Chiara, young researcher living in Vienna, already an activist back in Italy, tells us her thoughts as a 30-something woman regarding motherhood, that she sees as an experience that could potentially prevent her to dedicate herself to other more socially impacting matters. She is rather critical towards how children are raised within a family unit, and talks about how motherhood can be an issue for a career within the academic world. She points out the differences she has seen between Austria and Italy in terms of women’s rights and motherhood.
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CHIARA: « The story was that I participated for many years in this women’s circle, which is the Women’s Dinner in Florence, and for me this was always a place to get together, once a month it was always a regular event that I tried to keep, because it was a place where I would somehow get rid of all the bad things accumulated during the month.
I felt reborn, and that’s what I feel when I am in a women’s circle, it always makes me feel…
In this situation I met Nicoletta, the Lunàdigas project was at the beginning, and it wasn’t called Lunàdigas, yet.
The first circle in this Women’s Dinner talking about the project, was just also about discussing what turn this project should take, what name we would like to give it.
I was very impressed with this project, so I continued over the years to follow their work, to look at what was happening on the Lunàdigas website, and I wrote to Nicoletta after a few years asking:
“But is this documentary happening?”
So we’ve been in touch, we talked a lot over the last year and a half, because since I came up with the idea to invite Lunàdigas to Vienna, we had to ask for funding, combine our schedules, so for a year and a half we’ve been in touch all the time, to finally be able to be here this weekend in Vienna.
Certainly being able to have a name that identifies you is an achievement. It’s always been like that in all people’s movements I would say, for example in the LGBT movement, there has always been several steps
where giving yourself a name has also meant a common identity, also at a political level it is a strength to have a name that identifies your condition.
And also a name that is, as you always say, not a negation, I really like that. A name that identifies without taking anything away. I like it very much actually, because it has an international flair although it is Sardinian, it has a sound somehow not… Somehow, it sounds international. So in my opinion, it is an appropriate name. I thought about it lately, as I ‘m approaching my thirties, so that is the time when one starts to think
because sadly, apparently there is a biological limit for women.
One starts to think: “Will I ever want to do it or not?” I must say that when I was younger I always thought I would, but as something that was very far away, let’s say.
I’ve realised, as I grew older, I’ve more and more negative on the subject, because when you think about it as a young girl, the idea is so remote that it’s easy to say you want to do it. But when you realise that the moment is getting closer, and you’re going to have to fit this into your current life, it’s harder and harder.
As one of the women in the documentary says: “I haven’t decided yet, but I don’t know if I’ll ever be able
to find the courage to rationally stop taking precautions and decide to do it, also because…
Even on a rational level I have several thoughts, on a rational, emotional and personal level. Because on a rational level, as someone mentioned during the discussion we had yesterday, it seems to me to be also an extremely selfish act in this world that is going towards a very different condition, especially with climate change. We know already that in 2050 the world will be completely different. It would seem to me to be almost a selfish action to decide to bring a creature into the world that will have to go through this in some way.
At the same time, also kind of like setting an example, since the world will have 10 billion people in 2050,
and sometimes I wonder: “Why should I contribute to this disaster, It doesn’t seem such a good idea!”
So sometimes I’ve thought… If I really decided to have one, I would like to choose adoption. Also because the idea of wanting to pass on your genes or having someone who looks like you, I just don’t care.
From a personal point of view, my relationship with the Lunàdigas is also due to the experience that I have had within my own of family, which is something that I am slowly processing and understanding over the years, also thanks to therapy.
Since in my family I didn’t have much of a chance to be a child therefore I have a very negative idea of society based on the family unit. Seeing the family unit getting smaller and smaller compared to previous generations
when there was more a sense of community or extended family, I find it very dangerous.
The fact that, however in general, a child grows up under the strong exclusive influence of only a few people
seems to me an impossible thing to do well.
As society is shrinking more and more whether you want it or not, even if you don’t want to be in such an exclusive family unit it’s harder to do otherwise because others live that way. So, it’s harder to find spaces
where one could feel more part of a community. I’m really afraid of that, and although I feel like a rather balanced person and I might also be a good mother, I honestly think that in this kind of social organisation where a child is subject to such a strong influence from parents, it’s not possible to come out unscathed from this situation and everyone will have to go to therapy to process family trauma.
So I’m also afraid, maybe even subconsciously, to repeat the experience of my family of origin.
Also I’m afraid that children will change everything within the couple, I’m also terrified that someone might interpose within my couple, that someone will have priority and that this, more or less consciously,
will ruin the very relationship.
This would simply repeat what I see in many families where people stay together out of habit, and just for the children. So I’m really terrified of these dynamics, also because they caused me a lot of pain as a child,
where ever since I was very little it was very clear to me that my parents should not be together.
And so I’m also terrified perhaps…
The experience of motherhood makes me feel I would come closer to a family like my parents’, and this terrifies me. Most of the choices I’ve made in my life were made to be as far away from their experience as possible.
So motherhood also frightens me in that respect: the risk of becoming like everybody else, like all these unhappy families, adults, who no longer have the space nor the energy to cultivate their passions, because that’s what I also saw in my parents.
They completely canceled each other out for their children.
Precisely, one of the reasons why I may decide to be a Lunàdiga, is that as a matter of principle in this world
I want to dedicate my life to trying and leave something that would make this world a slightly better place.
Partly, I think I have the energy to do something more than a child. I think I have the energy to fight on some issues close to my heart, and have an impact on maybe thousands, or even a million people.
Whereas if all of my energies or most of my energies have to be focused on one person only or on children, somehow I also feel guilty toward this vocation of mine. After my initial career as a scientist, I actually realized that my real passion is to try to make a positive impact on this world. So, I would really like to try to exploit my skills, what I know, what I’ve learned as a scientist to do that. I realised the academic world was a little too tight for me. I realised that the impact I could make with my work as an academic was not what I had in mind. And so I would like to work more with issues like science vocations, or for example water, which is a very important issue and that will be more and more because of climate change. I would like to work, for example, in water purification or water quality monitoring, especially in those countries where the problem is much stronger than here.
So, I’d really like to dedicate my life to a strong commitment that has an impact on many people.
And I fear motherhood could be an obstacle towards this commitment, I fear it may be a selfish choice to dedicate myself to one or just a few people.
This could take away energies I could use to have a stronger impact on actually more people in the world.
So, it seems to me just a selfish gesture, and I think: “If I choose just one person or two, it means that I won’t be able to commit myself in the same way to try and achieve my goals to actually make this world a slightly better place when I leave.
As a doctoral student in the Academia, I have also realised the strong issues that there are still present
in the relationship between motherhood and actually doing this work.
I imagine that his is a problem is not limited to the academic world, but also in other highly competitive jobs,
where there are few places, money is tight, and people who want to do it are more, so the competition is fierce.
So, I’ve realised that the relationship between motherhood to academia is really still a very open issue,
because women who decide to make this choice of motherhood… Somehow, being Lunàdigas is partly a forced choice
if you want to make this career. I’ve realised over these years, doing my doctorate here in Vienna, that the problem with being a mother and working as a researcher it is still very much an open debate.
The reason is that it’s a very competitive environment, as other work environments can be, very competitive because there are few positions, money is tight, and the applications exceed the positions available.
So, women often find themselves having to make this forced choice to be or not to be Lunàdigas,
and this is because women who choose motherhood, but also want to pursue their passions, and do this profession,
find themselves constantly proving that their being a woman, even the very biological function
of having to go to the hospital to give birth, in no way has an impact on their work.
So you find yourself in absurd situations where if there’s a meeting with group leaders and researchers,
if one has a broken leg or has fever, it’s not a problem, but if you just gave birth…
You hear these stories of women who have made it, who in spite of becoming mothers, they have become professors,
who tell these stories of heroines and suffering, where two days after giving birth,
still with their child on, attached, with the umbilical cord, they come to these meetings and immediately they are back to work because you has to prove that being a woman and even just the biological part of motherhood,
doesn’t make you different in any way.
So, there’s this contradiction where we are moving toward equality but it’s not really inclusion, because you have to take into account that to start an academic career, where for a woman or anybody it is the most demanding time as they have to give their best to be able to find a permanent position, which in Academia happens very late, between 30 and 40, it’s also the time when one decides whether to have children.
Basically, we go toward equality only theoretically, because in practice maybe there should be instead a greater possibility, maybe an earlier career advancement for women.
Many find themselves making this choice and deciding to leave the academy, because they think it is not possible to combine these two roles of mother and researcher.
Although there are also men on the other side, this is never a problem. I mean, male researchers maybe have their wives at home with their children making them lunch and so on.
We once had a discussion symposium on women in science, and I was really struck by what one girl said: “You always think about the forms of discrimination that you see, but in fact there is also a gender gap,
there is also a hidden form of discrimination as my male colleagues have their wives at home with their children,
making lunch, cleaning the house, and so on”. I have to do all these things by myself. I am just me, and besides being a scientist I also have to think about myself. Many of my colleagues don’t, as someone else think about them, so it’s easier for them to have a career because they do have more time to devote themselves fully to science. That’s what’s required of scientists.
Since it’s so competitive, you’re required to live just for that. That must be your highest aspiration, your only passion. Having other things that you’re interested in is frowned upon, because what’s required is this spirit of sacrifice, almost of sacred vocation. In fact, all the scientists who are interviewed, when asked how they decided to become scientists, they convince themselves of these stories of vocation they had since they were children, and no one ever says: “I decided as I liked it when I was 20.” They all say: “At the age of three, I was already looking at the stars.”
It really takes this sense of total self-denial, and they really convince you you need to let everything else go.
So, it’s still really a big problem, and one of the main reasons why women say: “I’m leaving the Academia, as I can’t have children here.”
My experience, comparing Austria and Italy, was perhaps different from what one might imagine. With respect to women’s rights Austria is slightly ahead, or I am not sure if Austria is ahead or if in the last few years
there was a general increase in awareness on these issues.
When I was in Italy, although I was always an activist, involved in many topics, for example LGBT rights, education. I was for many years in the university collectives, the women’s discourse didn’t exist…
There wasn’t even this kind of discussion. For years I also experienced discriminations on my own skin
that I did not even understand. You are completely immersed in a situation that it looks normal.
It was only later, moving here, and gaining greater awareness on this, thanks also to friends who were very involved in feminism, I reanalyzed and understood many of my experiences that at the time only caused me stomach ache, but I had not analysed them.
Despite feeling there is a greater awareness here, I have the feeling on motherhood here it’s slightly worse than in Italy. The reason maybe lies in a different economic empowerment. The problem in Italy is that, at least the people I know in central Italy normally both people work in a family, because honestly it’s difficult to be able to afford having a family if one person alone is working. It’s almost impossible if one has a normal job.
So, somehow there is a greater sense of community we have in Italy, compared to the Nordic countries.
This sense still of extended family we have in Italy. Or anyway even friendships or other. This stronger sense of community activates allowing you to leave your children with grandparents or with friends. Because of this, women are more used to work and find alternatives, whereas here maybe this economic need has never been there,
because salaries are higher and many women can afford to stay at home, and still do.
Something that struck me here is that there was a referendum on kindergartens and schools, where they asked what people thought on keeping full-time schooling or not. and they voted against full-time.
And I just heard some of my male colleagues in my group say that it was right as children have to be with their mother. I can’t imagine my Italian peers saying something like that, so maybe this is for the lack of need for economic empowerment… »