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
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
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
* 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
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,
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
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,
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.