities.8
If adequate support for maternity is often wanting in stable and privileged nations, more disturbing still is international inaction concerning the use of rape as a part of warfare, the subject of a widely publicized conference: The Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, London, UK (June 2014). Although the example is extreme, and military conflict lies outside our purview, the phenomenon to which the Summit draws attention—rape as an instrument of war—illustrates a central concern of the essays presented here: maternity as a contested terrain, wherein political, economic, and cultural forces are at work often in ways...