Maud Bracke

Between ‘wounded emancipation’ and shared destinies: mother-daughter relationships as experienced by 1970s feminists

 

 

The Italian feminist movement of the long 1970s presented itself as a dramatic rupture with the past, a ‘year zero’ movement which broke with the politics of earlier feminisms. More specifically, feminist activists in the early 1970s strongly rejected what they referred to as ‘emancipationism’. They meant by this a political programme claiming to offer women equality in the public sphere through political rights and waged work while failing to address the private sphere, and negatively associated it with their mothers’ generation.

 

Thus, much of the historiography has understood 1970s feminism as based on a sharp generational conflict between feminist activists and their mothers. Using new oral history interviews with 1970s activists from Rome, Turin, and Florence, I propose that feminists were strongly shaped by the relationship with their mother, but that this relationship was experienced in a variety of ways, rather than in predominantly negative terms. The feminists interviewed did indeed reject what they understood as the oppressive effects of emancipation politics on their mothers’ lives, observing that the false promise of equality had caused a loss of identity in their mothers. At the same time, they strongly felt a sense of shared destiny, the need to assume responsibility across generations, and the need to avenge the, as put by Anna Bravo, ‘wounded emancipation’ from which their real and symbolic mothers suffered.

 

The paper historicises changes in mother-daughter relationships and female subjectivity in this turbulent period. It sheds light on the ways in which these intimate experiences shaped collective identities and political programmes, and, ultimately, on the experiential origins of 1970s feminism.

 

 

 

 

Dr Maud Anne Bracke is a lecturer in Modern European History at the University of Glasgow. She has published widely on Italian and French communism, ‘1968’ in Italy and France, the Prague Spring, transnational activism, memories of World War Two, and Italian 1970s feminism, the topic of her current monograph project.