In order to make history of recent times we can count on sources that the same people who live through them provide us with; they are oral sources, direct or indirect, that allow us to know, through the word, the lives of women and men and their way of understanding the world. When we go back further in time, we have to look for the words in the literature, in administrative or private documentation, or more rarely in personal writings, in such a way that it is often difficult to discover the meaning that those words have, what they wish to say about the way of living the world.
We have to understand the importance of the letters of Estefania within the context of historical reality, that which constitutes what is private, that which does not exclude women by considering that their lives has no more importance than the perpetuation of the patriarchy.
Luisa Muraro says, in her work The Symbolic Order of the Mother, that the mother teaches us to talk and many other things that are at the foundation of human civilisation. With those teachings the symbolic order of the mother is transmitted to us; language has a symbolic function that allows us to interpret what is real. The rules of the mother tongue are born of the necessity for mediation, they are what the mother imposes so that we might communicate back to her sharing her experience with the world.
Muraro, Luisa, El orden simbólico de la madre. Madrid, horas y HORAS, 1994.
“Las practices of realisation bring us to the discovery that the true world is that one that happens in our experience through the word and in the word through experience.” (Muraro, op cit, p. 80).
We witness then, reading the letters of Estefania to her mother, a making of the symbolic order in its primordial essence: she relates to Hipòlita through the language that she had taught her, sharing her life in order to thus make the world. In spite of the physical distance, the mother-daughter relationship is constant; the letters follow on with a separation of two or three days, a week… Estefania wrote to her mother whenever she could, with the account of what she was doing, what she was thinking, what she was feeling, what Muraro defines as the complete circle of mediation, body and word.
And thus, in that as in all the rest I would like to know how to follow in the footsteps of the one who brought me up, especially to give that rest to your ladyship, given that another service I cannot give her.
Guisado, Maite, op. cit., p. 199.
Estefania recognises with these words maternal genealogy, and that she needs the attributes of the potency and the work of the mother who has brought her into the world and she declares herself as one who continues with her work.
“It is not easy to explain the symbolic to oneself. It is a positive because it presents to us the positive of our experience... only gratitude towards the woman who has brought her into the world can give a woman the authentic sense of herself”. (Muraro, op. cit., p. 92-93).
The role of Hipòlita as a mother, transcends biological maternity when it is recognised by Estefania, in one of her letters, as mother of Beatriu Margarit i de Requesens, daughter of the step-daughter of Hipòlita, Joana Mateua de Requesens i de Montcada, by then dead. In that case, the condition of daughter comes as given through the word and obedience to the mother:
I am happy that your ladyship has talked alone with sor Requesens and is hopeful of talking to her again, and also that she is so prepared to obey your ladyship in all the things that, doing it thus, she cannot err and it is no doubt that with this she obliges her to have her as a daughter of her own and in this way we will all do the same.
Hipòlita has authority, that authority is not only recognised by her daughter, of her same gender, Lluís de Zúñiga, also accepts it when he recognises her as mother. We cannot in that case consider that “the symbolism of birth [is] a recognition of the maternal work, but it goes hand in hand with the total lack of social authority of women of flesh and bone... it is rather a way of stripping the mother of her prerogatives”, because the work of the mother and the relationship with the daughter show us that, whilst in general it may have been like that, whenever they have been able to, mothers have used their authority, they have turned maternity into a practice of feminine freedom.
In various letters Lluís de Zúñiga expresses the consideration that he has towards Hipòlita: “There is nothing more closer for me since my mother died than your commandments....” “In relation to the love that you speak of to me, that I do not have respect of mother, may you believe that after the one who gave birth, of all those I have known, I would not want any but you to give birth to me...”, cited by Ahumada Batlle, op.cit., p. 88.
Muraro, op. cit. p. 19.
According to L. Muraro, the figure of the maternal continuum forms part of the symbolic order of the mother, and through mother predecessors brings us to, from within, the principles of life; that structure makes a bridge between nature and culture. In that way, we find the origins of sexual difference: the creature of the feminine sex is situated at the central and at the same time finishing point of the maternal continuum, which reopens every time that a daughter becomes a mother.
To become a mother is symbolically relevant; it defines the relationship of a woman with her mother because it has as its background their originary relationship. Estefania had seven sons and four daughters, which undoubtedly meant an important part of her life that she shared with her mother – in her letters she talks to her of her pregnancies, she explains to her how she is managing with them, if she feels well or ill, if she is getting fat, the symptoms that allow her to foresee if they will be son or daughter. She even compares her pregnancies with those that her mother had had: In relation to my pregnancy, it is improving, I am already eating much better than I was and do not have an upset stomach, or any other problem, praise be to God. And that is as your ladyship says, that those that she has wanted to take have been better brought up, that I count on getting revenge with whippings and that your ladyship will allow them as she does with those of Lluïsico. When she foresees that she will have a daughter it is not a problem for her, unlike what happens to a woman that she knows, even if I had three... better than having none.
Muraro, op. cit. p. 127.
As the noble and wealthy women did not breastfeed their sons and daughters, a concern was the finding and choosing of the wetnurse, which Estefania consults her mother about, she speaks to her of the qualities that she wishes her to have and, when she has made up her mind, she explains to her what she is like, how she behaves and the devotion that she has towards the baby.
The observation of the work of the wetnurse is careful and constant. We can think now about what relationship the figure of the wetnurse and other women who looked after babies had, in substitution of the biological mother, in “the one who takes her place” transmitting the symbolic, the way of living the world. Here the feminine mediation, the symbiosis between the biological mother and the one who substitutes for her, takes on importance, given that it means putting into relationship what in those women remains of the primordial “fixation” with the matrix of life, something that functions as a bond in the succession of the substitutions of each mother that, after being a daughter, becomes a mother.
Concept explained by L. Muraro in one of the chapters of El orden simbólico de la madre.
When the time to give birth comes closer, Estefania expresses continuously her desire for her mother to be present at the births, which cannot be, because Hipòlita cannot be there because of her occupations, although she explains to her how the birth went and what the daughter or son is like; she describes them physically, how they are, how they eat and even how they dress.
The importance that maternity has for Estefania is such that she also explains in her letters the pregnancies and the births of the women that she has relationships with. It is clear that maternity is not an individual matter, but that it intervenes in an important way in the women’s relationships, in that sharing of the creating work of the world.
In the words of Luisa Muraro the world is born with the complete circle of mediation; it is a circle of body and word which makes women the protagonists of what some women historians have called the “practices of creation and recreation of life and of human living together” which are those that make it possible to come to the world and maintain life, transmitting and making at the same time the symbolic order of the mother.
Marta Bertran Tarrés, Carmen Caballero Navas, Montserrat Cabré i Pairet, Maria-Milagros Rivera Garretas and Ana Vargas Martinez: De dos en dos. La prácticas de creación y recreación de la vida y la convivencia humana. Madrid, horas y HORAS, 2000.
The pregnancies, the births and the breastfeeding make up a part of those practices, fundamental to begin life, and the others, those necessary to maintain it: the care of bodies that is translated, amongst others, into the care of infants and ill people, and the preparation of foods, amongst others.
Health is one of Estefania’s constant preocupations. She worries about how all the people who surround her are: the empress, the emperor, the prince, her son, her husband, her aunt, her brother-in-law, the women that she lives with and who serve her. If she has to take care personally of the ill men and ill women, she does so, even making them broths “in our way”, the process of making of which she explains with care to her mother.
“The prince has had great fever for eleven days... Until now they have made him the broth as is usual. I did everything and I dared not say anything, but yesterday I wasn’t able to take it, they took him a broth made of two hens and so black that it seemed like lentil broth and its taste was such that he could not drink a drop. He came to my room and from half a tender chicken, I made some broth in our way. It seemed so good to the doctors when I showed it to them that they determined to give it to him and that I should make it from now on”. (Guisado, op. cit., p. 164).
The illnesses and the state of the ill people are the object of a daily follow up that she relates as she goes along. When she needs some medication she ask her mother: an ointment, some powders, that the countess herself prepares; her daughter asks her to send the recipe.
But the person she most worries about is her mother: she recommends that she not do fasting for Advent and Lent because the food typical of those times do not suit her. When Hipòlita gets ill, Estefania suffers, she ask her to keep her informed of how she is doing and until a time has passed after her symptoms abate she does not stop worrying.
The care of the body, also in health, is another of the daily aspects that mother and daughter share, such as when Estefania asks Hipòlita repeatedly to send her some powders for the teeth of the emperor, or some perfumes for the ladies of the court. They share the obtaining and elaboration of foods, such as when Hipòlita sends her daughter made products – for example marmalades, jams or marzipans- and others to obtain them afterwards, such as the plantings of vines and lemon trees. Estefania also details on several occasions the products that she sends to her mother, such as fruits, cheeses and conserved meats.
Love of the mother makes symbolic order, and Estefania loves her mother: her words express this every time that she writes to Hipòlita. She continuously expresses her desire for a meeting of mother-daughter, she is aware that her mother feels the same towards her: Without swearing to it I will believe that your ladyship spends time thinking about my person and discourse, and thus I have been right in what we have done until now. The comunication between both goes beyond words and distance.
Mother and daughter have made the pact to always tell each other the truth about the things that they share through the letters, especially in relation to health. That mutual trust can be seen to be expressed on various occasions: And that is what your ladyship says, that, if we do not write each other the truth, we would never be sure of each other, and for this I beg your ladyship to do as she says, and I will do the same. Thus, Estefania always explains how the family is and the other people who she lives with, such as when in one of her letters she writes that her son Lluís has small pox and her daughter Catalina has died: [...] however I have had one upset after another, when they come they don’t come alone, and that way it should be better, since our Lord has been served to place in his glory, six weeks after being born, my little daughter, who died on Tuesday, day of saint Matthew, at eight in the morning, of a spasm, which did not last long, an hour and a half, that at half past six she began with it, and in that time it got her three times, which was enough to finish with her. Everything happened in my arms, I carried her dead in them, although before she gave a little yawn. Estefania tries to console herself and to give consolation to her mother after that death, she asks her to watch her health, since she needs her to overcome the solitude that she feels because her daughter has left her.
Guisado, op. cit. p. 192.
Guisado, op. cit. p. 171.
That feeling of solitude, although not in such tragic circumstances, is expressed by Estefania other times, such as when she talks about the king and other men of the court who will go to war and which makes the empress and the other women suffer, and she gives thanks to God because she is not left alone.
Guisado, op. cit. p. 104.
Through her words, Estefania has transmitted to us what Luisa Muraro explains as follows: the ancient relationship with the mother gives us a lasting and true point of view about what is real, it does not separate being and thought, it is nurtured from the reciprocal interest between being and language.
“I believe that now the obstacle that was closing the way to us has been eliminated. The old relationship with the mother gives us a point of view that is lasting and true about the real; true not in terms of truth-correspondence, but rather of the metaphysical truth (or logic), that does not separate being and thought, and that feeds off the reciprocal interest between being and language. We learn to talk from the mother and this affirmation defines who the mother is/what language is”. (Muraro, op. cit., p. 47).
A reflection could be initiated in class on the central place of war and conflict in historical interpretation, which leaves to one side wide areas of life, of practices, of relationships between men and women, which are much more important.
Introduce into the discussion the movement of change that seems to have come about between many men and women, who have understood that the argument of force, which leads to war and to conflict, is not inevitable in politics. If we understand by politics, that “first person politics” that Luisa Muraro speaks of to us in the text, that manages and conserves human living-together. By these means, “flags are and become words, and words are mediation”, as the philosopher herself says to us in a press article written in response to the Iraq war and of all the peace movement and social response. A response where a strong presence of women is denoted, who bring to the market square, to the place of demonstration, the necessary link between freedom and life.
Find out about different experiences of feminine authority and mediation which spread peace practices in the present-day world: the “Città felice” of Catania, the movement of Women in Black of the ex-Yugoslavia, etc.
Luisa Muraro, “They Are Not Flags; They Are Words”
They are not flags, although they carry this name, the flags of peace that have changed the look of cities and too, at bottom, our way of inhabiting them. They are words of a language finally found in order to speak a feeling of closeness or neighbourliness and to communicate it, a closeness or neighbourliness of home and humanity that goes beyond all kind of barriers although remaining close to itself, without invading or attacking the other. In extremis, I do not know how, a language has been found in order to say something that seemed lost: the value of shared living that opens itself to an exchange with others. It has been found, unforeseeably, without the help of intellectuals, politicians, the media, parties. It has been found on the occasion of a war that tried to be the answer of the West to the trauma of the eleventh of September. And that, however, - we know – is a terrible and blind reaction of men lacking almost everything that is needed in politics, beginning with moral authority. Due to which, amongst the other disasters, there is also the fact that nobody has been in the position of helping the people of the United States to work out the meaning of a fragility discovered in the most traumatic way, to help it to not live it as a humiliation and to get back on the road again of civilisation.
Nobody? I am wrong. Now there are these rainbow flags that have begun to flower on the walls, little by little, first a few, then many, on certain streets many indeed, on others still few and, for that reason, more visible, all put out without arrogance, frequently fighting with the wind, which tears them to shreds. And these flags send a message to the United States, although it be only from a peripheral country such as ours. They say that houses are the shelter of live bodies and their things, but a fragile shelter and exposed to violence, in respect of which they offer – and this is the invention, the new thing, the way of civilisation – the symbolic shelter of signifying a will for peace.
Something big is happening. Will it last, some commentators have wondered. We do not know. But I think that it will not go back to being like before, at least for me and many women and men like me. Before the field was taken up with a dilemma between the positions of the pacifists and the realists, these latter repeating: in politics, one cannot be without the argument of force and, therefore, without the possibility of war, and others replying: war is always an errors, war devours all reasons, including the best ones. As if there were nothing more to say, and it has been that way for many women and men, that we didn’t know what to say. Now, however, we do know: for us and them what there is, is not war/peace, but rather there is this historical moment caught up in problems and threats, in which we can try to practise peace, not in general but peace possible here and now. How? I do not know all the answer, but I do know the beginning, we have found it, it is to come out of the isolation and muteness of a more and more alienated shared living, in order to signify, together, our reciprocal closeness and our common neighbourliness with the women and men hit or threatened by the destructive violence. The commentators see the newness of this movement, but they almost don’t see that it is politics, in a nascent sense: it is primary politics and affects the texture of living in relationship.
Those flags are words and words are mediation. The beginning of the answer is, then, the work of mediation. A work that is not limited to and does not even consist essentially of special diplomatic missions, because mediation, like the language that we speak, is a continuum and, without a solution of continuity, travels from the word that is exchanged with the neighbour of one’s home to the possibility of a resolving agreement. Fare pace dove c’è guerra is the title of a recent publication of the Milan Women’s Bookstore. And it say, speaking of the 15th February: this “enough of war forever” expressed by millions of women and men, is not given as a project to place on a future horizon, nor does it stay hanging in an ideal time, but rather is already present in daily practices, in the concrete forms of a politics that is aimed at practising peace here and now.
I agree; I only want to ad done thing. In the change that Fare pace describes in terms of the context of acting peacefully, what shows through as a factor of change is a free presence of women. It ought to give arguments. There are the numbers: of the greater majority of people who are against this way, the greatest majority are women. There is, besides, that the signs of peace, prohibited in the public buildings of the State, are multiplied on the window sills of the houses, places governed in the past and still today, above all, by women. And there is the style of the marches in the street, which is changing. The reactive need to oppose oneself is attenuated, in order to make room for the meaning of being with others, on sharing projects and feelings.
The first to notice it and who related it to the presence of women, was the editor of this newspaper. Commenting upon the enormous march of the CGIL (General Confederation of Work), in Rome, I remember that he wrote: it is a huge crowd, which, in itself, would cause fear, but it does not cause fear, thanks to the great presence of women. It is happening perhaps because a woman takes something to the street that remains associated with domestic life, I don’t know, but I do not consider it to be degrading, rather it seems to me a way of saving the domestic reclusion of so many women of the past.
As will be remembered, the Eighth of March of this year has been dedicated to the fight for peace, and some feminists have expressed the concern that this might reinforce the stereotype of “woman equal to peace”. To me it seems that just the opposite is taking place, that the forced association between women and peace no longer surprises, substituted by words and gestures that speak of a link between freedom and life, too frequently ignored and broken in the history of men. A link trusted to the work of mediation, as well as the gesture of rupture, never one without the other. I think of Moretti jumping onto the box of Piazza Navona. I think, at this moment, of the Pope, who has broken with a diplomatic tradition of equidistance, to do everything that was possible for him, without calculations of power. The difference of our being women/men thus turns into a resource of political creativity; men are liberated from the threatening meaning of their virility.
To those of us who live in Italy, we have to carry the weight of being counted amongst those who supported the war against Iraq. We know that it is not true, but we will have to prove it, and before anything else, continue to know that it is not true: to know it within us and around us, in the relationships with those who will end up not wanting to know anything about it. It is explained well by a brave woman from the ex-Yugoslavia: when there is war, language is militarised by a kind of contamination that is all the stronger when what people want to know about what is happening around them is all the weaker (Fare pace dove c’è guerra).
Around us, together with a war that we have not wanted, there has been given a little peace, wanted, conceived, brought to the World by women and men. Let it remain amongst us and them, with the capacity to bring us into relationship with each other, almost a social pact of a new and happy kind. (Translation into English from the translation into Castilian by María-Milagros Rivera Garretas).
Scentific Direction: Maria Milagros Rivera Garretas
We are thankful to the Research Project from the Instituto de la Mujer I + D entitled: "Entre la historia social y la historia humana: un recurso informático para redefinir la investigación y la docencia" (I+D+I 73/01) for its financial support to this project.
Institut Català de la Dona de la Generalitat de Catalunya and the Agrupació de Recerca en Humanitats de la Universitat de Barcelona for they contribution to its development (22655).
Technical Direction: Dr. Óscar Adán
Executive Production: Dr. Sonia Prieto
Edition: Marta García
Correction: Gemma Gabarrò
Catalan Translation: David Madueño
English Translation: Caroline Wilson
German Translation: Doris Leibetseder
Italian Translation: Clara Jourdan
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© 2004-2008 Duoda, Women Research Center. University of Barcelona. All rights reserved.
Margarida González Betlinski
Born in Barcelona in the year 1959. After her degree in medieval history, she had two sons and devoted herself to teaching in secondary education. Within that area she has been in charge of managing schools for the last few years. She has always been linked to the research into women’s history, thanks to the projects that she did with her colleagues of l’Equip Broida and later on with her colleagues of the Duoda group. These latter have helped her to maintain that link in solidarity from the year 1989 and for this reason have her recognition and gratitude. She dedicates this piece of work to her mother and her mother’s mother.
Luisa Muraro (Montecchio Maggiore, Vicenza, 1940). Philosopher and researcher at the University of Verona, she gave life, with other women, to the Milan Women’s Bookstore (1975) and to Diótima, a group of women philosophers, authors of two collective works: Il pensiero della differenza sessuales (1987) and Mettere al mondo il mondo (1990). She has published: La Signora del gioco. Episodi della caccia alle streghe, (1976); Maglia o uncinetto. Racconto linguistico-politico sulla inimicizia tra metafora e metonimia, (1981); Guglielma e Maifreda. Storia di un’eresia femminista, (1985); L’ordine simbolico della madre, (1991); Lingua materna scienza divina. Scritti sulla filosofia mistica di Margherita Porete, (1995); Il buco nella siepe. Studi sulla scrittura femminile che chiamano mistica, (2000).
Document where the wish of a will maker is stated in legal form. Therefore it is the declaration that a person makes of their last wish, disposing of possessions and matters that concern them for after their death.