Thursday, 14 May 2015

Mothers of the 1970s

Moving in and out of countries, across borders, languages and cultures in these last weeks, brings me to the feeling of my backpacking days. Lugging myself and my suitcase (once backpack) over distances and cobble stone streets, I’m in the present moment, taking in each day, savouring the differences. Travel un-fixes the static self, requiring fluidity and the ability to adapt. Now, I am ready to go home again, very much so, in saturation of this travel. I feel the foreignness of France more acutely, as I long for my family and the familiarity of our little apartment in East Vancouver. 

I know why its called "home-sick." It feels like an illness, a physical ache in the pit of the stomach, and could turn worse if not cared for. How do people do it? Moving to live halfway across the globe like my grandparents, and all the many emigrants and migrants who leave their homes to live in places like Canada. One learns to trade one sense of the familiar for another, and/or lives with that pang of longing for another place and people. I think of all the families separated for months or years by economic necessity, as a parent moves elsewhere for work.

From this topic of “travel” to time travel. I have been reminded a lot lately of the 1970s. Especially the advent of what is known as ‘second wave’ feminism. Being in Women’s and Gender Studies in France, I am experiencing localized and lived effects of feminism across borders, and it’s onwards effects in time. One of my co-presenters in Rome, on a panel concerning “Mothers and Daughters,” is an Italian woman (now living in England) writing about growing up during her mother’s feminist awakening, in Italy of the 1970s. She interviewed her mother about those years, years in which her mother left her in the care of her father and aunts, to pursue her feminist awakening. Beyond this initial abandonment, her mother maintained contact with her, and remained in her life, though not as a care-giver.

Her paper lovingly interweaves the interview with her mother, with her own journey as a mother (who can’t imagine leaving her child). She discusses the gains made by Italian women during the 1970s women’s movement in Italy. How her own life and freer choices are the transformative results of her mother's generation of Italian feminism. This movement forged through an intensely macho/patriarchal culture (as it was, and can still be), dominated by traditional male-centred marriage without access to family planning, abortion, or divorce, and all the many social, economic and religious traps for women in such a society. Her paper highlights her mother’s voice, saying that THE central aspect of the movement was that women lived and worked together. How important were women’s relationships with each other, for finding voice, place, path, and creating freedom in new social norms and values.

The walls of the building of la Casa del donne, where we stayed in Rome, are lined with B & W photographs and posters of women gathering, working, protesting, and collaborating in this Italian women’s movement of the 1970s. I have written of this time period before, but in Canada, being also the years of my childhood. Similarly, yet in a different narrative to my co-presenter, I was impacted by those years with my mother. My mother’s life was then opening into experimental artistic studies and bohemian co-living situations, through which I travelled and lived with her as a child. I lived half-time with each of my parents after their divorce. I was encouraged to be and do and what I wanted when "I grew up." A true child of the "Free to Be, You and Me" generation. My dad brought this record-book set home early on in my life, which inspired children to get beyond gender, race, and class stereotypes and live in authentic ways, told in thoughtful but fun (and funny) stories. I don't know how many times I listened to that record, and read that book.

In was in this same period of the 1970s, that Helene Cixous became known to Anglo-Canadian/American feminists. Her essay “Laugh of the Medusa (1976) was translated into English.

“Write your self. Your body must be heard. Only then will the immense resources of the unconscious spring forth”

“She must write her self, because this is the invention of a new insurgent writing which, when the moment of her liberation has come, will allow her to carry out the indispensable ruptures and transformations in her history”
                                   Helene Cixous, Laugh of the Medusa

Cixous’ essay provokes the right and rites of women’s writing as intimately inter-connected to the liberation of the self/ body/ soul/ and culture-at-large. The whole conjunction of “French Feminism,” which includes people such as Helene Cixous, Catherine Clément, Luce Irigaray, and Julia Kristeva, was created in the 1970s, as their translated works became available in a trans-Atlantic shuttle. This exchange includes French feminists reading the Americans in translation.

I am very aware of how this 1970s period of women’s collaborative and transformative living/working leaks into the contemporary work and practices of women’s spirituality. Women’s spirituality is rooted in women’s leadership, a leadership lived through women's relationships and friendships as centering and creative forces for all kinds of new social/ cultural/ economic/ spiritual practices and philosophies. This is true in my own life and scholarly path, which has grown and been nourished through a women’s relational lens.

The '70s time frame keeps calling me backwards, just as it moves forward in my life. An impact I am more and more curious to grasp.

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