skip to Main Content

In the setting of Carloforte, Lea Melandri, teacher, essayist, activist of the Italian women’s movement, recounts in fragments her path of self-definition, from childhood to feminism, from reading and editing Sibilla Aleramo to psychoanalysis and the practice of experiential writing around the key themes of her thinking: the dream of love, the mother-son relationship, body-mind dualism, singleness.

Vuoi ascoltare e leggere altre testimonianze? Sostieni l’archivio vivo di Lunàdigas!

LEA MELANDRI: «I don’t like it because I think it’s extremely misogynist. It’s misogynist because it refers to fertility, women seen just as the ones who have and carry children. It refers to nature, the earth, fecundity, and fertility. It’s something that binds women to a sort of biological determinism. I’d say it’s the worst expression.
It’s true that trees are beautiful when they have leaves and flowers, but the term “dead branch” is like if something’s missing, dead… I think… Even if we use the term provocatively, it’s still ambiguous. The risk is that people take it seriously. With women and feminism, irony must be used carefully because prejudice is so deeply rooted, it has evolved over centuries. It’s difficult to ensure the gap, created by irony, so we have to use them very carefully. You can refer to it but I wouldn’t use it as a title.»

LEA MELANDRI: «Luckily, mine is an unusual story. Nobody has ever asked me that. First of all because I didn’t… I clearly didn’t have any inclination towards marriage, cohabiting, for married life or creating a family. As I said, my story is kind of unique. I am the daughter of… I come from an extremely poor family of sharecrop farmers from Romagna. Fusignano, my home village is in the province of Ravenna. We were a big family. There were eight of us, three families. I was an only child but we were a lot, squeezed in a farmhouse with only two rooms and no bathroom. Conditions were really… That was until the ’60s, so until the age of 20, it was like in the film “The three of wooden clogs”. We live in an extremely poor peasant conditions.
I was an only child even if I had a big family. I had a passion for studying, which clearly led me to be an odd individual. Luckily my parents have… Having a daughter, I had red hair, nobody in my family had red curly hair. I studied, I did well in school. They have invested in me. They saw a chance for a social redemption.
I’ve always seen myself as the idea my relatives had of me. I was neither male nor female. I was an odd individual and they’ve never… My parents have never guided me towards… how can I say… They didn’t expect me to be a wife, a mother, with another family. They told me: “If you get bad grades, you’ll become a seamstress or a farmer”. I was more afraid to become a seamstress, but neither option… That perspective scared me. But there has never been… I never felt in their gaze, or love, or especially in their commitment, in their efforts to make me study, the expectation of a feminine destiny. There was something else, something unusual.
I came from peasant families and no one had ever studied. Women got married early, they used to work in the fields,but they didn’t expect that for me. I remember a sentence that has remained in my heart and mind, that my dad said when I first fell in love: “You either study or make love”. I said: “I’ll study, of course.”
And that’s what happened. I’d say I was the daughter who studied. even now that they’re no longer here, I still see myself like it. I’m their daughter who studied, who had this destiny. Even though I was born in a village where women’s destiny was to have a family, the fact I studied with so much passion, and that I went to a good high school in the province of Lugo di Romagna, I think that this passion has created a protection from what my family and my village expected from me.
Then, there have been more difficult and painful situations for a marriage. I did get married once. It lasted three months, but we were engaged before. I must admit that it was forced, it was unexpected, also for my parents who, I repeat it, didn’t expect me to… They never asked me to be a mother and a wife. I don’t think I had dolls. I don’t remember having girls’ toys. In countryside… My best memories are until my preadolescence. Difficult memories because my relatives used to work in the fields, it was hard, there was a lot of violence between men and women.
Women were… ambivalent and ambiguous figures. Women from Romagna were very strong, hard workers, as well as great ballroom dancers, very lively. They had a strong emotional power, they took care of their men, but they were oppressed. I left my family with unclear ideas on men-women relationships, and with the idea that my destiny was different. I’ve never really thought about it.
My marriage was a painful episode of my life. The deepest reasons are a lot, they should be analysed. My parents forced me to get married once I got engaged. In small villages you get engaged at home. My parents forced me so I had to get married. I said I didn’t want to. I left some proofs, I had sent letters to my friends writing I was against marriage and didn’t want children. Everything indicated I wanted a different future for myself. I got married against my will. My parents obeyed to our village logic, also because it was necessary.
The man I married had built a house where my parents would have lived, so I had two houses, a courtyard, and I was in between two families. It’s a painful story, I don’t talk about it a lot, also to respect the people involved in this story that lasted three months.
I got married in July 1965 and in September 1965 I started working… In 1966 I started working as a teacher at 25 in my high school with my old teachers. One day I took the first train. It was a decision that grew deep inside me over the years, and then I arrived in Milan. There, another stage of my life started.
As I said it was a painful episode and it had consequences. A farmers’ daughter, I did well in school, everything was normal. In my village I was a rare example. When I escaped in 1966 from my village, a small peasant village, my family faced the consequences too. But after many years, my parents, two amazing ballroom dancers, hard workers, very generous people, who years later said: “After that terrible episode, when our daughter run away, we went back to dancing”. I’m telling you this to explain how much my parents loved me, even in that situation.
My marriage was annulled by the Roman Rota, because my husband was catholic and so was I at the time. I’m no longer catholic, but I am happy that it was annulled. It was really important, as it never happened. There were sufficient reasons, the ones Catholic Church requires to annul marriages including the fact we didn’t have any sexual intercourses. This episode of my life…
There are various, deep reasons, but this marriage did not dent the idea I had of myself, that I had no intention to create a family, have children, become a mum and a wife… That was not there.»

LEA MELANDRI: «I must admit I’ve never dreamt of being in a relationship having a family, getting married, living together. But what was always present was the dream of love and passion, love as passion, as an exciting moment of an intimate connection of souls.
It’s something I tried to… I’ve experienced these feelings through Sibilla Aleramo’s books. Sibilla Aleramo had something like 200 lovers, I had just a few, but the pattern is the same every time. You build a sublime connection with another person. The dream of love as a dream of harmony, as a union of completely different people, was a main theme in my thinking, and in my book titled “How the dream of love is born”, although it’s not my autobiography, but it’s my most autobiographic book.
The dream of love concerns the idea of eternity. It’s the “forever”… It’s an ideal of endless harmony. It’s eternal and it’s not related to the relationship. I believe this timelessness of the dream of love contributed to my not having… In my few relationships, I didn’t expect us to live together…
The only time we’ve vaguely talked about it was during my first and most important relationship with Elvio Fachinelli, the psychotherapist who died in 1989. We had a relationship that was a commitment to… We created the magazine “L’erba voglio”, an important magazine in the ‘70s. We created the magazine together, and we’ve been together for five years. We vaguely talked about having a baby. He said: “I’ll come visit you.” So I said… I said no. Actually my interest was on the magazine. The real creature was the magazine. I had just started writing, that was the beginning of my public writing, I had just encountered feminism in 1971. It was like I was born in that moment.
There wasn’t… I repeat, we vaguely talked about it. Then I’ve never thought about it again. I wasn’t thinking whether to have a baby or not. It was not even a matter of choice. Probably, because…
First of all because I’ve always seen myself as a daughter, all of my… I was wondering, before having this interview, why I haven’t…
The first time I’ve thought whether to have a child or not was when Paola Leonardi and Ferdinanda Vigliani interviewed me. And… over the last few days, I’ve thought that I indirectly… I’ve actually dealt with this topic, focussing my theoretical investigations on the origin of the bond between the two sexes. This violent difference between nature and culture, women relegated to the body, while men to the history.
I’ve always put the focus on the mother-son relationship rather than on the daughter, because the couple, in my theory, let’s say, the mother-son relationship is the origin of this violent separation.
The man-son develops the idea of a powerful female body, a body that was originally designated to create by itself.
It took a while before men recognised that they participate in the reproductive process. This female body that men experienced as a whole since their origin, since their first years of their life. A body that nourishes you, that brings you into the world, cares for you, and also gives you the first sexual solicitations. An intriguing, powerful, intimidating and also desired body. That’s what it is for sons. I’ve thought of myself as a son too.
My destiny, the fact that I, a daughter from a peasant family, having the chance to study was a path intended for men only. It’s not a coincidence that I focused my studies and my theoretical considerations on the mother and son relationship, because I’ve seen myself as a son, inevitably. A daughter of a peasant family studying, had a future intended for men. Luckily, my mum wanted a daughter. I had red hair, she put make up on me. She saw me as a doll. I had curly hair but every night she curled my hair. I used to wake up in the morning with spiral hair, just like a doll. She made sacrifices to dress me up and in a very colourful way. I was already colourful, but she insisted with colours. She wanted a girl. I think it kind of stopped me from becoming a woman… or from becoming more emancipated, with more masculine features.
This dualism was both my damnation and my luck. The dualism was between the peasant condition and the school.
I really suffered when I went to high school, an excellent high school. Culture saved me from… the most painful and violent aspects of my family’s poor condition, where there was violence, as in many peasant families back then.
Women were beaten even if they were very strong. Culture was a violent change for me, a lifesaver, because it opened a window on the world. But it was not like emancipation.
I had the chance to discuss with women who came from different paths within the feminist movement, emancipated women came from higher social classes. It meant travelling… I was scared of trains until I was 20. I am not ashamed to say it. The first train I was happy to take was the one to run away from my village. I had the opportunity to run away from my village when I was 19. I got a scholarship at the Scuola Normale in Pisa, a great… So I distanced myself from my village for the first time, but then something happened in me. Two years later I came back
and I became a substitute teacher for my old high school philosophy teacher. It was a difficult moment until I turned 25. The emancipation many women know today didn’t exist. Culture gives you more options but you’re still attached to your past. My feet were tied to my village.
I was still in that land with my peasant family. I’ve lived in pain during my high school years because of the contrast between body and soul, between my peasant condition and higher culture. I started…
I attempted to translate my experience with bodies, nature and land in terms of philosophy, of literature. Luckily, I cycled 10 km every morning, I cycled 20 km per day, so I had time to overcome challenges, pain and violence. Dealing with this duality was very difficult. It became the main theme of my investigation. Just as the origin issue.
Why does this violent separation between body and mind… It was really hard to have a room just for myself. There was no physical space. We lived in two rooms, there was a lot of promiscuity. Luckily, we were in the countryside. I don’t see dead branches, trees are full of leaves, I could hide behind them, I could isolate myself near them, they were welcoming, just as this almond tree. I love this tree because it’s hugging the house.
The first years, when I was more agile, I used to climb on that branch. There were a lot of trees. I had to study and prepare my lessons in that house, surrounded by bodies. As I always say, my first room was my mind. I had to create a room in my mind just for myself to reflect. This has marked my decision to not have children. It has also marked my path, which was not of loneliness, but of singleness. Being alone but not lonely. Thousands of authors kept me company, all the things I read. Writing has ben a great companion.
Therefore, I was not lonely. I was just with myself. I didn’t have someone to talk to in my family, they couldn’t… I had no one to talk to. I think I’ve created a lot of villages in my life.
When I taught in Milan in 1968, I’ve taught for ten years in a middle school in Melegnano, a peasant village about 30 km away from Milan. Then, ten years in the neighbourhoods of Affori and Comasina in Milan, then in another… And then here. But this is my ideal village. This was the most important haven for me. Always with great love for the village and its traditions. My origins left a mark on me.
The state of singleness was a central theme in my life path. I always say we can’t choose. A part of our destiny comes from our childhood and adolescence. And, as they say, we make a virtue out of necessity.
Mainly it’s thanks to feminism that I could turn around my destiny, also painful, giving it a new perspective, a greater radicalism, originality. Living with just yourself is a painful privilege, with some painful moments but it’s still a privilege. We should stop thinking that you are not in a couple, if you don’t have a child if we don’t have a family, we should get rid of this logic. That’s what Aleramo calls “the annoying duty of living for oneself”.
I’ve really worked on this issue to… to live my individuality without necessarily… If there is love, it should be an additional element. Someone might say how’s that? Love is central in people’s lives.
I’ve really worked on myself so that love would be something more. Feeling good about ourselves it’s obviously the essential starting point to create relationships, friendships, some real and mutual relationships and not mutual dependence.
The book I read when I was 14 was about Sibilla Aleramo’s life, her marriage that she writes about in the novel “A woman”, abandoning her son, when she leaves both her husband and son. She actually wanted to be with her son, but back than it wasn’t possible. So Aleramo chooses between being a mother and a woman. She said: “In me, being a mother did not integrate with the woman”. That’s what she talks about in her novel “A woman”. I had already read it but I read it again during the years of feminism. But it didn’t really touch me at first.
Rather than the book itself, what impressed me the most was it being set in the province, her unwanted marriage, something that anticipated my destiny. It was in the 20th century, the book “A woman” was published in 1905
and it caused quite a debate. It was the first time that maternal dedication and sacrifice were questioned with so much consciousness. As when you project your life onto someone else. That was an important book for that time. It was also important how feminism used this book, because we started questioning roles.
For me, the feminism movement I met at the beginning of the ‘70s was about the practice of self-awareness and subconscious, it was a movement that discovered female individuality. We used to say: “Hitherto, women been invisible, not because they did not exist, but they lived according to models imposed by a world they did not create”.
We started talking about invisible violence, meaning an internalised perception of the world imposed from the outside. So we discovered female individuality. We would say: “Women have been deprived of their individuality, they were relegated to certain roles, as if it was their natural destiny”. For me, that was a great…
It was like If I was born again, a new awareness was born in me
It allowed me to reinterpret that episode of my life, which was a lonely and painful moment of my life. I could reinterpret it under a new light which was the chance for women to express themselves as individuals, and not necessarily as child-bearers who have kids or preserve life, but just as individuals. Feminism was like being born again for me.
The fact I didn’t have children, the new vision of individuality… When these paths crossed, I stopped questioning why I hadn’t had children. It has never been a central thought, but I stopped thinking about it because I discovered this new opportunity. I think some women of my generation, most of them had children, but rather than important women from the past, role models, I saw women who started to happily discover their existence.
Mothers have been penalised during the ‘70s, really penalised. We didn’t discuss about motherhood, about having children or giving birth… In conferences, mothers were isolated because we didn’t pay attention to them. We used to discuss from daughters’ point of views. Feminists were daughters who stood up to their mums. I fit in that context perfectly. I thought that was a new path that could have lasted a lifetime. The thinking process behind discovering our individuality, I thought this could last a lifetime, and so it did, for me.
I discovered Aleramo’s works in a particular way. Her first book was published at the end of the ‘70s. She had left two big suitcases containing her diaries, the books that she had worked on for a lot of years. Her most interesting and innovative works rather than her poems, for me. She sold them to Feltrinelli, as she needed money. The publishing company never published them… They were handwritten and they didn’t publish them. Alba Morino, who worked at the press office, she published the diaries of Aleramo’s last years of her life. The part about her relationship with Franco Matacotta was missing. Aleramo was 60 and he was 20, it was a mother-son relationship.
Alda Morino told me: “I have a new book I think you’ll like”. It’s a mother-lover relationship. The mother-son issue.
A lot of friends of mine, actually some of them, while reading what I wrote in the preface of the book, the part of the diary about her relationship with Matacotta, they thought that I had children. Many of them thought I had children, as I was focused on this issue.
What fascinated me was the age gap in their relationship that starts when Aleramo is already 60. Their bond is clearly influenced by the fact she had abandoned her son. The dream of love, the intimate connection of two souls is related to the original connection between a mother and her son. This is to say that I re-discovered her starting from her first diary, which is called “Un amore insolito” and I wrote the preface. Within a year I immersed myself in reading her books.
I read them several times. I was fascinated by the dream of love, which was a central theme in my entire life.
This dream, the ideal connection between different natures, it’s a path she undertakes through her writing, which is not autobiographic, it’s a self-analysis.
Her books reveal her, she always goes back to her life, discovering something she wasn’t aware about it before.
It’s a path that aims to a feminine independence. It’s a path she thinks aims to independence, to living for oneself and destroying the idea you’re complete only if you have someone besides you.
This someone can be a son, a lover, the other person that completes the ideal couple, like an ideal restoration of what history has divided.
My reflections on Aleramo’s books have been with me during the ‘80s, during the years in which I did a long analysis that has allowed me to… to understand what feminism had helped me discover of my life, how many pieces, how many deep fragments, that I call the body’s memory.
I don’t have a lot of memories of my past. Memories are something that touch your mind. In our body experiences there are some fragments, some parts of our past that have probably marked us, but that we can’t even remember.
In my books, the term “body” is everywhere. If we delete this word, the number of pages will be halved. It was like the land I wanted to… I talk about bodies, the indescribable,  and what it’s hidden in my body experiences.
For me, that has always been a goal, a destination towards… so I insist on the term “body”, but I don’t really talk about physical experience.
I often use the term “sexuality”, but I don’t really talk about sexuality. But I use this term to describe where most of my personal experiences are hidden. I insist on writing about my experiences which is not writing autobiographies. I think that with this kind of writing, you analyse the parts and the fragments that are hidden inside of you. Autobiographies are just about your overall life.
That’s to say how much these topics and how the relationship mother-son, from the son’s point of view, is related. I’ve never identified myself as the woman-mother figure. Even when I dealt with this topic, what fascinated me the most was the son’s gaze, the same gaze I had towards my mother’s body. I used to sleep in the same room with my parents until I was 20. Their bodies were really present and that has marked me painfully, maybe also some happy… My latest book is called “Love and violence”. Everyone said it’s a cruel title. Maybe. It’s a catchy title. These two feelings have been connected during the nights when I would sleep and share physicality with my family. These feelings were deeply intertwined.
Feminism has helped me to reflect on this topic. Why does love lead to violence? Unfortunately, today we’re starting to finally discuss on this topic. But why does it happen? You don’t kill for love, true, but love is somehow part of it.
If it’s true that violence originates from love and… well… I don’t have children but I’ve often thought about this topic.»

LEA MELANDRI: «I don’t know why, but I totally reject the idea of maternity seen as devotion for the others, as a sacrifice of yourself for the others. Probably it’s the need to create yourself. I think in this devotion, there are many negative aspects, some aggressive and destructive aspects in a man and woman relationship. The feminine devotion creates potentially aggressive dependent relationships.
In my last book, I’ve addressed the issue of maternal devotion, of women who become mothers of their… Their devotion and their attention are not for children, sick or old people, but towards healthy men. Women take care of perfectly healthy men physically and psychologically. This creates a childish… This behaviour leads the relationship in a childish dimension, a childish dependence, and in adulthood that is hard to overcome and tolerate. I think that family institutionalise childhood. When motherhood appeared in feminism, I was really critical. Maternity has always been in the history of women’s emancipation.»

LEA MELANDRI: «When it became a topic in the feminist discourse, the feminism I knew in the 70s, which didn’t have… It was the most critical time towards maternal topics, the role of care-givers. That feminism was centred around the individuals. As I was saying before, we questioned the relation with our mothers from a daughter’s point of view. We analysed the desire for one’s mother’s body, homosexuality… It was a momentous point in the mother-daughter relationship. As I said, as daughters, we were not questioning motherhood itself. Maybe, we should have done that later, we should have analysed family and coupledom.
Instead, towards the end of the 70s, a part of feminism, the part the was more dominant for many years, the sexual difference, the women’s bookshop, the thinking of Luisa Muraro, that part interrogated the issue about the symbolic role of motherhood. It was no longer a real motherhood to be questioned, but rather the use of it in a symbolic perspective, of the mother as a symbolic figure of authority, the difference of female gender.
There and then, I felt very strongly against it, because I thought that it would have erased… the long path we were doing, a hard path, in the 70s. It was difficult, because you had to dig deeper, it meant we need to work on our subconscious, on the collective imagination built very much like the idea of the feminine coming from the mens’ culture. So I kind of rejected the idea to be for the younger generations a figure of symbolic mother. If anything, I am a friend, a person, I am a woman with whom… And this helped to really create relationships not based on dependency.
Surely, younger women might have read my books, might have absorbed something, but not in a mother-teacher relationship, this was not there. I have friends, I’d call them companions, we call ourselves “journey companions”, and some are 30 or 40. I met many of them on the way, we are very close, but I have no intention whatsoever to take care of them. If they find something in my journey, I give my passions, I write. If they find something they can use, it’s fine, I don’t go looking for them, I met them, we crossed paths, and each time I said, “Do get in touch among yourselves.” Do like we did, get together and make… I put them in touch nationwide, they organised conferences… I have great relationships with these companions in my journey, but as I said, I don’t feel a great gap between us, when we work on common projects, precisely because I never bothered about transmitting them… nor about taking care of them, no, never…»

LEA MELANDRI: «I think it’s passed on through life experiences, through our practices, through our books and writings. I think the same also about the educational process. I have taught for many years. Also in my teaching, I always thought about the process of identification, rather than transmission itself. You have a knowledge, and you transmit a knowledge. I always thought that the other could find, in your life experience, in your ideas, something, a fragment, something that would work within herself.
I also thought with the kids, I taught in middle school for many years, and I taught adults in the further education programs for other ten, fifteen years. Each time I brought my passions with me.
I could read an extract from Freud, or Nietzsche, with the youth as well as the adults, I brought my passions, my interests, I have never… I never thought I had a knowledge to pass on to them. I thought I had intellectual, cultural, personal passions and that they could find something. This makes them much freer.
I think that the authoritarianism that passes though… these authoritarian, dogmatic forms in culture, the very idea that you have a knowledge and you have to indoctrinate others.
Luckily, the feminism I experienced did not have dogmas, it was a practice. We always said that the transmission happens through practice, therefore together, collectively, through the narration of our lives, reflecting on our lives. Back then, our lives… Of course, a girl who’s 30 today tells about herself something different from me. But in the sharing we can find… I am in fact convinced that some elements of the woman-man relationship, after all, we have centuries behind us, it’s a centuries-old construction, you don’t take it down in one or two generations. There are some invariants, some deeply rooted permanences.
I have read a very interesting book, which I certainly recommend, by Eleonora Cirant “One in five doesn’t have them”, published by Franco Angeli, analysing why young women. She interviewed and talked to about fifteen women aged between 20 and 38, their childbearing years, when you interrogate yourself about it. Very interesting and I found it also quite unsettling, because these girls don’t say they don’t want children, they say… and it’s a recurring question, but it’s less common, as it seems that the issue is mainly the lack of a steady job, no money to buy a house… Instead deep down, the recurring question is: “Who do I make it with”, “I would love a child but with whom”? So, the problem is the couple, the problem is that we are missing some essential elements defined by a long stories of destinies that form a couple. Surely, that is a greater freedom for women to say no. “With whom”?
The problem lies in the relationship between a man and a woman, that’s what is in a state of crisis. I always underestimate the context issues. Surely, having these women…the moment of emancipation is postponed, such as having a steady job and a salary. So they stay home, prolonging adolescence, even at 20 or 30. The relationship between men and women is questioned by a greater awareness.
For the younger ones, emancipation and greater freedom for women has caused a new fragility often resulting in violence from the mens’ part. Men no longer have points of reference of the social bodies confirming their virile role. So, I believe this is a very critical moment.
These killings… when a 20-year-old boy kills his 18-year-old girlfriend because she left him after three months, I question myself deeply. This tells us that there is a fragility, and a difficulty also from the men to a commitment they understand being different from the past. It can no longer be as before, ‘I work and you stay home with the baby- They feel it and understand it, maybe they even desire to look after the kids.
The thin line between public and private is gone, destinies have changed, the fixed roles intended as a destiny, so everything is upside down, some certainties are. At this point the relationship of a couple is difficult. These girls say it’s difficult even just think of living together, and not only money-wise. But what I really find it disturbing, is saying: “If I really want a child, around 40, when it’s ticking…” let’s say the biological clock, “if I want it, I could have it on my own, with an occasional partner, or with artificial insemination”. This is what I find it unsettling, as I was saying, because this entails the re-surfacing of the original couple, mother and son.
Here, I really see… this supports some of my thinking, as the first thing to blow up was the couple man-woman. What is still strong instead, well, strong…the last standing is the couple mother-son.
Many women live alone with a child, often investing on a child their loving needs which were unattended by men.
This is very dangerous, I think. So the issues are pretty serious, also because today taking care of a child, family life and all, means dealing with it thinking that caring is a shared responsibility, of men and women, and not only a woman’s destiny. Of course, some men are already thinking that way, but not many. Therefore it is really hard. Before you would do it at 20, without giving it much thought.
Thinking about it more is the result of greater freedom, the result of greater responsibilities, mainly is the result that childbearing is no longer a biological fate, just because you are able to do it, but it becomes a choice. At this point it interrogates both men and women, this is a very radical change, and very critical in this phase.
Carloforte is another date… how can I say, a new date of birth. First of all, it has water and sea. Back in ’75, when I got here, with this feminist vacation, the first feminist vacation in Italy, organised with other women, wonderful feminist friends from Cagliari. I was 34. I was born in 1941 so…
I had been to the beach once or twice with my mum, when we were kids, warning us, “It’s the Adriatic, don’t go in deep water’, bathing in knee-high water only so for me the sea… I came from the country. I must say that seeing these 50 women in the water, singing, diving from the rocks. I couldn’t resist… After shyly looking from the rocks, I finally dived in. Then mask and flippers on, it was such a discovery. I must say the first impression is discovering the sea, the very first impression. So a rebirth, in a situation which I felt familiar. Which is weird, as I wasn’t… not being able to swim, never been in deep waters. I found myself as if in my natural environment. I tried… When I was granted citizenship, after coming here for many years, and I had to say something, it wasn’t easy understanding the reason of such a love. The water has a lot to do with it, these crystal waters, these seabeds which I love. I would always wear a scuba mask to look at the seabeds… I said: “I felt a sort of befuddled bliss”, something like dazed and confused. There is something about watching seabeds which truly gives comfort to my soul. I don’t know, it’s as if I could see traces of a different, deeper story. Therefore, this discovery of the sea of these wonderful waters, of the cliffs and of the place itself. Carloforte is a country, with its own traditions which immediately won me over. In particular, the serenades tradition. I love to sing, so I sang many serenades. I put together three generations of minstrels from Carloforte, so it’s been a rebirth in an ideal place, with an amazing nature… I always say my love dream is fulfilled.
If the dream of love is the harmonious combination of different natures, here for me body and soul are wonderfully balanced. I really cared about, especially since I started coming here for two months, to keep together my study, my writing, my thinking with the sea, the air, the swims. mingling with the people here, this is an harmonious composition. Here, this singleness found its place of happiness. I call it a fulfilled dream of love because nobody, after 40years, coming back here say, “How marvellous”. A love which renews itself, and it’s always such a wonder. This house then is particularly harmonious, here, meaning… the colours, the smells, the shapes…
Here this element of singleness, here it found its optimal place, because here – I’ve been living on my own in Milan since ever, since the sixties, when I got to Milan, from 1966, I’ve always lived on my own, small home, for me and the magazine “L’Erba voglio” 10 years then “Lapis” for the next 10.
My houses are 40 metres, hosting home and the magazine. Fortunately, no more magazines as I would have to get out myself. Instead here is the house where I can share my daily life with friends, with my friends. So I find here that kind of happiness… I say: “I am a sociable loner”, here my sociality is happy. Sharing with friends my daily life for a period of time, and then there are many other elements, that make this my ideal place.»

LEA MELANDRI: «Yes, true, kids not really… I never appreciated much that friends with children would come here. I look at them… probably not much, honestly because I prefer the rocks to the beach. I am intrigued by children, probably even too much, probably there is a childish side… if they leave me with a kid, I would be knackered, meaning I can’t play as an adult, I am not able to be the adult one, with a kid. But here, I’ve always wished to have adults around, adult women friends, some read, some write, some look around… This is a characteristic element of this…»

LEA MELANDRI: «I wasn’t involved much in it. I don’t have memories of it. Clearly, I tried to avoid it as much as possible. Yes, I find it depressing. I don’t know where. Probably at a conference, I heard about websites as well…
I can believe there are, also quite a lot, where women exchanged advises.
Yes, it happened on a train, and it was really annoying, and I barely managed to hold back. Especially when I hear… not so much the baby food talks, but when I feel this hold on the kid. When I realise, as I was saying before, that in these relationships there is so much going on, subconsciously there are desires, drives, fantasies, the son as a partner. I really dread the figure of the mother-lover. It is very intriguing for a son.
I believe that the burden that a son can carry from the maternal part can be totally destructive, because it contains, somehow, the “whole my life for you”. Carrying a life expectation that the other wants to experience through you.
It carries a kind of love that “you’ll never leave me as you are my son”, so being mother forever.
Honestly, motherhood, I’ve been saying that in all the public meetings, and I can see people kind of startled, because strictly speaking, motherhood is just the nine months’ pregnancy, after that, a child can be raised by anyone, any adult, man, woman, biological mother or father. Actually, the idea of a lifetime motherhood, my own flesh and blood, this is one of the most critical elements in a man-woman relationship.
In fact, feminism has two focal points, two grey areas of experience, which are still grey areas, not investigates enough, which are the dream of love, the falling in love, the ideal fusion of two souls, and motherhood, the deep feelings that bind a mother with a son. It’s not accidental, because the two things are strictly linked, we might think the love dream has an origin in the initial phase of the origin of life for any human being. This fusion, this blurred separation between mother and son, this being as a whole. The dream of love is also the dream of a reconstruction, of a comeback, but also angst of being incorporated, it’s a comeback and a loss.
As Aleramo said, it’s an aberration, a sacrilege towards individuality, this idea of a whole, this fusion with the other.
These two experiences have left off. The word love, for feminism, even after 40 years, I never heard it. Almost never.
It remained unpronounceable, also when debating abuse on women, how can you not mention love, since the killers are generally husbands, fathers, sons, lovers, boyfriends. It’s never uttered. It’s because when you start debating love and motherhood, you touch some strings where the clear division of the masculine-feminine falters, where you can no longer say who’s the dominator. In the mother-lover figure there is something very powerful, powerful authority,
because it creates dependency, because make yourself indispensable for others is a form of power, maybe it causes the most dramatic consequences. And in this Aleramo has been a great… fragments of her, as I think that if I had met her personally I couldn’t stand her. Her whole work is so… her writing so nineteenth-century. I have extracted some fragments. I have worked on fragments.
In the end, she says something very interesting, because after having worked ten years on her diaries, I found a sentence I had overlooked, where she says, ‘I’m not interested in having the total of my work collected, but I wish that some fragments of clear intuition will be saved’, which is exactly what I had done. “Fragments of clear intuition”, moments where she… And in one of those she says, “I understood what love was for me, making me indispensable for the other”, this constant need, it’s a tyrannical power, because there’s no gain for the woman, it just keeps the other stuck to you.
I insist, this is something feminism struggles to face, because it’s not a clear-cut case of political conflict, there you enter in a much more complex zone.»

LEA MELANDRI: «No. First of all, I believe, from what I remember, I haven’t seen any studies or researches on the subject, until, as I said, I met Paola Leonardi. There wasn’t… Well, no, I am wrong, I directed for ten years the magazine “Lapis. Paths for a feminine thinking”; in one of the features, it was called “tales on birth”, they were tales of pregnancies and childbirth.
We asked many women to tell us about their motherhood, motherhood meant as pregnancy and childbirth.
And there it hasn’t been hard, although at the beginning… it’s not an easy topic, because also on childbirth there’s a kind of silence, it’s as if childbirth pains don’t get told, at least very little from the women of my generation. It was more the happiness for the child. Younger women instead, I’ve noticed in many meetings I had on writing of your own experience, younger women write with extreme harshness about that phase, about the physical pain of childbirth, the physical laceration. Some wrote on the epidural as well, they created websites. Let’s say with the new generations there is less rhetoric, the perception, the narration is much more precise, also regarding the physical aspects of childbirth.
This feature “tales on birth, tales on bodies” then, we in the editorial team were all childfree, although someone at 40 had a child, but back then we were childfree. So we thought we had to tell why we didn’t have them. It was a incredible debate, so much came out, some fantasies, also kind of perverted, monstrous. Clearly, deep down, behind not having children, clearly there was something unusual, something regarded as an aberration. There was something dark, unclear, linked to the body, linked to the parents image.We understood it was a very thorny topic, at that time it was difficult to unearth because it was full of ghosts. So, we gave up.»

LEA MELANDRI: «The topic is very much a taboo, so I congratulated Paola Leonardi and Vigliani for making this choice. Their choice was limited to “special women”, women who had great cultural, intellectual, political passions, so much so that they had no desire for a child. And mainly I like that they did it as a collective self-discovery, rather than interviewing them. It was truly a way of sharing each other’s experiences, a nice way to practice again self-awareness, through writing… interviews.
When we presented the project, we faced issues, because it immediately blew up a conflict with those who had children. It hasn’t been easy to discuss it together.
I still find it difficult now, there is a kind of great divide, it’s not so true that today…we are free, we have babies or not: it’s still not entirely true, deciding whether having children or not, even in the public opinion. Having them as a single woman is still looked sideways… it’s not as free as it seems.
As I said, the conflict comes, especially within feminism, comes from within the feminist issues, because women who had children… It’s still conflicting. Maybe, the other is idealised by those who didn’t have them, one seems to enjoy greater freedom, while something is lacking, there is always on the background this missing a deeper experience. It’s not peaceful, it’s not at all peaceful. And so I think it is very important to keep investigating the topic.
I insist, in these women…the question raised by Eleonora Cirant, “One in five doesn’t have them”, because she addresses a different generation from ours, I think it is very interesting. The fifteen, twenty …not sure how many… women she talked to, the conversations collected in her book are very interesting because they give you a picture of what this problem is like today, where the guilt-trip is less present, which is what your are expected to feel, as if it were your destiny. This is much less present in them, they are freer. But it is exactly when you are free to choose that you may falter. Do I have them or not? Shall I make it at 30, 40? With whom? Is the relationship stable or not? An occasional partner or artificial insemination? It is exactly when you are free to choose.
Let’s be honest, for women my age there was no choice: those who had kids at 20, and those who never did. I would say there is a very a thin margin of choice, one obeyed almost naturally to a feminine destiny, while for me instead there was an imprinting, an original imprinting that saw me as a daughter and so it went.
My parents never asked me to have babies or to marry. Well, they did force me at the time, but afterwards it was pretty clear that for them it was more important for me to be their daughter.
I often went back to my village, with my feminist friends, partying, they were happy that I had many girl friends that I kept being their daughter with my friends. So, also for them I think if I had had a child it would have been problem. I lived in Milan… they had their own life, they started dancing again. I am happy I had the chance to meet them again.»

LEA MELANDRI: «I often felt some lovingly jealous looks, such as, ‘lucky you! You can think full time, you can write, have a vacation… Yes, something about my time, almost totally dedicated, for forty long years, to feminist practice, which is my personal and political passion. There are my studies, but also… my relationships with other women, the initiatives… so my life, my private-public space walked together. So, if anything… I felt, more than a shadow over me, I rather felt the idea that maybe this experience of feeling fulfilled on my own… I say fulfilled, even though it is painful as well, building up a life on your own..
Let’s not idealise too much, there is some pain, the difficulty of a relationship, it is also hard to live your own life, the bothersome obligation of living on one’s own. There is also the happiness of entertaining yourself, which I think it shows. One might think, this one… very few sentimental relationships, no kids, no family, one might think, she must be sad and depressed. No, that’s not me, I am not. And so, in this it is surprising that I am not that dead branch.
I don’t like the idea of fertility. Even though I love to see plants growing, I like fertility in nature. Imposed on women, I find the idea of fertility very violent. Surely, having lived my life… They see mainly my not being in a couple, this thing of “singleness”, but they see it full of life, full of connections, friendships, projects, very lively and maybe this will give the idea, but also the hope, hoping that it is possible not necessarily bind yourself to a son or a husband, nor to a family.»

Vuoi ascoltare e leggere altre testimonianze? Sostieni l’archivio vivo di Lunàdigas!


Back To Top