My So-Called Selfish Life: An Interview with Filmmaker Therese Shechter

Therese Shechter wonders why there’s so much stigma and judgement around choosing not to have kids. Funny, so do we! In the third documentary in her trilogy on women and identity, she explores what it’s like to be childfree in a culture where motherhood feels mandatory.

Therese’s film, My So-Called Selfish Life, is underway and we can help her reach the finish line! Here, we chat with Therese about the film, why she’s making it, and how we can help. Read to the bottom and check out the trailer!

FILMMAKER THERESE SHECHTER

Tell us about yourself.

I’m a filmmaker, a writer, and a multimedia storyteller. I love singing show tunes and I’m a Deviled Egg maker of some renown. My husband is excellent and also childfree by choice, and although I’m cat deficient at the moment, I hope to rectify that one day. I’ve been making documentaries for the last 17 years since I had a midlife crisis, left an amazing newspaper job in Chicago, went to film school, and then moved to New York.

A journalist recently wrote that my work disturbs what’s considered most sacred about womanhood, which is a description that I really love. All I would add is that humor has always been my secret weapon, because it definitely opens the door to taboo conversations–of which I’ve had several. I mean, do you think that having children is a crucial step in the formation of the female identity? No? Me neither!

I’m currently running a Kickstarter fundraising campaign for My So-Called Selfish Life which has me both excited and terrified.

What’s your film about?

My So-Called Selfish Life is a documentary that will give voice to the growing numbers of women and men who have chosen not to have kids. It’s also an examination of why that choice comes with a hefty dose of judgement and stigma, why our society makes motherhood feel so mandatory, who profits from it, and what we can do to change the conversation. I’m so thrilled to be working on this topic. It’s endlessly fascinating and timely.

This is the third documentary in my trilogy on women and identity, which includes I Was A Teenage Feminist and How To Lose Your Virginity. As with those films, this will be an irreverent mix of very personal interviews, wry commentary, fun animation, outrageous-but-true political and historical tidbits, and pop culture artifacts. We will definitely be talking about the phenomenon of pregnant Barbies with removable bellies.

Why this film? Why now?

I’ve known since high school that I didn’t want kids, so it’s something I’ve been thinking about and discussing privately with my friends for a long time. Over the past several years stories about not wanting children have kind of exploded out of the closet–along with the expected backlash. What my film brings to the conversation is a look at what’s behind the pervasive political, historical, religious and pop culture messages that got us here in the first place.

There’s a reason people feel they have to have kids, and a reason people who go against the mainstream get punished for it. The film will connect the dots between the forces that push a message of maternal inevitability that’s so ingrained we don’t even notice it.

We’ll be asking the questions we’re not supposed to ask about motherhood: Is having children really a woman’s most important–and perhaps only–role? Is the desire to have children innate? Can we create female identities that are independent from motherhood?

I’ve previously tackled feminism, sexuality, body image, periods…this feels like the right time to disturb a few ideas about motherhood.

POET AND MEMOIRIST (AND THE INSPIRATION FOR THE FILM’S TITLE) MOLLY PEACOCK, IN A SCENE FROM THE FILM

Who do you hope will watch it?

I’d like the film to be resonant for men and women who don’t want kids, anyone who is wrestling with the decision, and those who wanted kids but couldn’t have them. We have a diverse cast of characters whose personal stories touch on all of these issues.

I also think we have some things to share with mothers who might want to be recognized for the things they’ve done that don’t have to do with raising children.

Most of all, I want this film, like past projects, to do well on college campuses. It’s vital to have this conversation with young people. This is only the second or third generation where we can actively choose whether or not to have kids. I think we need to provide everyone with the tools to make the right choice for themselves, whether it’s to have kids or not.

What has been the reaction to the film so far?

I created a survey to learn more about the lives of people without kids, and I thought maybe fifty people would answer. After six days, we had over 1900 responses,* at which point I felt like this would be a documentary worth making! It’s been crucial to the development of this film to hear back from such a diverse group of people: their frustrations and their joys, the things they need others to know about their lives, the truly awesome and hilarious ways they’ve talked back to societal expectations.

Since then, we’ve released two mini teasers which have been shared thousands of times, and our longer trailer is coming out with our Kickstarter campaign. I recently showed that trailer to a mother and two young tech guys and they all wanted to know more. It makes me so happy and excited that the project has started passionate conversations within and beyond our core audience.

The biggest reaction has been to a scene in our trailer where an ObGyn states unequivocally that the desire to have children is not innate. I’m sure that many readers of this blog already know that, but it’s been a kind of a bombshell statement for most of the people who have watched it.

The second most passionate discussion has been on our Facebook page, deciding which Stork-Repellant laptop sticker to offer as a Kickstarter reward.

How can we support the film and when/where can we find it?

We’re in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign to fund the filming and editing of My So-Called Selfish Life. Independent documentaries are expensive and take a long time to make, and funding is scarce–especially if it’s a subversive film about the lives of women. If you’d like to see this film out in the world, please back us with a pledge of any amount. We don’t get anything unless we meet our goal, so it’s really vital to pledge as soon as possible and then spread the word. We have great rewards, including Golden Girls rings, an Actual Biological Clock, and Stork-Repelling laptop stickers. The campaign ends October 18th, and In the most vital way, we can’t make this film without everyone’s support. You can also learn more about the film and watch our teasers at our website.

Anything else you’d like us to know?

I’m really grateful to Amy and Lance of we’re {not} having a baby!,** and folks behind the other websites, books, films and movements that have paved the way for the work I’m doing today. Since the 1970s, people have been risking societal wrath to raise awareness that choosing not to have children is a viable option, with benefits for our own lives and for humanity in general.

*Some of the responses from Therese’s survey can be seen in a piece Therese and Amy co-wrote for BUST, The Outrage Against Childfree Women is Real – And Needs To Stop.

**Aw, thanks!!

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