skip to Main Content
Ilaria Maria Dondi, Libere Di Scegliere Se E Come Avere Figli

Ilaria Maria Dondi, Libere di scegliere se e come avere figli

Ilaria Maria Dondi, Libere di scegliere se e come avere figli (Einaudi, 2024) (Translator’s note: Free to choose if and how to have children)

Ilaria Maria Dondi guides us to understand that there is not only one type of mother and there is not only one type of woman without children. Tearing down stereotypes with empathy.

A mini-encyclopedia on the pluriverse of motherhood (chosen, endured, rejected, repented…). An imperfect inventory, as the author calls it, on the “if and how to have children”, with the intricate caseload of options and situations that can be encountered when you have had hanging on your head, for millennia, the sword of Damocles of the true, imaginary, symbolic child (desired, due, delivered, adopted, dreamed of, aborted…).

With rigour, with some hints of irony, but above all with great humanity and a strong aptitude for identification, Ilaria Dondi with Libere di scegliere se e come avere figli (Einaudi, 2024) examines mothers, non-mothers, childfree and childless (under the indexes: sterility, infertility, widowhood…), whores, spinsters, nuns, symbolic mothers, that is, mothers of ideas/projects/utopias/novels (the “mammizzazione”, the obsession with reducing the whole of being a woman to being a mother, is always around the corner: due to a lack in patriarchal language, not very inclusive with non-conforming and deliberately unnameable categories, but also because if you do not have children you must have done something extraordinary to redeem yourself! You can’t be a normal person who just enjoys life!).

And again: mothers and non-mothers, single or married, women without a uterus, nulliparous, elderly primigravida, unmarried mothers, more or less natural mothers, mothers by assisted fertilization, mothers without childbirth, surrogate motherhood, lesbian mothers, homemakers and working mothers, disabled mothers (in spite of eugenics!), black or brown mothers, infanticidal mothers, suicidal mothers or for other monstrous reasons, distant mothers, feminist mothers, trans mothers. And therefore: motherhood without childbirth, childbirth without motherhood, “silent” abortions and “political” abortions… Mothers without maternal instinct (social construct or intrinsic equipment by nature?) and – further paradox – appreciated professionals who love children but do not want children…

Ilaria Dondi, proudly childfree, then mother “by deliberate choice”, finds herself passing “on the other side of the barricade”. She discovers in herself the patriarchal stereotypes when she finds herself saying to a friend without children “Lucky you, you have all the time in the world!”. One of the many clichés: lucky you, who can do…, poor thing…, you cannot understand… etc. But Ilaria also finds herself subjected to verbal micro-aggressions by those who do not consider her feminist enough (because eventually she did have a child) or do not consider her a good mother precisely because she is a feminist activist. And so Ilaria guides us in the exploration of the many dualisms created by patriarchy, but also by a certain pop feminism that is neither inclined to in-depth study nor open to a temporary suspension of judgement (propaedeutic to in-depth analysis, and not to disengagement). Thus, the only possible conclusion is reached: being a feminist means self-determination; or even becoming aware of having made some choices to follow imposed social duties rather than to comply with our own desires and, admitting it with honesty, finally living better and fine-tuning things in your life, listening to each other more. There is no need to justify having or not having children. “I want.” “I don’t want.” That’s it.

Ilaria Dondi reveals the scam of patriarchal motherhood, which is always heteronormative, preferably acted within marriage, to be achieved neither too soon (the stigma of single mothers) nor too late (the stigma of elderly mothers) and to be practiced as an absolute duty, with a spirit of sacrifice, without complaints. Outside of this paradigm all other motherhood is far from exemplary. You are born, study, work, get married, give birth, return to work (if you still succeed, if you are not fired, if you are a multitasking superwoman and above all a rich or privileged woman, who can count on services and/or family support networks), become a grandmother, die. Mandatory milestones, precise deadlines.

Patriarchal principles also persist in the Italian Constitution, despite the commitment of the women of the Constituent Assembly (whose names are gratefully mentioned by Ilaria Dondi): thanks to them, the concept of women as mothers and child bearers contained in the Albertine Statute and the Rocco Code was challenged. The twenty-one constituents contributed decisively to the definition of the principles of equal social dignity and equality before the law (art. 3), equality between men and women in the workplace (arts. 4 and 37), moral and legal equality of the spouses within the family (art. 29); they participated in defining the legal and social protection of children born out of wedlock (art. 30), economic measures to support the family (art. 31) and equal access to public offices and elective positions under equal conditions (arts. 48 and 51), tracing the furrow for the actions of legislators of the following decades on these matters (family law reform, abortion, divorce). However, the Constitution, daughter of her time, defines the family as a “natural society based on marriage” (art. 29), therefore heteronormative, and clearly indicates the main role of women, their “essential family function”, although not considering it incompatible with work, which is recognized the same rights and the same wages as men (art. 37).

Within this framework of written and unwritten rules, you ‘set up relationships and work without losing the overall vision, you lower your dreams, you ponder choices that are more reasonable than brave, you silence that desire that kicks in”(p. 22). In order to be able, in due course, to have a child in a context of social approval in exchange for a promise of happiness that often does not come by itself with the birth of the child – Ilaria Dondi punctually cites authoritative research, including Orna Donath, the author of Regretting motherhood –, “if not for a very short initial period, destined to fade within the first year of the child’s life” (p. 32).

Ilaria disputes point by point the beliefs of pronatalist thought, denounces its aggressiveness and pervasiveness in all spaces of public and private discourse, so much so that in recent years it has become increasingly difficult to circulate alternative narratives of motherhood and make them popular outside feminist communities (and among these she cites us lunàdigas). For example, few know that women without children by choice are usually unrepentant (on the other hand, you can regret anything, not only not having children!) precisely because they have made a counter-current choice, paying a price in terms of stigma: but how non-conformist is that? In fact, it is estimated that women born in 1976 who remain childless at the end of their reproductive life will be 22.5 %: twice as many as those born in 1950 (p. 20). Renouncing to givie birth is an option that is less and less despised. Continuing the reading, we learn that already in the sixteenth century women began to postpone marriage and procreation to the mid-twenties, to set aside their dowry on their own: over the centuries, however oppressed, our ancestors (seamstresses, maids, laundresses, peasants or artists or merchants) have been much more aware than we can believe, laying “the foundations of the future female conscience” (p. 69).

“In most Western countries, high percentages of women between 1850 and 1914 passed the age of forty-five without having children, with an Australian peak exceeding 30 percent. The idea that until a few decades ago all women became mothers except those who just could not, in short, is false. Maternocentric mystification has its roots in the post-war baby boom. In fact, today there is a tendency to compare the current birth rates (and childfree women) with the exceptional explosion of confidence and offspring of those decades. Now, therefore, reproductive choices are only realigning at historical levels ” (pp. 69-70).

The essay also explores the new opportunities, psychological damages, and ethical implications of assisted fertilization and surrogate motherhood. Just think of the “reproductive coercion” suffered by women who, induced by family members, undertake wearisome paths of assisted fertilization more due to the guilt of not being able to generate than for the genuine desire for a child. Ilaria Dondi approaches the issue of surrogate motherhood with the awareness that new technologies open spaces of freedom and self-determination that were once unthinkable, but also with the necessary caution, because it is not feminism or emancipation to “oppress other bodies in order to free our own” when reproductive neocapitalism leads to the slave exploitation of surrogate mothers in India, Sri Lanka, Ukraine, underpaid and forced to sign deceptive contracts and without pre- and post-partum health and psychological support (but for the moment we postpone an articulated discussion on this issue, too complex to be able to compress it into a few lines).

In conclusion: is being a mother a monolithic identity? Is it a status that can be defined? At times teeming with types of mothers and non-mothers, each with its varied experience, “the variables are infinite and each, taken alone or added to the others, conditions the value or reproductive expectation that is attributed to us” (p. 160). And above all, being a mother is an additional identity (provided it is), not a substitute or exhaustive of the value of the woman.

Ilaria Dondi, in her review, has no intention at all to pigeonhole and label; on the contrary, she aspires to relativize and deconstruct from a feminist perspective each of the divisive definitions, which are constructions of patriarchy, with the kit of phrases, questions and clichés for all, mothers, non-mothers, aspiring mothers: “Once you’ll stop being obsessed, you will see that you will get pregnant”; “what if then you’ll regret it when it is too late?” “what does he say?”;”think of those who can’t”…

The book is a small and well-kept multi-disciplinary essay, which moves between chronicle and demography, history of the imagination and social sciences, law and medicine, accompanied by bibliographic and site references that offer further insights. However, it is not a sort of Cliff’s notes, a cold little handbook, because Ilaria Maria Dondi opens and closes it with the story of her own life experience (to which she recursively returns), unique, relative and not reducible to a label. Assuming and making explicit her specific point of view, she manages to confer intellectual honesty to a story declared partial with surprising frankness, with the humility of not feeling all-embracing on subjects that every day open up new and unimaginable scenarios. In addition, the author admits that some prejudices are so internalized and unconscious that it is very difficult even for a feminist activist (white, cisgender, heterosexual) not to fall into racist and classist traps. Just clarifying your positioning can create an authentic relationship, even with those who read from afar. Because theory and practice, books and embodied thought go together, as bell hooks never got tired of repeating.

Ilaria Dondi invites us to overcome the easy patriarchal dichotomies (man/woman, black/white, whore/saint, mother/non-mother…). No one person can embody all the possible human experience. But through empathy, which is a noble form of knowledge, it is possible to listen to the other, to treasure the emotions of others, not to absolutize one’s own experience, not to erect it to a standard, to imagine ourselves in the lives of others, and to understand something more.

Feeling a stronger sense of sisterhood than with those met by chance in a waiting room (at the station or at the doctor’s) and are so different from us: this would be enough to make the world better.

 

Ilaria Maria Dondi is a professional journalist and editor-in-chief of the digital magazine “Roba da Donne” (translator’s note: Women’s stuff). She writes and deals with gender issues, with particular reference to forms of violence, stereotypes and discriminatory language. She is the author of Rompere le uova (translator’s note: Breaking Eggs), a newsletter on reproductive rights.

 

Claudia Mazzilli

 

Maria Dondi, Libere di scegliere se e come avere figli (Einaudi, 2024) (Translator’s note: Free to choose if and how to have children)

Ilaria Maria Dondi guides us to understand that there is not only one type of mother and there is not only one type of woman without children. Tearing down stereotypes with empathy.

A mini-encyclopedia on the pluriverse of motherhood (chosen, endured, rejected, repented…). An imperfect inventory, as the author calls it, on the “if and how to have children”, with the intricate caseload of options and situations that can be encountered when you have had hanging on your head, for millennia, the sword of Damocles of the true, imaginary, symbolic child (desired, due, delivered, adopted, dreamed of, aborted…).

With rigour, with some hints of irony, but above all with great humanity and a strong aptitude for identification, Ilaria Dondi with Libere di scegliere se e come avere figli (Einaudi, 2024) examines mothers, non-mothers, childfree and childless (under the indexes: sterility, infertility, widowhood…), whores, spinsters, nuns, symbolic mothers, that is, mothers of ideas/projects/utopias/novels (the “mammizzazione”, the obsession with reducing the whole of being a woman to being a mother, is always around the corner: due to a lack in patriarchal language, not very inclusive with non-conforming and deliberately unnameable categories, but also because if you do not have children you must have done something extraordinary to redeem yourself! You can’t be a normal person who just enjoys life!).

And again: mothers and non-mothers, single or married, women without a uterus, nulliparous, elderly primigravida, unmarried mothers, more or less natural mothers, mothers by assisted fertilization, mothers without childbirth, surrogate motherhood, lesbian mothers, homemakers and working mothers, disabled mothers (in spite of eugenics!), black or brown mothers, infanticidal mothers, suicidal mothers or for other monstrous reasons, distant mothers, feminist mothers, trans mothers. And therefore: motherhood without childbirth, childbirth without motherhood, “silent” abortions and “political” abortions… Mothers without maternal instinct (social construct or intrinsic equipment by nature?) and – further paradox – appreciated professionals who love children but do not want children…

Ilaria Dondi, proudly childfree, then mother “by deliberate choice”, finds herself passing “on the other side of the barricade”. She discovers in herself the patriarchal stereotypes when she finds herself saying to a friend without children “Lucky you, you have all the time in the world!”. One of the many clichés: lucky you, who can do…, poor thing…, you cannot understand… etc. But Ilaria also finds herself subjected to verbal micro-aggressions by those who do not consider her feminist enough (because eventually she did have a child) or do not consider her a good mother precisely because she is a feminist activist. And so Ilaria guides us in the exploration of the many dualisms created by patriarchy, but also by a certain pop feminism that is neither inclined to in-depth study nor open to a temporary suspension of judgement (propaedeutic to in-depth analysis, and not to disengagement). Thus, the only possible conclusion is reached: being a feminist means self-determination; or even becoming aware of having made some choices to follow imposed social duties rather than to comply with our own desires and, admitting it with honesty, finally living better and fine-tuning things in your life, listening to each other more. There is no need to justify having or not having children. “I want.” “I don’t want.” That’s it.

Ilaria Dondi reveals the scam of patriarchal motherhood, which is always heteronormative, preferably acted within marriage, to be achieved neither too soon (the stigma of single mothers) nor too late (the stigma of elderly mothers) and to be practiced as an absolute duty, with a spirit of sacrifice, without complaints. Outside of this paradigm all other motherhood is far from exemplary. You are born, study, work, get married, give birth, return to work (if you still succeed, if you are not fired, if you are a multitasking superwoman and above all a rich or privileged woman, who can count on services and/or family support networks), become a grandmother, die. Mandatory milestones, precise deadlines.

Patriarchal principles also persist in the Italian Constitution, despite the commitment of the women of the Constituent Assembly (whose names are gratefully mentioned by Ilaria Dondi): thanks to them, the concept of women as mothers and child bearers contained in the Albertine Statute and the Rocco Code was challenged. The twenty-one constituents contributed decisively to the definition of the principles of equal social dignity and equality before the law (art. 3), equality between men and women in the workplace (arts. 4 and 37), moral and legal equality of the spouses within the family (art. 29); they participated in defining the legal and social protection of children born out of wedlock (art. 30), economic measures to support the family (art. 31) and equal access to public offices and elective positions under equal conditions (arts. 48 and 51), tracing the furrow for the actions of legislators of the following decades on these matters (family law reform, abortion, divorce). However, the Constitution, daughter of her time, defines the family as a “natural society based on marriage” (art. 29), therefore heteronormative, and clearly indicates the main role of women, their “essential family function”, although not considering it incompatible with work, which is recognized the same rights and the same wages as men (art. 37).

Within this framework of written and unwritten rules, you ‘set up relationships and work without losing the overall vision, you lower your dreams, you ponder choices that are more reasonable than brave, you silence that desire that kicks in”(p. 22). In order to be able, in due course, to have a child in a context of social approval in exchange for a promise of happiness that often does not come by itself with the birth of the child – Ilaria Dondi punctually cites authoritative research, including Orna Donath, the author of Regretting motherhood –, “if not for a very short initial period, destined to fade within the first year of the child’s life” (p. 32).

Ilaria disputes point by point the beliefs of pronatalist thought, denounces its aggressiveness and pervasiveness in all spaces of public and private discourse, so much so that in recent years it has become increasingly difficult to circulate alternative narratives of motherhood and make them popular outside feminist communities (and among these she cites us lunàdigas). For example, few know that women without children by choice are usually unrepentant (on the other hand, you can regret anything, not only not having children!) precisely because they have made a counter-current choice, paying a price in terms of stigma: but how non-conformist is that? In fact, it is estimated that women born in 1976 who remain childless at the end of their reproductive life will be 22.5 %: twice as many as those born in 1950 (p. 20). Renouncing to givie birth is an option that is less and less despised. Continuing the reading, we learn that already in the sixteenth century women began to postpone marriage and procreation to the mid-twenties, to set aside their dowry on their own: over the centuries, however oppressed, our ancestors (seamstresses, maids, laundresses, peasants or artists or merchants) have been much more aware than we can believe, laying “the foundations of the future female conscience” (p. 69).

“In most Western countries, high percentages of women between 1850 and 1914 passed the age of forty-five without having children, with an Australian peak exceeding 30 percent. The idea that until a few decades ago all women became mothers except those who just could not, in short, is false. Maternocentric mystification has its roots in the post-war baby boom. In fact, today there is a tendency to compare the current birth rates (and childfree women) with the exceptional explosion of confidence and offspring of those decades. Now, therefore, reproductive choices are only realigning at historical levels ” (pp. 69-70).

The essay also explores the new opportunities, psychological damages, and ethical implications of assisted fertilization and surrogate motherhood. Just think of the “reproductive coercion” suffered by women who, induced by family members, undertake wearisome paths of assisted fertilization more due to the guilt of not being able to generate than for the genuine desire for a child. Ilaria Dondi approaches the issue of surrogate motherhood with the awareness that new technologies open spaces of freedom and self-determination that were once unthinkable, but also with the necessary caution, because it is not feminism or emancipation to “oppress other bodies in order to free our own” when reproductive neocapitalism leads to the slave exploitation of surrogate mothers in India, Sri Lanka, Ukraine, underpaid and forced to sign deceptive contracts and without pre- and post-partum health and psychological support (but for the moment we postpone an articulated discussion on this issue, too complex to be able to compress it into a few lines).

In conclusion: is being a mother a monolithic identity? Is it a status that can be defined? At times teeming with types of mothers and non-mothers, each with its varied experience, “the variables are infinite and each, taken alone or added to the others, conditions the value or reproductive expectation that is attributed to us” (p. 160). And above all, being a mother is an additional identity (provided it is), not a substitute or exhaustive of the value of the woman.

Ilaria Dondi, in her review, has no intention at all to pigeonhole and label; on the contrary, she aspires to relativize and deconstruct from a feminist perspective each of the divisive definitions, which are constructions of patriarchy, with the kit of phrases, questions and clichés for all, mothers, non-mothers, aspiring mothers: “Once you’ll stop being obsessed, you will see that you will get pregnant”; “what if then you’ll regret it when it is too late?” “what does he say?”;”think of those who can’t”…

The book is a small and well-kept multi-disciplinary essay, which moves between chronicle and demography, history of the imagination and social sciences, law and medicine, accompanied by bibliographic and site references that offer further insights. However, it is not a sort of Cliff’s notes, a cold little handbook, because Ilaria Maria Dondi opens and closes it with the story of her own life experience (to which she recursively returns), unique, relative and not reducible to a label. Assuming and making explicit her specific point of view, she manages to confer intellectual honesty to a story declared partial with surprising frankness, with the humility of not feeling all-embracing on subjects that every day open up new and unimaginable scenarios. In addition, the author admits that some prejudices are so internalized and unconscious that it is very difficult even for a feminist activist (white, cisgender, heterosexual) not to fall into racist and classist traps. Just clarifying your positioning can create an authentic relationship, even with those who read from afar. Because theory and practice, books and embodied thought go together, as bell hooks never got tired of repeating.

Ilaria Dondi invites us to overcome the easy patriarchal dichotomies (man/woman, black/white, whore/saint, mother/non-mother…). No one person can embody all the possible human experience. But through empathy, which is a noble form of knowledge, it is possible to listen to the other, to treasure the emotions of others, not to absolutize one’s own experience, not to erect it to a standard, to imagine ourselves in the lives of others, and to understand something more.

Feeling a stronger sense of sisterhood than with those met by chance in a waiting room (at the station or at the doctor’s) and are so different from us: this would be enough to make the world better.

 

Ilaria Maria Dondi is a professional journalist and editor-in-chief of the digital magazine “Roba da Donne” (translator’s note: Women’s stuff). She writes and deals with gender issues, with particular reference to forms of violence, stereotypes and discriminatory language. She is the author of Rompere le uova (translator’s note: Breaking Eggs), a newsletter on reproductive rights.

 

Claudia Mazzilli

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x
Back To Top