Bethany Svoboda, a local musician, shares her story about growing up in the Seventh Day Adventist Church during Fearless Femme at North Water Brewing Co. in Kent on Tuesday. Michael Indriolo/The Portager
Women once again took to the stage to share their stories after more than a year since the pandemic paused Fearless Femme live storytelling shows.
While lines once extended out the door of the Zephyr Pub in Kent for Fearless Femme, attendees flocked to a new location, North Water Brewing Co., last Tuesday for the first live show in over a year.
Seven women of different ages and walks of life shared stories around the evening’s theme: “Mother.” Suzy D’Enbeau, Fearless Femme’s creator, had turned the show into a podcast in the wake of the pandemic, but she hadn’t stopped planning for the next live show. Working with North Water Brewing Co., she brought fresh ideas to Fearless Femme’s return, hosting the show’s first duet storytellers and its first young woman storyteller. Future shows will continue on the second Tuesday of each month.
“It’s pretty exciting,” she said. “I feel like, for a lot of people, just anecdotally when I’ve talked to them, that people that really liked Fearless Femme before, coming back is like, and I’m not trying to sound inflated, but this is one event coming back and kind of signaling that we’re almost going back to normal.”
Anticipation for the event showed in the packed brewery — every seat inside was taken, and some had to listen from the patio out front. After more than a year of the pandemic, the low roar of activity in a crowded bar felt like a different era.
“This is supposed to be a social hall,” said Derek Christian, a manager at North Water Brewing Co. “That’s why we keep the TVs limited. We don’t really have arcade games. We want people to actually come here and have conversation. So I think something like Fearless Femme helps promote that.”
The brewery plans to expand on this with groups like North Water Brewing Run Club and events like trivia nights every Thursday and TED Talk-style shows featuring college professors, he said.
D’Enbeau, who teaches classes at Kent State herself, always selects Fearless Femme speakers she thinks will offer a unique perspective on each show’s theme. But for her, this show’s theme was especially relevant. Motherhood had been the theme of the Fearless Femme show last May that was cancelled by the pandemic, but it became even more significant to her after she lost her own mother to Covid-19 last year. As she does every six months, she took to the stage to share her own story Tuesday evening.
D’Enbeau approached the heavy subject with vulnerability and humor, drawing laughter from the audience. She encouraged them to sing along with her to a ditty her children made up about the death of one of their pet guinea pigs that happened in the days preceding her mother’s death.
“I have no barriers,” she said. “Part of that is me personally, but I also do that to show that I’m not afraid to do that, so you shouldn’t be afraid either. This is a safe space, and I want this space to know what I went through.”
Fearless Femme’s first duet storytellers told a personal story as well. Jen and Theresea Walton-Fisette, both Kent State professors, shared their perspective on motherhood as a gay married couple raising two children. They recounted a time when they first had to explain homophobia to their young daughter after a friend asked her if she’d rather be “the dumbest person in the world or gay” during a game of would you rather.
“It’s interesting because I would say, on my end, I’m not biologically connected to either of my kids even though I carried our daughter,” Theresa Walton-Fisette said. “I haven’t felt like any less of a mother, but outside, there’s that pressure or that expectation or thought about what it is to be a parent. I think that’s been part of the journey of motherhood.”
Speaking about this made them incredibly nervous, they both said, but they emphasized that it was important for them to share a personal anecdote that demonstrates how social justice issues affect people. Working to educate future teachers, Jen Walton-Fisette said she shared the story with her class to show them how equity issues can manifest even among young children.
“For me, motherhood is just the most wonderful thing,” she said. “I wake up in the morning, and I think about my kids. I go to bed at night, and I don’t fall asleep because of my kids. … Somebody said it tonight about how we think we have so much influence over our children, and we talk about this all the time, but they’re the ones that influence us.”
For another perspective on motherhood, Sherry Rose, development director at the League of Women Voters, spoke about external pressures women face to become mothers as someone with only “four-legged babies.” She wanted to challenge the social norm that men are often defined by their careers while women are often defined by their family lives, she said.
“I thought about what direction I could take, and hopefully offer compassion for those who haven’t or couldn’t have children,” she said.
Her mother, Jackie Rose, came to watch her speak, and coincidentally she was chosen from a random pool of attendees who entered their names for the chance to tell an impromptu “wild card” story. As Jackie Rose watched her daughter speak, she reflected on how much the treatment of women throughout her childhood contrasted with what she was actively participating in now. She used to march and protest before her daughter was even born, she said.
“That’s the joy of being a mother,” she said. “You watch your kids do things you’ve never done, and it’s like, ‘That’s my kid.’”
The night concluded with upright bass and acoustic guitar courtesy of one of the other storytellers, local musician Bethany Joy and her boyfriend, also a local musician, Dan Socha. The two had met at an open mic night in Kent during their college years at the university and stayed in town for about 10 years after they graduated.
Even though they both live in Lakewood now, Joy and Socha jumped at a reason to venture back to their old stomping grounds. D’Enbeau had also used a song by the band Thieves of Joy, featuring both Joy and Socha as members, for the Fearless Femme podcast.
“I think [Fearless Femme] is a great way in which the community comes together,” Socha said. “You know, you go to the loud bars in Kent all the time, and I feel like this is a moment where everybody quiets down, and everybody really just hones in and laughs and cries together.”
While she looked forward to playing, Joy said she was more excited to share her story because she’s never done something like it before. She told a deeply personal story about her upbringing in the Seventh Day Adventist Church and how it affected her identity and her relationship with her mother, who was watching from the audience, as she grew out of it. She’d gotten into rock and roll and drugs as she went through high school, all the while more and more critically examining the patriarchal religious framework she grew up with.
“I don’t care what people think of me,” she said. “I think it’s more interesting when you’re honest and vulnerable. I like people who lay it all out a lot more than people who keep things hidden. I just did that.”
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