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To Whom Does the Body of this Woman Belong?

I have chosen to focus the thoughts I will develop today on a fact that I consider fundamental for every other discourse concerning women’s autonomy. That is: for women, in every part of the world, the construction of autonomy has meant first of all the re-appropriation of their body; it has meant to have the availability of that female body which has always been at stake in the relation between the sexes. This was true for us at the beginning of the ‘70s in Italy, as it was for the Mayan women when they began to draft their law, at the beginning of the ‘90s in Chiapas. To mention here and compare some aspects of our problematic and struggles on this terrain could be useful then in a battle that for us, as for them, as for many other women in many other countries, has reached important goals, but is far from being concluded.

When I read the Revolutionary Law of the Mayan Women, I was struck by the very close correspondence between the demands presented in it, as well as the others that were being all along elaborated, and our own demands at the dawn of the 1970s. We, like them, had to unite as women in a movement in order to lift ourselves out of our pain and impotence.

Impotence was the very problem we had witnessed in the lives of our mothers. It was the impotence due to the lack of money that made any choice, even running away from violent husbands or fathers, impossible. It was the impotence of not knowing our sexuality, which made marriages fail, but was beyond remedy as the counterpart were men who knew nothing about female sexuality1. And again the impotence of not being able to communicate, as it was a taboo to speak with other women of too intimate things; the impotence coming from the stigmatization of life outside of marriage, which forced our mothers to move, still very young, from the house of their father to that of their husband, without ever having a chance to find out who they were and what they wanted; the impotence of finding themselves mothers just nine months after their marriage, without ever having known themselves as women –-pre-matrimonial ‘virginity’ being a social imperative; the impotence of being subjected to violence in or out of the family, but not being able to speak about it, not to expose the family to a scandal and not to be guilt-tripped by other men, starting with the judges and the policemen; the impotence of being subjected to sexual harassment on the job, but not being able to afford to loose it. All these are issues that, despite great differences as far as social contexts and life conditions, stand out clearly in the demands and debates that are developing among Mayan women.

Prioritizing those issues that concern women’s control over their body, we find that women are fighting for the right to their sexuality, and not simply a sexuality finalized to procreation or male satisfaction2. They are fighting for the right not to marry, to have the possibility to live a union with the partner without been compelled to marry, the right to choose a husband or partner instead of having to accept the husband chosen by their parents, the right to control the number of children they want and can raise, the right to have a special attention paid to themselves and their children with regard to healthcare and nutrition, the right to have access to education, which begins with the right to learn about one’s body and the issues concerning ‘reproductive health’, the right to have basic services, the right not to be subjected to violence either in or out of the family. They further demand that housework, which absorbs the entire day of a woman’s body, be equally shared with men, as the condition to have more time and energies to pursue their objectives. This too corresponds closely to what we demanded, as we never considered a more equal division of domestic work the final objective of our struggle, but only saw it as the condition for us to be able to struggle to obtain better conditions of life and work, for us and for other people.

Women’s struggle over the work of reproduction has always been a force producing more wellbeing and autonomy for the people depending on them, children and the elderly first of all. As it is well-known, we also demanded that this work be remunerated, reduced, and supported by adequate services, but I will discuss tomorrow the outcome of these requests.

At the beginning of our movement we made a poster picturing the body of a woman with this caption: “To whom does the body of this woman belong? “ The church? The state? The doctors? The bosses? No, It’s her own.” The answer could not be taken for granted; and the need to affirm it derived precisely from the fact that fathers, husbands, doctors, clerical authorities all competed for the right to control women’s sexuality and generative capacity. They all claimed the right to decide whether or not to allow women to have a sexual life, have contraceptives, keep a child without being married, be able to abort. The conquest of autonomy on this terrain and with regard to these ‘authorities,’ the re-appropriation of our body, compelled us to move on different levels, above all to build that knowledge of our body that women did not have.

To this end it was above all necessary to make and distribute small pamphlets with some illustrations, often small home-made pictures, which gave basic information : how women’s and men’s reproductive organs are made, what are the needs posed by the main events and changes in female biological life (menarche, contraception, pregnancy, child-birth, nursing, abortion, menopause), what are the most common pathologies, how to recognize them, how to cure them, how to gain knowledge about and experiment on the terrain of sexuality. In 1974, the famous Our Bodies Ourselves3 was translated into Italian. It was produced by a women’s collective in Boston which had concentrated its efforts on the question of women’s health and sexuality. But a commitment to women’s health and sexuality had characterized the feminist movement in the US since the 19th century4. It re-emerged as a leading issue in the international feminist movement of the 1970s, triggering an activity of “counter-information” that exposed the distortions or silences of medical science, aiming to give women back that knowledge and decision-making power concerning sexuality and procreation that the birth of official medicine, from its dawn, had violently taken away from them5.

voluntary and free interruption of pregnancy, to be carried out in hospitals (we reached this goal with the law n.194 of 1978), and to create a mobilization around the trials for abortion. The one that took place in Padova on June 5, 1973 sparked off the struggle on this terrain, due to the set of initiatives that we launched, along with the whole feminist movement. It was urgent to make it known that the majority of women who aborted were family mothers who already had children and could not afford to have another one. We wanted to make it known that too many women were dying or remained severely injured because of clandestine abortions, and that we would not allow more deaths and suffering. On April 7 of the year 1976, another mother, 27 years old, with two children, died in Padova due to an abortion. This event sparked off the occupation by the movement of the

university buildings where gynecology was practiced and taught. We

denounced publicly that many doctors, conscientious objectors, that is

denying abortion because of their catholic belief, made a big, illicit business

off clandestine abortions (generally carried out with dangerous techniques,

without anesthesia, therefore causing the woman atrocious pains)6. I have

learned that, in Mexico’s rural regions, one woman out of 5 has passed

through the same experience, often as a result of sexual violence suffered

inside the family7. I hope that she does not have to suffer it alone any longer,

that she does not have to face the dangers and pains to which Italian women

were subjected before the rise of the movement. Above all I hope that she

will soon have available some means of birth control8, and in case of sexual

intercourse with uncertain outcome she could have means like “the day after

pill,” that allows women to avoid an abortion.

Child-birth9 too became a moment of great mobilizations and struggle

in the hospitals where women giving birth were dying for no reason --three in the space of a few months in the Obstetrical Division of Padova’s Civic

Hospital. We opposed the excessive medicalization of the event, the

imposition on women of a total passivity that turned them into patients, the

sadism with which childbirth was treated (stiching without anesthesia, for

example) and the doctors’ authoritarian, arrogant behavior. The response to

all these problems was the growth of a vast mobilization and a movement

that called for an active childbirth, restoring to women their role as

protagonists of the event, and creating the conditions enabling them to

experience it as something natural, to be held in a serene environment,

surrounded by people they would trust. It was starting from this time that the

presence of the husband or another person in the birthing room began to be

admitted. For us this was a difficult conquest, whereas I have learned that

the husbands of the Mayan women are present and cooperate during the

event. In the following years some “birthing houses” have been set up in

Italy, a few, capable of providing hospital-like assistance in case of need, but

above all structured to provide a domestic environment where childbirth can

return to be a natural event and not be treated as a disease. The idea was

revisited that women could give birth in their houses, but with the guarantee

of a quick connection with the hospital in case of necessity. Birthing

positions were rediscovered that women had already practiced in the Middle

Ages and in ancient times, certainly more natural and comfortable than the

one imposed in the hospitals, which is only convenient for the doctors. Now

some hospitals, few however, make it available. Concerning childbirth, I

was struck by what Guiomar Rovira10 reported in his book, that I very much

appreciated, which is that village midwives in case of breech delivery were

able to turn the child inside of the womb of his/her mother. In Italy too, the

old midwives were able to do it. Now almost nobody can, neither doctors,

nor midwives and this becomes one more justification to make caesarean

births. The medical profession obviously does not consider it convenient to

preserve this knowledge and skill. Caesarean births, instead, have had an

exponential growth in the last years; in some hospitals they represent 40% or

more of all births. But it is a surgery, it is not an alternative way of giving

birth. Concerning childbirth we also denounced the high number of children

that in some hospitals were born spastic or injured11 because of bad

practices or an incompetent use of the forceps. In Chiapas, instead, an infant

can die because of bad hygienic conditions, or because it does not have enough of what it needs to survive. In both cases, we see the destruction of

the woman’s long labor of care and hard work, and of hers and the infant’s

fundamental rights.

The condition of the unmarried mother, i.e. the pregnant unmarried

woman, was very punitive before the movement. Often she was chased from

the home, exactly like the Mayan women, without knowing where to go,

what to do to continue her pregnancy, and how to find work to support her

child. Often she had to leave him/her to an orphanage. There were some

institutes for women pregnant out of wedlock, but they were rather sad and

were making these women feel guilty. We did some organizational work

with the women guests there12. In our international campaign for wages for

housework, the figure of the self-supported mother with children was a

fundamental one, because all advanced states devoted some funds and

facilities to these women. Italy, instead, was a negative exception. The

Family Allowances given by the state in Great Britain, and the “Aid To

Dependent Children” given to “welfare mothers” in the United States13 were

a first concrete form of remuneration for the work of procreation and child

raising women do. In the mobilization we devoted to this female situation,

we denounced that the Italian state was willing to give a large financial

support to the institutes that accepted the children these women had to

abandon due to lack of means. A financial support destined to be dispersed

in the meanders of the ‘clientelism’ that permeates political relations. It

would have been more logical to give that money, even less would have

been enough, to the woman to enable her to raise her child.

More broadly, to re-appropriate their body women questioned and

tried to establish a different relation with every aspect of gynecology. At the

time, almost all the gynecologists were men; some women feminists were

just beginning to graduate with specialization in this discipline; they would

become a key point of reference. The same is true of those men activists that

became gynecologists and who, responding to the new awareness that the women’s movement had created, took the side of women and provided a

generous and serious assistance. It was especially in this medical field that

we collected testimonies14, as we used to do in every other field in which we

moved. Some feminists in Milan conducted an inquiry15 on the functioning

of the health public structures in the city; some women agreed to play the

patients. It was found that there was no respect, no consideration, to say the

least. The authoritarianism of the doctors was even more unchecked in this

field. It is significant what we found out about public clinics. Women, beside

having to go there, very early, all together, at the same time --which meant

that they had to cross the city at dawn-- then had to wait for most of the

morning (getting individual appointments was apparently too much to

expect); they were also forbidden to speak among themselves, as announced

by a sign hanging on the wall. That is communication was forbidden.

Today, this can seem absurd. But it gives a good idea about the despotism of

the medical profession at the time. Soon, however, the movement was to

brake this compulsory silence.

In 1974, in Padova, with the aim of creating an example of a different

relation between doctors and women, we built the first self managed

community based gynecological counseling clinic, a “consultorio”, where

doctors as well, as I mentioned, besides many women, provided assistance.

Soon others followed in other cities16. In these “consultori” women were

taught how to make a self-examination, how to use the speculum, how to

recognize the most common ailments, and how to treat them; they were

taught about the diaphragm, as a contraceptive that women could manage by

themselves without needing to consult a doctor and without any cost. This is

why perhaps this is a means of contraception that in Italy never spread very

much. But it was a contraceptive that female students discovered in their

first trips to England, as it was very common in the Family Planning clinics

of this country; with it they discovered a sense of autonomy, and how cheap

it was to use it. Not long after, in 1975, the bill n. 405 was passed, that

instituted the clinics for family counseling, but they would always be inferior

in numbers compared to what the law decreed and lacking as far as their

ability to provide information and preventive measures, which was their function. They were certainly a far cry from the exemplary structures we had

wanted to build. These deficiencies were obviously functional to the public

and private business that is made off disease. Among the information that we

provided was the existence, already at this time, of the epidural injection

that could spare women the pains of childbirth. But it was almost impossible

to obtain it. The hospitals considered it a waste and an unaffordable expense

to hire anesthesiologists who could give the injection to the women who

requested it. Above all, it was unconceivable that women should not have to

suffer in childbirth. It was an entrenched belief, in the medical profession,

that women should not have an alternative to suffering in that event. Though

in our pamphlets we underlined that “even for the treatment of a cavity one

gives anesthesia, why then we should not receive it for labor pains? “ the

medical obedience to the precept “You will procreate in pain” remained

practically undisputed.

Only in recent years this type of anesthesia has begun to be more

present in the hospitals; this on account of the privatized character of

healthcare, which creates a fear of competition among the structures that

offer this possibility. This year, finally, the recently appointed Minister of

Healthcare, Livia Turco, has decided that all hospitals must offer this

procedure to women giving birth. This is a turning point in the history of

female suffering. The same Minister has also decided that “the day-after

pill,” which can avoid abortion in case of sexual intercourse with risk of

pregnancy, should be available in all pharmacies and should be sold without

the need for a medical prescription. Here too, finally, we have an initiative

which recognizes that women have the right to exercise their sexuality - a

right that has always being recognized to men - recognizing also that sexual

relations can, in some cases, have an uncertain outcome, and that, in these

cases, it is a duty to give women the means available to science today to

spare them the pain, in every sense, of abortion. As for the abortive pill

RU486, which, if taken within the second month of pregnancy, spares

women the most bloody type of surgical abortion, the same Minister has

authorized its experimentation in the hospitals over all the national territory.

Since, however, this pill has already been experimented in other European

countries, where it is on sale, this amounts to its official acceptance among

abortive procedures. Here too, breaking with the commandment that women

should suffer the maximum of pain, a devise has been made available to

them that - in the context of a choice nevertheless dramatic - causes at least

less pain. It is still significant that the Karman method, that is, abortion by

aspiration, a procedure, this too, far less bloody than surgical abortion, and one that the feminists movement of the 1970s had revamped, had in the

meantime fallen into disuse.

While procreation and the interruption of pregnancy were events that a

number of us had experienced, and on which we had built our awareness and

determination to change their conditions, we had, instead, no opportunity to

experiment how, at an older age, the female body would become the object

of new abuses. How, without any good reason, but only for the interests of

the healthcare structures and the medical profession, it would be often

mutilated, deprived of the organs that characterize it as a female body. I refer

here to the abuse of hysterectomy17 a surgery carried out even when not

justified by the patients’ pathology or even in the absence of any pathology

(accompanied in about half the cases by the surgical removal of healthy

ovaries). This surgery has many negative consequences for sexuality, for

cardio-vascular diseases and the pelvic static. But, in the last decades, its

abuse has characterized medical practice in many advanced countries. In

Italy, one woman out of 5 can expect to undergo this procedure, in some

regions like Veneto, where I live, it is one out of 418. This is the third great

battle that the female body must face after childbirth and abortion, in many

regions of the world, advanced or not, to defend its integrity and the quality

of its life in mature age, against the violence and abuse of medical science,

The medical approach that sustains this abuse reveals a conception of the

woman as a reproductive machine. Many doctors declare that when she has

already procreated the number of children she desired, or in any case when

she is near (often unfortunately not near) menopause, it is better to take out

those organs that are of no use and one day could contract some serious

disease. But these organs, ovaries and uterus, are very important for the

health and hormonal balance of women, before and after menopause.

However, in the eyes of too many gynecologists, the woman, as a person,

does not count, the integrity of her body does not count, and even less her

sexuality, which often this operation compromises. Above all for the hospital business it is profitable to carry out many operations. And the

medical profession benefits from having on its record many of these

interventions, which represent the most important type of surgery for

gynecology. It is a battle in which the knowledge of one’s body, the

determination to safeguard it, and a long communication among women are

crucial. On the web, a number of sites have been activated by groups of

women who give information about this operation, and where many patients

who have been subjected to it offer their testimony.

The year 1974 was a particularly important one. We had won, with all

other women the referendum on divorce19; we had obtained that this

institution, adopted by our legislation just a few years before, would not be

abolished, condemning women and men to irreversible choices, no matter

what might happen or be revealed in the marriages contracted. This was a

victory which the movement won, against a despotic condemnation to a life

of suffering without remedy

The other great theme regarding the female body was violence,

violence against the adult woman or the child woman. Reading about how,

in the Mayan villages, often women are subjected to violence in the family

as well as out of it, I remembered how we discovered the violence that little

girls were subjected to in the family from reading the compositions they

wrote in the elementary schools. The women in the movement who were

teachers began to pay a special attention to them. But soon they also

discovered the situation of extreme impotence which the mother faced: if she

denounced the husband and he went to prison who would support the

family? How would the often rural environment in which the family lived

react to this? How would the husband react once he returned home? This

problematic was very similar to those met by Mayan women. With regard to

cases of violence against adult women, we built a lot of mobilization, above

all establishing, with our combative presence during the trials against those

who perpetrated this violence, that the victim should not be turned into the

defendant, by the judges, the lawyers, and men in general. We decided that it

was intolerable, a sign of lack of consideration for the woman as a person,

that sexual violence should be classified in the penal code as a crime against

public morality and decency and not as a crime against the person, and we

worked to ensure that case histories and penalties should be better

determined. Many bills were proposed but none was passed for twenty years.

We had to wait until 1996, when bill n. 66 was passed, before we could see violence against women classified as a crime against the person, rather than

against public morality and decency, and penalties made more severe, and

case histories catalogued with more precision. Meanwhile, our long term

activity and debate led to the emergence of women’s associations20, that

awakened a new awareness and determined a different, more respectful

attitude among male and female operators in the sites (hospitals, police

stations, courts) a woman who denounced violence had to pass through.

Today, the phone book of some communes, Padova included, offers among

its public utility numbers, that of the “Woman Anti-violence Service.”

Other communes, of rural villages, object to the idea that women should

build a center against violence, because they consider it inappropriate that

these stories go beyond the domestic walls. As the saying goes, “you wash

your dirty linen at home.”

Why this domination, this control by others over the body of the

woman, and why is it impossible or at least difficult for her to have the

availability of it? Why so much inertia on the side of the institutions, even

though, in some places, the movement’s intervention has generated

initiatives that in some way confront it?

The answer lies in another poster that pictures the body of the woman

cradled and compressed within the walls of a house with the caption:

“Domestic work sustains the world but suffocates and limits the woman.”

That is, her body must be imprisoned, so that it can expend that unpaid

domestic labor that sustains the world and, in this world, men above all. But

the answer must be found, first of all, in the representations of the women

accused of witchcraft and made to burn on the stakes that proliferated

throughout Europe in the XVIth and XVIIth centuries, causing an atrocious

death to hundreds of thousands of women, many of whom were midwives

and folk healers, guilty only of having knowledge about childbirth, abortion

and contraceptive practices21. The expropriation of women from their body

and its transformation into a machine for the reproduction of labor- power

began five centuries ago, at the dawn of capitalism, when labor-power

became the most precious commodity, and female sexuality was distorted

and forced to function for procreation and reproduction of others. On the stakes of the witches not only a gynecological knowledge was destroyed that

had always been in the hands of midwives in an egalitarian relation with

other women, but the model of woman was forged that the family of the

developing capitalist society needed : a woman isolated, sexually repressed,

subjected to the authority of the husband, maker of children, with no

economic autonomy, and without any knowledge and decision-making

power with regard to sexuality and procreation. Above all, with that

homicidal expropriation, the state claimed for itself, subtracting it from

women’s knowledge, the control over reproduction of labor-power, assisted

in this by the mediation of the medical profession that was itself under the

control of state and church. The model of the woman forged on the stake

was still in place in Italy until the time when the movement began to refuse

it. As we denounced, already in the 1970s, male domination over the

woman’s body is functional to the extraction from it of the maximum of

work, above all domestic work, and the satisfaction of the sexual needs of

men, who, for their part, do not have to confront themselves with women’s

needs (hence the convenience of women’s ignorance concerning sex).

Violence intervenes, as a disciplinary instrument in this work relation to the

extent that the disciplinary power of the wage is missing22. It intervenes

when the man’s provision for her “upkeep,” which is what the woman gains

in exchange for her work on the basis of the marriage contract, is not enough

to guarantee him access to a certain quantity and quality of her work. We

must think of course of domestic work in its complex character as work of

reproduction, that is a combination of material and immaterial activities, to

understand in how many cases this violence can explode, especially at

present when women have in part re-appropriated their bodies and desires. It

is still significant, however, according to what is reported by members of

some Anti-Violence Centers in Italy23 that, even today, the cause unleashing

male violence is often the fact that she refused to do the housework, or did not do it as he wanted it done. That is, the woman “not well disposed” or

well trained to do housework (certainly much less disposed or trained than in

previous generations) is more exposed to the risk of violence. Let us add that

today it is more and more difficult to have a male wage capable of

guaranteeing the upkeep of the wife and the children. Instead, it is access to

two wages, his and hers, both precarious, that guarantees it. From this it

follows that the woman feels certainly even less obliged to do domestic


As for the institutional inertia (with regard to violence against

women), which is a worldwide reality and in various Italian regions is still

very heavy, its motivation is largely determined, as we already verified in

the 1970s, by the need to offer men a safety valve with regard to the

frustrations they experience in their work and their lives, to offer them

someone, the woman, over whom they can have and exercise their power.

We must add the male complicity of the personnel of the hospitals, the

police stations and the courts, that has always been there and continues to

exist, especially in those situations that have less been reached by a work of

sensibilization and professional formation. Today, I repeat it, the situation

has improved in many of these places, so that we find there more

competence and sensibility, also thanks to the higher presence of women,

who in the past were either completely absent or present in irrelevant

numbers. But this work of sensibilization and formation has had positive

effects also for the male personnel.

The fact remains that, while initiatives have widened providing

women victims of violence some reference point where to gain a first aid,

and while there has been some work of sensibilization and formation for the

personnel, the cases of violence against women have multiplied. And the

violence has become even more sadistically cruel, with deadly tortures,

often carried out by a gang, as a group violence. As for the violence within

the couple, a recent TV report24 stated that from 2000 to 2002, in our

country, 405 of these cases have resulted in the murder of the woman. And a

very high number of women who suffer violence do not report it; however,

the number of those who do is growing.

In a social context in which neo-liberal policy reduces human life and

the physical and social body that contains it to a commodity, women’s

sexuality remains a commodity that emerging from a past in which it was

not recognized as a woman’s personal right, can be robbed with impunity.

After all, the woman’s body, according to the viewpoint of still too many men, is not her own, it belongs to the man who will take it. The women’s

movements, then, have to set up defense networks, but in the meantime they

must confront an increasingly harsher attack.

In recent months, the competition over the woman’s body, the

competition concerning who owns it, has seen in Italy two dramatic cases,

both concluded with the death of the woman. A young Pakistani immigrant

woman, who had decided to lead her life in the same way she saw other

Italian women live , working and cohabiting with her partner, was killed by

decision of her father, because she had chosen this life, instead of accepting

to be given in marriage to a man chosen by her parents. A young Indian

woman, who had remained widow, killed herself, instead, laying her body

over the train tracks, because she did not want to accept to be given in

marriage to her husband’s brother, and because she wanted her two children

to be able to continue to live in Italy where they had gone to school and

where they had begun their formation and had their first friendships. She

left it written that she prayed the town council to take care of them. These

are two significant examples of how globalization, through the emigration-

immigration flows it generates, also sees women engaged in a planetary

process of elaboration and comparison of their rights and their own

conditions. It sees the growth of a women’s determination, cost what may, to

re-appropriate their own body, no longer as a machine of production

commanded by others, but as their body that desires and decides. What the

movements that developed a quarter of a century ago, in the advanced

countries, have won as far as women having the availability of their own

body, represents a point of comparison and strength also for other women

who today must confront this difficult battle. The most fundamental right, to

have the availability of our own body and of the emotions and feelings it

generates, the right not to be imprisoned once and for all in marriages with

men we have not chosen, to be able to control the number of children we

have, to be able to decide not to have children, not to marry, and have

nevertheless a respected place in society, to have dignity also in the choice

of staying alone, all of this is more and more a non-negotiable objective.

It is true: to have money of one’s own, to be able to have and inherit

land, to have access to education and basic services, are all very important

instruments in the construction of women’s autonomy. Nevertheless, the

battle for reclaiming one‘s body cannot be delayed, nor can be subordinated

to other deadlines, and it must prepare its own instruments to succeed. In

this sense, I have started from our small pamphlets of the 1970s, and the

initiatives that at the time we took in order to begin to discover and liberate

our body.



* This paper has been presented at the international Conference on : “The

Possible Autonomy”, Universidad Autonoma de la Ciudad de Mexico, 24-

25-26 October 2006. It has been translated from Italian into English by

Silvia Federici.
















1 .A significant book on this topic is Lieta Harrison, La donna sposata. Mille mogli accusano,

Feltrinelli, Milano, 1972


2 .As G. Rovira reports, “men simply ‘use’ women.” It is striking that this is the same verb used in

the past in rural environments in Italy. Rovira reports that female sexual pleasure is something

unknown. The same was true for us before the movement. Sebastiana in the dialogue with the

government at the end of ’95 denounced this situation screaming angrily that women’s sexual

pleasure “is not accepted, this is the habit.” (Donne di mais, Manifestolibri, Roma,1997, p.76)

And later, at the dialogue table, she again declared, “When did we ever feel pleasure in our sexual

relations? Never, because they never teach you that, and it is sad that this is not done in our

communities; they say that this is the custom and that this is the same everywhere for women.”



3. The Boston Women’s Health Collective, Noi e il nostro corpo. Scritto dalle donne per le donne,

Feltrinelli, Milano, 1974 (ed.or. Our Bodies Ourselves, Shimon and Schuster, New York, 1971).


4. Its beginning coincided with the peaking of a popular movement (1830-1850), the Popular

Health Movement, that pursued and practiced a type of medicine completely different from that

of the ‘regular’ doctors coming out of the universities. Taking a class and feminist perspective,

this movement was above all concerned with guaranteeing medical treatments to the lower

classes of whatever ethnic origin and to preserve and elaborate a knowledge that was certainly

more valid than that of the pretentious medical science of the Faculty of Medicine.


5 .Ehrenreich B. and D. English, Le streghe siamo noi. Il ruolo della medicina nella repressione

della donna, Celuc Libri, Milano, 1975 (ed. or. Witches, Midwives, and Nurses: A History of

Women Healers, The Feminist Press, Old Westbury (N.Y), 1973; Federici Silvia e Fortunati Leopoldina, Il grande Calibano. Storia del corpo sociale ribelle nella prima fase del capitale,

Franco Angeli, Milano, 1984. See also Federici Silvia, Caliban and the Witch. Women, the Body

and Primitive Accumulation, Autonomedia, New York, 2004, and here in particular her chapter

on The Great Witch Hunt.


6 .Collettivo internazionale femminista (a cura di), Aborto di Stato: Strage delle innocenti,

(Translator’s Note, TN: State abortion: massacre of the innocent women), Marsilio Editori,

Venezia, 1976.


7 .G. Rovira, op. cit.


8 .It is appropriate for me to inform that the pill or the condom or the diaphragm is not the only

possible contraceptives. Small devices are now available that a woman can administer herself,

these are markers which in contact with her saliva become one color or the other depending on

whether it is a fertile or not fertile day.


9 .Gruppo femminista per il Salario al lavoro domestico di Ferrara (a cura di), Dietro la normalitá

del parto. Lotta all’Ospedale di Ferrara (TN: Feminist Group for Wages for Housework of Ferrara, ed., Behind the Normality of Childbirth. Struggle at the Hospital of Ferrara), Marsilio

Editori, Venezia, 1978.


10 .G. Rovira op. cit.


11 .Gruppo femminista per il Salario al lavoro domestico di Ferrara (cura di), op.cit.


12 .Comitato di Lotta delle Ragazze Madri, Ragazze madri in lotta. Documenti e

testimonianze delle ragazze madri della Casa della Madre e del Fanciullo di via Pusiano,

n.22, Milano. (TN: Committee of the Unmarried Mothers in Struggle. Documents and

Testimonies of the Unmarried Mothers of the House of the Mother and Child of Pusiano

Street, n.22, Milan) (Collection of mimeographed documents reporting on the action

undertaken), Milan October-December 1973. See also Lotta Femminista of Modena,

Madri in azione, a mimeograph that reports on the history and the activity of “Mothers in

Actions,” a collective of sole-supported mother with dependent children, without

distinction of race or nationality, present in London since 1967.


13 .Mariarosa Dalla Costa, “A proposito del welfare” (TN: “Concerning Welfare”) in Primo

Maggio, 9/10, winter 1977/78


14 .Movimento di Lotta Femminista di Ferrara, Basta tacere. Testimonianze di donne. Parto,

aborto, gravidanza, naternitá (self-published, undated). (TN: Movement of Lotta Femminista of

Ferrara, “We won’t be silent any longer. Testimonies of women. Childbirth, abortion, pregnancy,



15 .Poggio, L.C, Avanti un’altra. Donne e ginecologi a confronto, La Salamandra, Milano, 1976.


16 .Jourdan Clara, Insieme contro. Esperienze dei consultori femministi, La Salamandra, Milano,




17 .“Hysterectomy” means the surgical removal of the uterus while oophorectomy means the

surgical removal of the ovaries. I have dedicated a book to the abuse of this operation, a study

that contains many testimonies of women and doctors: Mariarosa Dalla Costa (a cura di),

Isterectomia. Il problema sociale di un abuso contro le donne, Franco Angeli, Milano, 1998, 3th

expanded ed. 2002 (Japanese translation, Impact Shuppankai, Tokyo, 2002; English translation:

Gynocide. Hysterectomy, Capitalist Patriarchy, and the Medical Abuse of Women, Autonomedia,

New York, 2007).


18 .In comparison with the neighboring France, and on the basis of the type of pathologies for

which it is applied, 80% of these surgical interventions seem unjustified. In the United States, the

country that sadly is the leader as far as the number of these operations, the probability that a

woman will undergo it is of one out 3 before she is 60, and 40% before she is 64.


19 .Lotta Femminista, Vogliamo Decidere Noi. Donne, referendum, divorzio (TN: It is Us Who

Must Decide. Women, referendum, divorce), Mimeograph, March 1974.


20 .In Padova, the “Centro Veneto Progetti Donna” (TN: Veneto Center Women’s Projects) has

conducted this type of activity, beside organizing support for women who had been victims of

violence. It has done so by initiative of Lucia Basso, a feminist who had been very active in the

Padova Committee for Wages For Housework. Together with other women, Basso had also

created the “Gruppo Donne Ospedaliere” (TN: Women Working in Hospitals Group) that played

a very important role in the struggles in the hospitals on women’s healthcare.


21 .S.Federici and L.Fortunati, op. cit.; Silvia Federici op. Cit.


22 .This thematic has been has been thoroughly analyzed in Giovanna F. Dalla Costa, Un

lavoro d’amore. La violenza fisica componente essenziale del “ trattamento”maschile nei

confronti delle donne, Edizioni delle donne, Roma, 1978. (Japanese translation, Ai no

rodou, Impact Shppankai Tokyo, 1991; English translation, The Work of Love. Unpaid

Housework, Poverty & Sexual Violence at the Dawn of the 21st Century. Autonomedia,

New York, 2008).


23 .In Europe the first Anti-violence Centers or Houses for Women (who suffered violence)

appeared towards the end of the’70s. In Italy, except for the initiatives organized by the feminist

movement of the ‘70s, they appeared at the beginning of the ‘90s. They are supported by public

funds and voluntary work. Today there are more than 80, of which one quarter offers hospitality

in a secret apartment also called shelter. The first four Houses For Women who suffered violence

were created between 1990 and 1991 in Bologna, Milan, Modena and Rome.


24 .Channel 5, September 29, 2006, 13.30 pm.







(The) Boston Women’s Health Collective, Noi e il nostro corpo. Scritto

dalle donne per le donne, Feltrinelli, Milano, 1974 (ed.or. Our Bodies

Ourselves, Shimon and Schuster, New York, 1971).

Collettivo internazionale femminista, (a cura di), Aborto di Stato : Strage

delle innocenti (TN: State abortion: massacre of the innocent women),

Marsilio Editori, Venezia, 1976.

Comitato di Lotta delle Ragazze Madri, Ragazze madri in lotta. Documenti e

testimonianze delle ragazze madri della Casa della Madre e del Fanciullo di

via Pusiano, n.22, Milano, Milano ottobre-dicembre 1973 (TN: Committee

of the Unmarried Mothers in Struggle. Documents and Testimonies of the

Unmarried Mothers of the House of the Mother and Child of Pusiano

Street, n.22, Milan) (mimeographed documents).

Dalla Costa Giovanna Franca, The Work of Love. Unpaid Housework,

Poverty & Sexual Violence at the Dawn of the 21st Century, Autonomedia,

New York, 2008 (Translated from the Italian, Un lavoro d’amore. La

violenza fisica componente essenziale del “trattamento” maschile nei

confronti delle donne, Edizioni delle donne, Roma, 1978). (Japanese

Translation: Ai no rodou, Impact Shuppankai, Tokyo, 1991).

Dalla Costa Mariarosa, “A proposito del welfare” (TN: Concerning Welfare)

in Primo Maggio, n.9/10, winter 1977/78.

Dalla Costa Mariarosa ed., Gynocide. Hysterectomy, Capitalist Patriarchy,

and the Medical Abuse of Women, Autonomedia, New York, 2007

(Translated from the Italian, Isterectomia. Il problema sociale di un abuso

contro le donne, FrancoAngeli, Milano, 1998, 3th expanded ed. 2002).

(Japanese Translation: Impact Shuppankai, Tokyo, 2002).

Eherenreich B. and English D., Le streghe siamo noi. Il ruolo della medicina

nella repressione della donna, Celuc Libri, Milano, 1975 (ed. or. Witches,

Midwives, and Nurses: A History of Women Healers, The Feminist Press,

Old Westbury, N.Y., 1973).

Federici Silvia e Lepoldina Fortunati, Il grande Calibano. Storia del corpo

sociale ribelle nella prima fase del capitale, Franco Angeli, Milano, 1984.

Federici Silvia, Caliban and the Witch. Women, the Body and Primitive

Accumulation, Autonomedia, New York, 2004.

Federici Silvia, The Great Witch Hunt, in Federici Silvia, Caliban and the

Witch. Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation, Autonomedia, New

York, 2004.

Gruppo femminista per il Salario al lavoro domestico di Ferrara (a cura di),

Dietro la normalità del parto. Lotta all’Ospedale di Ferrara ((TN: Feminist

Group for Wages for Housework of Ferrara, Behind the normality of

childbirth. Struggle at the Hospital of Ferrara), Marsilio Editori, Venezia,


Harrison Lieta, La donna sposata. Mille mogli accusano (TN: The Married

Woman. A Thousand Wives bring Charge), Feltrinelli, Milano, 1972.

Jourdan Clara, Insieme contro. Esperienze dei consultori femministi (TN:

Together against. The Experiences of Feminist Consultori), La Salamandra,

Milano, 1976.

Lotta Femminista, Vogliamo decidere noi. Donne, referendum, divorzio

(TN: It’s Us Who Must Decide. Women, referendum, divorce),

mimeographe, March, 1974.

Movimento di Lotta Femminista di Ferrara, Basta tacere. Testimonianze di

donne. Parto, aborto, gravidanza, maternità (TN: Ferrara Movement of

Lotta Femminista, We won’t be Silent Any Longer. Testimonies of Women.

Childbirth, abortion, pregnancy, maternity) (undated self-published).

Piaggio L. C., Avanti un’altra. Donne e ginecologi a confronto (TN: Step up,

another one. Women and gynecologists confront each other), La

Salamandra, Milano, 1976.

Rovira Guiomar, Donne di mais. Voci di donne dal Chiapas (TN: Women of

Mais. Women’s Voices from Chiapas), Manifestolibri, Roma, 1997.


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