Brie Ripley is a Seattle radio journalist who works as a Digital Media Associate for Town Hall Seattle and freelances for KUOW. In fall 2015, the same quarter she graduated from the UW with a journalism degree, Brie Ripley received the Pat Cranston Student Creativity Endowed Fund. She decided to create a radio documentary about the barriers facing women who want to undergo permanent sterilization. The project is called Tie My Tubes: A Radio Documentary, and wraps production in June. Ripley was recently interviewed as part of Natasha Marin’s #WomanCentered project for Medium about her choice to not have biological children, and how it has shaped her life.
We asked Ripley about some of the issues the documentary will explore, and the process of creating it from a journalistic point of view.
Can you explain the basic concept of the documentary, and what drove you to make it?
In the fall, I became the first recipient of the Pat Cranston Student Creativity Endowed Fund. Cranston is a polymath legend – feminist stalwart, former UW Department of Communication professor and retired radio producer. Receiving the fund comes with a contingency – I have to create a project with professional merit. I am a public media producer who has been telling stories about other people for the last two years. I thought it would be an interesting challenge to turn the mic on myself and tell my own.
Tie My Tubes: A Radio Documentary is a story about my impending sterilization. It is being produced through a combination of first-person narrative and interviews with a myriad of others: women who have been sterilized, who want to be sterilized, who were forcibly sterilized, along with OBGYN’s, reproductive justice lawyers, reproductive rights advocates, and just about anyone with an interesting vantage point on this issue. This procedure is especially hard to receive the younger you are, or “any woman below the age of 30 or who hasn’t yet had a child,” to quote one physician who denied my request for a tubal ligation. I’ve been slapped in the face with “no” after “no” by OBGYN’s in the last few years for soliciting permanent sterilization options. And I’m not the only one. This happens to young women everywhere in the United States. So the documentary hinges on the crux of “why?” Why is it difficult for women make informed, permanent choices about their bodies? Why do politics play a part in a woman’s agency over her body and her life? We’re exploring these questions and taking listeners along with me. Production will wrap in June.
This procedure is especially hard to receive the younger you are, or “any woman below the age of 30 or who hasn’t yet had a child,” to quote one physician
As a journalist, does it feel different to do a project centered on your own personal life?
The subject matter is tangential to very intimate parts of my life – personal beliefs and sexual behavior — and that’s awkward to share with everyone around me, especially my family. So yes, it feels different to do a project based on my personal life. At first it was excruciating to record otherwise private conversations I have with my best friend, knowing what I say might make it into the doc. But I believe in radical honesty. How do you connect with other people unless you make yourself vulnerable to them? Working on a project following my own life is making me more skilled at telling stories about other people’s lives.
Do you see this documentary project as journalism, advocacy, some of both, or neither?
The personal is political. A narrative on personal choice obstructed by governing agencies is rooted in advocacy. I see this documentary as a sort of radio diary woven between other people’s insights, perspectives, and vantage points.
Who makes up the project’s production team?
Tie My Tubes production team is a mötley crüe of tireless up-and-coming producers. My best friend Jocelyn Macdonald and I are the senior producers overseeing it all, and we have a revolving door of incredibly talented, volunteer producers, publicists, and social media matriarchs jamming on the project. J-Mac and I have been making radio together ever since we entered a short radio piece on catcalling into KCRW’s Radio Race back in August of 2014. She’s a professional writer, expert on gender theory and women’s studies, and real witch casting real spells. Her strengths add dimensions to this project that will make the documentary unlike any radio you’ve ever heard before. Most of all, I trust her, and this project simply wouldn’t be possible without her.
Does the project have sponsors?
I mentioned Pat Cranston, and how the endowment fund in her honor catalyzed this project financially. We’ve also received support from a shop in Los Angeles called “Otherwild,” which founded a popular collection of tees and sweaters featuring the slogan, “THE FUTURE IS FEMALE.” We hope to continue partnering and cross promoting with artists and organizations that advocate for women’s rights.
What kind of audio equipment/programs do you use?
I edit with Adobe Audition and record on two different recorders: a Marantz PMD661 and a Marantz 620 MKII. Sometimes we use Jocelyn’s Zoom H4n. I record with a couple different dynamic mics but use a shotgun mic most often.
Are there any ethical issues, or issues relating to access to sources, that you think you might face in creating this project?
We are doing our best to incorporate opposing viewpoints within this documentary to offer a deeper understanding as to why body autonomy is an issue with physicians in the first place. Voicing opposing viewpoints is an important, ethical principal of journalism. Additionaly, combing through record requests and case laws might be difficult, but we have a passionate data journalist on our team who will help make sense of these things so we can better inform the documentary’s listeners.
Do you have any journalism or non-journalism inspirations or role models for this project?
I’m a big fan of the podcast, SheDoes, and its producers, Elaine Sheldon and Sarah Ginsburg. Their series hosted on the podcast platform called Panoply profiles creative women who work in media. Sheldon and Ginsburg’s work, and the subjects of their work, inspire me to take risks by giving myself permission to be vulnerable in front of the microphone. Their podcast has shown me strong, female professionals in creative fields who I can model myself and my work ethic after. Sheldon and Ginsburg prove vulnerability isn’t weakness – it’s your edge.
I believe in radical honesty. How do you connect with other people unless you make yourself vulnerable to them?
You recently graduated from the UW journalism program. How did you get to the point now where you feel confident diving into a huge project like this? Were there any experiences you felt prepared you especially well?
I spent four years in college working 30 hours per week in service industry jobs, hustling paid and unpaid production assistant positions for Seattle’s local NPR stations, and balancing a 15-credit course load. Looking back on it now, this grind showed me how much I can handle before the integrity of my work begins to unravel. It acquainted me with my bandwidth. And honestly, I have no idea if I’m prepared for a project like this one. I’ve never made something like this before. Maybe I’m recklessly confident? I just set out to do exactly what I want like I always do. I follow what feels right and only involve myself in things that serve my interests.
What advice would you give to people who want to make their own documentary project?
It doesn’t feel like work if the story keeps you up at night and gets you out of bed in the morning. But I suppose the same could be said for a job you hate. If you hate your job, I hope you love your projects.
If you want to learn more or share your story…
Contact Tie My Tubes: A Radio Documentary on Facebook. Also, Ripley says: “We’ve setup a hotline! Call (317) 647-5797 and leave your story related to contraception or sterilization after the tone!”