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Alas for me, with my two sons and one daughter, I wanted to raise them so as to let them develop all their potentials. For example, I also offered cars to my daughter, I also gave sewing kits and dolls to the boys. My sons play with the guns and little cars, my daughter pretends to be a mommy and plays house constantly… […] And I look at my daughter playing with the doll, knowing that in some ways, she has already defeated me—I, who, from a feminist perspective, had dreamed that she would also be a real tomboy, that is to say, a successful girl, playing whatever games she liked, developing whatever tastes she liked, etc. [1]

2In May 1977, the first issue of the feminist newspaper La Revue d’en face opened its pages to accounts and reflections of activists on their experiences of mothering under the heading: “My Daughter and Me.” Taken from this section, the passage quoted above shows how feminism could penetrate the activists’ family sphere and influence the ways in which they wished to raise their children. If the little girl mentioned here, at seven years old, seemed then to “defeat” her mother’s educational inclinations, what became of her over the following decades? Did her family socialization, potentially marked by a maternal feminism, nonetheless lead to the forging of specific dispositions and a specific relation to the world, tracing the contours of a “feminist legacy”? How was this legacy appropriated and renewed over the course of her own trajectory? Basing the investigation on a study of second-wave feminist activists in France and their children, I will focus here on the diffusion of feminism within the family sphere, analyzing the forms and modes of reception and appropriation of a “feminist legacy” among the activists’ children.

3In the literature on feminism, various works have focused on questions of transmission and generations, whether in terms of the processes by which activism is transmitted between feminist movements in history [2] or between the various generations of activists comprising them, [3] or the place of the history and memory of these mobilizations in certain domains of science [4] and activism. [5] However, it must be noted that few works have focused on other possible modes and spaces of diffusion and transmission of feminism. Thus, the family sphere of the feminist activists themselves has not been much investigated from this perspective. The rare studies tackling this subject concentrate on the educational strategies implemented by feminists without necessarily attending to the effects produced on their children. [6] Other investigations take as their subject all the members of “feminist families” (parents as well as children), defining this broadly, so that feminism then refers to a personal positioning of the parents—their wish to raise their children in an egalitarian way—rather than to an activist commitment. [7]

4By focusing on activists in the second-wave feminist movement in France and their children (see the box), this article tackles the question of family transmission on the basis of a narrower definition of feminism. The term “second-wave feminism” refers to the movement that developed in the 1960s in the United States and in the 1970s in the majority of European countries, [8] which brought about a more radical contestation of male domination and committed itself to “Women’s Liberation.” [9] This movement emphasized the political dimension of the private sphere. Through its objectives and practices, it contributed to questioning and redefining gender norms in many areas, particularly those of couples, sexuality, and family, leading to a critical politicization of private life. Thus, it seems especially interesting to inquire into the possible effects of this theoretical politicization of the private on the activists’ family life and on their children’s political socialization.

5Far from the model of “socialization-as-training” which prevailed for a long time in the field of political socialization studies, the perspective adopted here follows the line of investigation of Annick Percheron, who considers that socialization “is not a mere mechanism of repetition” and functions “on a logic of selection and not only of accumulation,” the socialized individual devoting herself to an appropriation and negotiation of her family heritage. [10] More precisely, those socialized are active in the sense that “it is really in the encounter between the activity of the socializers and that of the socialized that the process of socialization unfolds.” [11] The aim of this article is thus to analyze the modes and conditions under which the children of feminist activists receive, adapt, and negotiate the feminist legacy according to their own biographical experiences, marked by confrontation with a plurality of universes of socialization and contexts in which the inherited dispositions are activated or not. [12]

6First, I will contextualize the processes of transmission studied by presenting the ways in which feminism could penetrate the activists’ family sphere and influence the children’s socialization, as well as the “generic” products of this socialization that the investigation has discovered. The second part will be dedicated to the analysis of several portraits of the activists’ children as the sole means of clarifying the various processes and modes by which these legacies can be adapted and renewed by the second generation.

Presentation of the Study

This article draws on doctoral research on the trajectories of the women who took part in the second-wave feminist movements of the 1970s in two French cities. On the methodological level, the investigation is based on a retrospective questionnaire [13] and forty-two life history interviews with feminist activists of the 1970s. For fifteen of them, interviews were also conducted with one or more of their children. [14] This article draws mainly on the material gathered through the matched interviews conducted with these fifteen families.
In these fifteen families, [15] the mothers were active in one or more groups comprising the local feminist mobilizations in the 1970s: Planning familial (Family Planning [16]), Mouvement pour la liberté de l’avortement et de la contraception (Movement for the Liberation of Abortion and Contraception, or MLAC), women’s groups, women’s centers, etc. In most cases, this feminist engagement follows and/or runs parallel to an activist experience in left-wing and far-left organizations: the Ligue communiste révolutionnaire (Revolutionary Communist League, or LCR), Maoist groups, the Parti socialiste unifié (Unified Socialist Party, or PSU), and even, in one case, the Parti socialiste (Socialist Party, or PS). Born mainly in the post-war years, they were, on average, between twenty and twenty-five years old when they joined the feminist movements, and while the youngest among them were still students, the majority were already active professionally. Their social profiles are characterized today by a middle-class status and considerable cultural capital. They have all studied at university level, very often in social science disciplines, and the vast majority hold a university degree. Concerning their professions, while some are in liberal professions (lawyer) or work freelance (journalist), the majority work in the public sector, as teachers or in other public institutions (libraries, hospitals, etc.). Their social backgrounds of origin, however, are more varied, since some of them come from working-class or rural environments with trajectories marked by a significant upward social mobility. The effects of gender must also be taken into account, since education and/or professions were not necessarily encouraged for girls in certain families that were nonetheless endowed with both economic and cultural capital. Concerning the marital sphere of the former activists, we note that, in all but one case, the fathers of the children in these fifteen families were also active on the left or far left in the 1970s. While these activist experiences took place within a variety of social movements and political organizations, none of the men, however, were involved in feminist groups or mobilizations. Today, approximately a third of the couples are separated or divorced, separations that generally took place during the 1980s. Finally, I should specify that all of the children I interviewed were born at different moments in their parents’ (activist) history, since their years of birth stretch between 1965 (for the oldest) and 1989 (for the youngest). [17]

Contextualizing Family Transmission: The Vectors and “Generic” Contents of Feminist Legacies

7One of the principal findings of my investigation consists of the demonstration of a feminist legacy among the children of activist women, making it possible to conclude that there is a transmission of feminism within these families, even if this occurs in different forms and to different degrees. Although, as we already specified, it was only the mothers who were involved in the feminist mobilizations of the 1970s and whom we find to be the most direct carriers of feminism in these family universes, the concept of family transmission is nonetheless employed here. I use this concept to stress the social sphere in which these processes are situated, in order to differentiate them from other possible spaces for the transmission of feminism, but also to emphasize that the vectors by which a feminist legacy may be transmitted go beyond the mothers’ socializing intentions and actions and entail the totality of the interactions and practices found within these families.

8This first section specifically aims to present the primary vectors of transmission, before going on to see what are the “generic” contents of the feminist legacies found among the children surveyed. If, as we will see in the second section, each family configuration and each trajectory taken by an inheritor is unique, varying the possibilities and modes of reception of that legacy, it is nonetheless possible to distinguish some general tendencies in these processes.

What is the Place of Feminism in Family Universes?

9In the questionnaires, the activists surveyed testify to a strong desire for transmission to their children. Asked if they wished to transmit to them principles related to their feminist activism, 95 percent of the informants responded in the affirmative. [18] Nevertheless, the ways by which this transmission can be realized are varied and seldom as intentional and explicit as the unanimity of this answer might make us think.

10Studies of political socialization in the family have pointed to a certain number of conditions supporting the transmission of politics between family generations, particularly the visibility of parental political preferences. [19] In this case, however, this vector appears relatively weak and minor, as most of the configurations studied were characterized by a very limited visibility and a certain ignorance, within the family universe, of the mothers’ feminist activism. This can be explained, on the one hand, by the fact that few of the children directly experienced the period of their mother’s feminist activism, given their date of birth, coinciding with the massive disengagement of activists at the beginning of the 1980s. [20] Even when they did experience it, they generally retain relatively few memories of it, feminism being submerged in “all” the activism of “the 1970s.” Moreover, except in some cases, feminist activism was rarely the subject of stories told in these families. The majority of the former activists I interviewed explained that they had not told their children what they had done within these movements, or at most had told them a few anecdotes, a position generally justified by the desire “not to play the role of the old veterans,” to use an expression frequently employed. [21] As a whole, we thus note that members of the second generation were not very familiar with their mothers’ feminist engagement, generally limited to knowing that one’s mother took part in these mobilizations, that she “had been a feminist.” However, feminism could be present in these family universes during the childhood of the informants in other ways, in the form of journals or books relating to feminism. One activist’s son explains, for example, that he knows “a little about the history of the MLF” [22] because “there always were books lying around the house, so occasionally [he] looked at them.” Feminism could also be present in the form of songs, those of French singer Anne Sylvestre in particular.

11More generally, it is mainly in an indirect manner, via the discourses and practices of the mothers connected to their activism, that feminism entered these family universes. The former activists I interviewed indeed maintained a “feminist framework” [23] in line with their activism, which they mobilized in the analysis of current affairs, referring here both to what happened in the personal and family sphere as well as in the sense of the term used commonly and in the media. This gave rise to frequent commentaries and discourses that constituted so many “socialization opportunities” [24] for the children, as illustrated by the remarks of one activist’s son:


About feminism, I sure heard talk about that! […] Now, she wasn’t a fanatic either, she didn’t talk about it morning, noon, and night, but in response to some of the stuff you’d see on TV or… Always the same thing, which kept happening: sexism; men who beat their wives, of course; countries where women are mutilated; etc.

13We can also observe the presence of this analytical framework in everyday interactions between the mothers and their children. To give one example, we might quote one of the activists interviewed, Jeanne, who explains that she “forbade [her] son to say ‘fuck’ [25] because it is insulting to women.” Moreover, most of the feminists implemented educational practices aimed at challenging gender stereotypes, seeking thus to fight against the differentiation of the children’s socializations according to gender (via non-sexist choices of clothing, toys, games, or children’s literature, for example). Beyond these practices with more socializing aims, one of the main indirect vectors of feminism in the family universes resides in the models—feminine and marital—that the feminists and their spouses could embody in certain aspects in their trajectories and everyday practices (for example, providing a feminine role model in terms of professional advancement or autonomy for the mothers, a model of coupledom in terms of an egalitarian distribution of housework, etc.).

14In this respect, details on the role of the children’s fathers in these processes of transmission of feminism must be given. While none of these fathers was a feminist activist, the majority of them are presented by their (ex-)partners as sympathizers who supported their activity in these movements, even as having a “feminist sensibility.” Thus, feminism does not seem to have drawn opposition or reservations on the part of these spouses on a theoretical level. In the same way, the challenging of gender stereotypes in their manner of child-rearing seems to be a pedagogical approach generally shared by the fathers; most of them also present themselves as embodying models of masculinity rather distant from its “hegemonic” forms. [26] However, the situation is more ambivalent and mixed with regard to the division of domestic labor, with configurations ranging from the total delegation of housework and child-rearing to the father in one family to many cases of a (more or less) uneven and gendered division of domestic tasks. However, as we shall see, these inconsistencies in family universes between principles and practices did not necessarily pose obstacles to transmission.

Pinpointing the Contents of the Feminists’ Children’s Political Legacies

15In this study, the analysis of the effects of feminist activism on the second generation proceeds by means of a broad approach to political socialization. This is not limited only to a direct relation to politics, i.e., to the transmission of explicitly political contents (ideological and partisan positioning, participation, etc.). Rather, it includes the political relation to the social world. [27] To put it another way, we are concerned not only with determining whether the children of feminist activists become (feminist) activists but, more generally, what they may have inherited in terms of representations and practices related to feminism. The investigation undertaken with twenty-four children of feminist activists made it possible to reveal the existence of certain “generic” contents of the feminist legacy in these two dimensions—the relation to politics and the political relation to the social world—which allow data to be provided on the profiles of the group surveyed and to contextualize the trajectories studied subsequently.

16In terms of the “classical” political contents of the legacy, referring to positions in the political and partisan field, the vast majority of those interviewed (twenty-two out of twenty-four) claim to belong to the left, just like their parents. Some of them place themselves to the left of the Socialist Party, describing themselves as “far left,” and/or mention the Nouveau parti anticapitaliste (New Anticapitalist Party, or NPA) or the Front de gauche (Left Front) as the political parties to which they feel closest. This fact is nonetheless not very surprising, since two-thirds of the French are “political heirs,” [28] and the families surveyed generally share most of the factors identified in the literature as supporting transmission. [29] The informants’ relation to activism appears more variable. The majority of the children surveyed (eighteen out of twenty-four) had already had activist experiences in their lives. Beyond this shared tendency— also related to the broad definition of activism used here—we find what are actually heterogeneous experiences. They indeed vary in terms of the types of activism and protest actions—from some who were active with the Socialist Party to others involved with squatter and anarchist communities, as well as those who were union representatives—but especially in terms of activist careers. [30] While some of the children had long and intense activist careers, most of them had shorter, more sporadic experiences and/or a more distant relation to political activity. With regard to feminist activism, only six people—all of them the daughters of the activists, a point to which we shall return—participated in feminist groups or mobilizations. However, beyond the strictly activist dimension, the relation maintained with feminism (knowledge of its past and present, self-identification as feminists, etc.) appears as another content of the legacy that we find in several of the children. Among the children surveyed, more than one third of them recognized themselves in the label “feminist” and use it to define themselves, surpassing the number of the informants who were politically active. [31]

17This outline of relations to politics attested by the activists’ children surveyed only informs us about a part of the contents comprising their feminist legacies; the other contents revealed by the investigation, concerned with their political relation to the social world, pertain mainly to the questioning of the gender system. This appears first of all in the activists’ children’s gender socialization. The analysis of the interviews shows that it was via their socialization that the majority of them incorporated dispositions that are partially unconventional in terms of gender, for example, leading some of the activists’ sons to construct forms of masculinity that are not “hegemonic.” [32] Referring, during the interview, to their difficulties with the role of “head of household” expected by society, allowing themselves to cry at the workplace when they are managers or, for one young man of nineteen, feeling out of tune with his peers in relation to girls because he didn’t consider them solely from the perspective of seduction constitute some indices of these dispositions encountered among the activists’ sons. In addition to these incorporated dispositions, analysis of the materials shows that the legacy of the activists’ children also comprises a framework for interpreting the social world that is sensitive to gender relations, which we might call “gender consciousness.” [33] The majority of the people interviewed indeed show themselves capable of perceiving and analyzing the gender relations encountered in various spheres, talking about professional inequalities, gender stereotypes at school and in the education of the children, or about violence against women, and giving examples of things that make them indignant, from highly publicized and politicized cases—the Strauss-Kahn affair is thus cited—to everyday anecdotes (the response made to a waiter’s sexist remark the day before, for another informant). This analytical framework can also lead to the implementation of concrete practices. For example, we might point to the fact that several of the children interviewed chose, at least for some time, to use the surnames of both parents in everyday life and administrative matters instead of only using the father’s.

18This overall presentation provides an outline of the types of contents of the feminist legacy revealed by the investigation. However, it does not yet allow us to show how the children adapt and renew these contents over the course of and in response to their life trajectories, nor does it permit us to analyze the variations in these processes. This is what the following section proposes to do in attempting to analyze four portraits of the activists’ children.

Varying Modes of Reception and Appropriation of the Feminist Legacy

Rebecca and Laurent: Receptions Differentiated between Brother and Sister

19Rebecca and Laurent, a brother and sister whose trajectories will be analyzed here comparatively, are Catherine’s two children. [34] Rebecca, the elder of the two, is currently a lawyer in a public administration; she has been in a heterosexual couple for many years and is the mother of two children. Her brother Laurent works in the marketing sector and has lived with his partner for a few months. Their mother, Catherine, born at the end of the 1940s, came from a Catholic family described as “bourgeois.” She was politicized on the left during her higher education, during which she lived in a commune. At the time of her first feminist activity at the beginning of the 1970s, Catherine, at twenty-three years of age, began her professional life. She first participated in the MLAC in its birthplace while regularly attending meetings of the MLF’s “Psychoanalysis and Politics” group in Paris. Her move to a new city in 1977 then led her to join Planning familial, and also one of the women’s groups existing on the local scene. After a period of experimentation and considerable “sexual freedom” in the first half of the 1970s, she gradually entered a stable and exclusive relationship with her spouse, also an activist, whom she had met at the beginning of the decade. Their first child, Rebecca, was born in 1978, followed two years later by Laurent. Unlike the majority of the feminists interviewed, Catherine’s career as an activist is characterized by the maintenance of feminist engagement in several feminist collectives beyond the 1980s. In spite of the longevity of this engagement, the children know rather little of the history of their mother’s feminism, submerged in the political involvement of Catherine and her spouse with a left-wing political party since the 1980s, which was more visible within the family sphere. Similar to what could be observed in other families, it is mainly in an indirect way, via practices and discourses carried in particular by the mothers and linked to this engagement, that feminism penetrated the family universe. Rebecca and Laurent thus recall their mother’s words on this subject, in an everyday context:


All the reports showed that women were treated differently than men, it had to be said… Well, she didn’t say it like that, but you understood anyway that in society, there was work to do in this area.

21Although Catherine mentions the implementation of educational practices aimed at challenging gender stereotypes—such as non-sexist children’s literature—it is mainly the egalitarian marital model embodied by herself and her spouse, and especially the absence of a gendered division of the housework, that her children bring up in the interviews:


It wasn’t my mother who washed the dishes and did the cooking and the housework and my father who watched TV, it was both… they both did everything. So these things weren’t even a question for you, because you were born into it like that.

23Thus, as in the majority of the surveyed families, it is mainly via indirect vectors and mechanisms of impregnation that feminism marked the political socialization of the activists’ children. [35] Nevertheless, if Rebecca and Laurent seem to have had a relatively homogeneous family socialization in this respect, the influence of this socialization and the way in which it took hold of them are sharply contrasting, in tandem with their own trajectories. Rebecca’s feminist legacy is marked first of all by the presence of a “gender consciousness.” During the interview, for instance, she spoke of the education of her children (three and five years old) and explained about being particularly attentive to the fact “of going against the discourse that boys do this and girls do that.” By contrast, this framework of interpretation is not very present in the case of Laurent. The differences between brother and sister in this respect may be perceived in an exemplary way by comparing their comments on a feminist poster referred to during the interview. [36] Produced by a feminist group in the 1970s, this poster refers to the education of children and consists of a criticism of gender stereotypes in the education of children through a series of humorous images about “what they say to girls” (for example “aren’t you ashamed for fighting like a tomboy?”) and “what they say to boys” (“don’t cry like a girl!” among others):


Rebecca: Well, what I think of that is that it’s completely true! [laughs] When did you say was that from?
C. M.: From the 1970s.
R.: Oh man, well, yes, it’s still completely like that; you hear that every day, so [my children] hear that at the school, that’s why they repeat it, and so I keep telling them that I don’t think like that. […] Yeah, no, it’s true [laughter], that hasn’t changed! Unfortunately!
Laurent: Look how that’s changed since then! Since then, everybody knows that women can do what they want now… So education also happens in school, and now we know that there are still more women who study at a higher level than the boys, maybe, I don’t know. […] Look, well, that has sure changed, great, so much the better, everyone can do what they like.

25While Laurent’s remarks focus on the dimensions that might seem the most dated in light of the social transformations of recent decades (for example, the image representing a little girl, with a caption reading “you did well in school; too bad it wasn’t your brother, since you’ll just get married”), his sister stresses the aspects that are still relevant (“boys don’t play with dolls”). On another level, this difference in the frameworks of interpretation can also be seen in their perception of inequalities between men and women. Whereas Rebecca presents a global and structural vision of gender inequalities, understood as “men’s exploitation of women,” of which she herself could be victim, Laurent mainly tends to associate these inequalities with an exoticized and ethnicized elsewhere, speaking of “women who are stoned to death” or “mutilated,” testifying to a limited knowledge and a rather commonplace view of gender relations. Ultimately, they are sharply differentiated by the relation they maintain with feminism and the way in which they identify themselves with it or not. Rebecca defines herself as a feminist and does not hesitate to assert and defend this identification among friends. She spoke of debates on this subject with her spouse:


And that’s interesting because with [her spouse], he didn’t know… well, he didn’t have the same definition of feminism as me, and he said: “Rebecca is a feminist” but a little as if it meant… I don’t know, being anti-men. Anyway, he felt a little put down. […] So I said to him: ‘Why do you say it like that? I am a feminist, and I hope you’re a feminist, too!’ [laughter].

27For his part, Laurent does not consider himself to be a feminist and maintains an ambivalent relationship with this kind of social movement, which he defines sometimes as “legitimately defending the cause of women” and sometimes as “an idiotic feminism that consists of saying that everything men do is crap,” just as bad as “male chauvinism.” Ultimately, however, the comparison between the feminist legacies of Rebecca and her brother appears more nuanced on the level of practices. Indeed, both have forged practical dispositions specifically leading them to implement an egalitarian assumption of responsibility for housework in their relationships. For example, Laurent talks about how he does the cooking on a daily basis, which he relates to the parental model in which his father always cooked.

28Several elements in the analysis of Rebecca’s and Laurent’s life trajectories help to clarify these variations in the appropriation of the feminist family legacy. Rebecca’s trajectory during childhood and adolescence is characterized by a great conformity with her parents’ expectations and way of life. Early on, as the older of the siblings, Rebecca forged childhood dispositions toward involvement in the world (“When I was little, at first, I wanted to be President of the Republic to change everything [laughter]”). “A good student,” as she describes herself, her successful school trajectory helped her to fit in with the environment of the grandes écoles (elite French colleges). Her initial choices of vocational direction were marked by a political vision of the world, and politics, in the broad sense of the term, still occupies an important place in her life today. When she was a teenager, Rebecca remembers liking “to go with [her] parents to the theater or the movies to watch art house and socially engaged films,” while her brother “didn’t find that interesting and watched soccer on TV instead.” Indeed, unlike his sister, Laurent quickly constructs himself within different, even dissonant social universes, carrying other gender norms and other models of masculinity. Through a childhood neighborhood sociability based around the practice of football, Laurent evolved in very male children’s universes, which led him to develop a taste for team sports. His adolescence was marked by an intense practice of club sports which led him to neglect his studies somewhat. His interests clearly distinguish him from his parents, whose disinterest in the matter is emphasized on several occasions by both brother and sister (“Sometimes they wonder how you got into things like that,” said Laurent). During adolescence, this socialization through sports leads him to forge gender dispositions, particularly a relation with the body, which was fairly “typical for his gender”: [37] “To be a man, for me, was above all about being muscular,” explains Laurent, who remembers having wanted “to build himself an athlete’s body” in adolescence in order to “be able to appeal to women, why not [laughter].”

29Moreover, alongside his socialization in universes different from the family environment are the problems created by his mother’s feminist discourse during his adolescence:


So you see, having said that, what was a little shitty was to hear things like “men, men” [in a mocking tone]; now, she isn’t generalizing, anyway, I know that really she isn’t generalizing, but when she talks like that and harps on about things, when you’re still a child or preteen or you’re becoming a man, in relation to some…to some things she says, you get the impression you’re already the king…, at least, an idiot, when you’re not even a man yet.

31The negative feelings expressed by Laurent are largely dependent on gender, since it is really the difficulty of identifying oneself and of finding one’s place as a man—and thus linked to a position in gendered social relations—with respect to the feminist discourses articulated by his mother, who is emphasized here. Occupying the dominant position in gendered social relations complicates the reception of feminist ideas that are characterized by the critique of this domination. This presents gendered obstacles to reception, significantly interfering with the appropriation of this legacy. [38] Lastly, beyond these aspects, the variations among the siblings are also explained by the unequal opportunities for transmission [relais] experienced by Rebecca and Laurent during their trajectories to proceed to an appropriation of the inherited contents. While both had a post-secondary education, the type of education pursued differs: Rebecca’s trajectory as a student in the field of the social sciences enabled her to pursue a course of gender studies which also included the history of feminism. [39] Moreover, her gender category led her to face gender inequalities personally. The experience of discriminations prevalent in the professional sphere, which Rebecca experienced particularly during the period of maternity, appears as a vector for the appropriation of the feminist legacy that is activated on this occasion. [40]

32Whereas the analysis of Rebecca’s socialization shows an appropriation of a feminist legacy (of which certain dimensions are politicized, without this resulting in an activist involvement), her brother Laurent presents a relation to the legacy characterized by the internalization of certain contents, of practical but non-reflexive dispositions, marked by the absence of a real appropriation. More than family socialization—which appears in this case, among siblings, to have been relatively homogeneous—the differentiation of their trajectories within other universes from childhood onward, as well as their genders, have affected and varied the opportunities for the activation and reinforcement of the dispositions inherited in the family sphere.

Stéphanie: An Activist Activation of the Feminist Legacy

33The second trajectory analyzed here is that of Stéphanie, born in 1979, teaching in higher education and single at the time of the interview. Close to Rebecca in terms of the type of appropriation of the legacy, Stéphanie’s trajectory is somewhat different, however, because of her activist experience. Stéphanie indeed is one of a group of the children surveyed to have had an experience of feminist activism during their trajectory.

34Stéphanie is the youngest daughter of Nicole, who was born to a Catholic family in 1946. Nicole earned a degree in the social sciences, during the course of which she joined the Parti socialiste unifié (Unified Socialist Party, or PSU) then took part in the May ’68 events. Afterward, she participated in the feminist movement as of the early 1970s, within various women’s groups as well as the MLAC. Nicole, meanwhile, maintained involvement in a far-left organization through the 1970s. During this period, she was in a stable, exclusive relationship, living with her spouse, also an activist in this organization, with whom she would subsequently have two children. The period beginning in the 1980s was marked by relative disengagement on the level of feminist activism: while Nicole ceased to be involved in feminist collectives to this day, she nonetheless “remained in contact” with the women’s movement by participating in specific activities and by infusing it into her professional sphere. Moreover, as we shall see next, her daughter’s feminist activism also constituted a support for the maintenance and renewal of Nicole’s feminism.

35Unlike the preceding family and the majority of the families interviewed, Nicole’s history of feminist activism was transmitted to her children via storytelling, feminism consequently forming part of the family frame of reference like other parental political engagements. This presence of feminism within the family framework, much like certain educational practices combating gender stereotypes, participates in the early development of a nascent “gender consciousness” for Stéphanie, which went hand in hand with a less conformist gender socialization: “From very, very, very early on, I knew I didn’t want to give in to the guys. But I was… anyway, when I was just a kid […] I wanted to be a boy, I was… yeah, I played soccer, I didn’t want to let them give me any crap, that’s what it was.” It is interesting to note that, thereafter, this framework of interpretation ends up being forged precisely by “turning” against the socializing authority and its ambivalences. Indeed, the dissonances between the feminist principles transmitted and parental domestic practices in the family sphere bring about a heightened perception of gender relations and give rise to a certain number of conflicts with the parents in adolescence. There, the gendered division of housework still seems the most visible dimension, the very measure of the mother’s feminism and the parents’ (in)egalitarian practices in the children’s eyes. Stéphanie describes a modus operandi characterized as “very traditional” between her parents in the matter of housework. In this context, the mother’s feminism is perceived more “by default”:


Yeah, at that time, I think I perceived it more by default, saying to myself: “Well, well, she calls herself a feminist and she doesn’t do this, doesn’t do that, etc.” rather than by seeing what was feminist. […] I focused on the rest, since anyway, what was feminist, for me it was, it was normal. Or in any case, it didn’t need to be brought up.

37Whereas ambivalences between parental discourses and practices have also been analyzed as obstacles to family transmission and more particularly to the transmission of activist dispositions, [41] here they prompt the inheritor to adapt the legacy while enabling her to make a place for herself with regard to the maternal model. For example, Stéphanie speaks of having decided, very early on, that unlike her mother, “[she] would not give in when it came to the division of housework.” The existence of inconsistencies thus seems to provide the children with more scope to take up the legacy, as is suggested, conversely, by the opposite family configurations, in which the children emphasize the “weight” of the maternal model from which they sometimes sought to escape.

38In Stéphanie’s case, unlike that of most of the children interviewed, this gender consciousness gradually led her to activist practices. Indeed, feminism constituted her first activist experience in adolescence. Several elements help us to understand how this activist passage to the act could take place. In 1995, Nicole, accompanied by her “old [feminist] girlfriends” took her daughter with her to the big women’s rights demonstration in Paris, an event Nicole describes as “a passing of the torch,” memorable for Stéphanie since it was “[her] first big demo.” [42] Participation in this demonstration takes place within a specific political context that also plays a part. Indeed, the 1990s were marked by the resurgence of anti-abortion movements, particularly strong in the city in question. In this period, these movements prompted a number of feminist veterans of the 1970s to resume their activism to defend the right to abortion for which this generation of activists had fought. Stéphanie remembers the beginning of her involvement with feminism as corresponding to the moment when “[her] mother also got involved again.” Lastly, the end of the 1990s also coincided locally with the rise of gender-separate feminist groups in the local anarchist community. These were the groups that Stéphanie would join while in college and which constituted her first activist experience. Although this first engagement was relatively brief, it was nonetheless not an isolated experience: Stéphanie subsequently became involved in various activist collectives of the far left within which she expressed feminist positions, even participating in feminist committees.

39Several remarks can be made about Stéphanie’s activist career. We note first of all that although feminism constituted her first experience of activism, it is not the only such experience, since she went on to try different forms of activism. We see this pattern elsewhere, since the other children who had feminist experiences also engaged in other forms of activism. The activist activation of the feminist legacy thus seems to be enacted in a wider context in which dispositions to activism were forged within the family sphere and subsequently activated in various modes during the inheritor’s trajectory. [43] Moreover, while first activated within the family sphere, and at the mother’s impetus (i.e., the demonstration in 1995), the appropriation of the feminist legacy is then supported by other forms of transmission [relais], making it possible to renew the received contents. Activism—feminist activism, but also activism in general—obviously seems to be the principal context in which the family heritage can be reappropriated and extended. Stéphanie explains, for example, having formed feminist groups within her political organization. But the university context also plays an important part in these processes of appropriation and renewal. During her university course in the social sciences, Stéphanie took several classes on women’s history and gender and wrote about these subjects. The knowledge obtained in this context led her to discover new aspects of the history of second-wave feminism, such as “struggles around work,” whereas her mother “passed on a lot of the history of the abortion struggle [to her].”

40These various vectors make it possible to understand Stéphanie’s socialization as a feminist (she recognizes herself as such), which can be observed in her wide knowledge of the history of feminism (“the suffragettes,” the “Maternité Heureuse” association, and the gynecological self-examination groups of the 1970s are thus mentioned during the interview) and its internal debates (“the veil,” “prostitution”), its revivals (“the queer movement”), as well as in her capacity to take positions on various topics and to make them known. Beyond her experiences of feminist activism, the interview provides many indications as to the way in which the feminist legacy is politically appropriated—a politicization coupled with the reinforcement of a certain gender consciousness and the practices associated with it, applied within the personal sphere, in romantic as well as in professional life.

41Finally, this case study shows how the activist appropriation of the feminist legacy comes, in return, to reinforce the family transmission of feminism. By leading her to discuss her experience with her mother, Stéphanie’s feminist activism indeed provides new socialization opportunities in the family sphere:


It was when I started becoming active that I’d ask her a few questions, I’d tell her things that I was thinking and all that, and then for her [her mother], that echoed things she’d thought […] and so she told me how she’d come to that.

43Thus, we may observe a compounding effect of the activist appropriation of the family legacy of feminism, consolidating knowledges of the history of feminism (both maternal and general) and, more broadly, feminist socialization. But this is not a one-way process: the daughter’s activation and renewal of the contents of the feminist legacy in contact with other movements and generations of activists also affects Nicole, tracing the outlines of a reverse socialization. [44] This is what leads her to become familiar with newer feminist critiques and thematics (she spoke, for example, of “transgender people”), as testified by the following anecdote about their discussions after a feminist demonstration:


I also remember Stéphanie returning from the demonstration that had been held […] and her saying to me: “But I can’t believe they didn’t talk at all about violence in lesbian relationships!” And I’ve got to say, I was taken by surprise… and, well, I hope it didn’t sound too much like I was saying: “Oh, well, it’s not too bad” [laughter]. After she told me that, I said to myself: “Oh, sure, of course, how could there not have been any violence there?”…

45Far from traditional studies of political socialization, which confine themselves to showing a successful transmission when the children reproduce the parents’ political characteristics, the qualitative analysis of a case of a feminist’s daughter becoming a feminist activist herself allows us to go beyond verifying that this transmission took place. Rather, this study illuminates the processes and mechanisms that make possible not only this activist appropriation, but also the renewal of the feminist legacy and its potential effects of reverse socialization on the mother.

Christophe: Conflictual Reception and Oppositional Appropriation of the Feminist Legacy

46Whereas the preceding portraits reveal patterns of inheritance present in other members of the second generation surveyed, my final analysis of a trajectory, on the contrary, is an exception to the rule. Conflictual and oppositional modes of reception and appropriation of the feminist legacy, as illustrated by the following portrait of Christophe, are indeed rarer among the informants, especially at this level of intensity. However, it seems interesting to us to study this singular case insofar as its analysis makes it possible to highlight the fact that a conflictual reception of the feminist legacy is not necessarily synonymous with non-appropriation or depoliticization of the ideas transmitted.

47Older than the parents previously examined, since they were born at the end of the 1930s, the parents of Christophe met in college and married at the beginning of the 1960s. Their first activist experiences took place in the protests against the war in Algeria. Subsequently, they took part in the May ’68 events, after which Christophe’s father was active in various left-wing groups and social movements throughout the 1970s, while his mother, Françoise, was mainly involved in the MLAC and the women’s movement. Shortly after Christophe’s birth in 1972, they began living in a commune and separated a few years later. Thereafter, Christophe’s father formed a new couple with a person who was also active in the feminist groups of the 1970s. Christophe has bad memories of his childhood, marked by the separation of his parents and communal life until the age of fourteen, which he describes as “really traumatic.” [45] Tinged with psychological and psychoanalytical categories and analyses stemming from many years of treatment, Christophe is extremely critical when speaking of his parents, with whom his relationship remains complicated. His trajectory is also characterized by an intentional distancing from the family universe, particularly by leaving home when he came of age (the moment when he broke away from the other children of the commune in which he had grown up), and which can be observed today in his taking political and religious positions different from those of his parents. This distancing was amplified after what he describes as a belated “crisis of late adolescence” experienced in adulthood. These various biographical elements bring Christophe closer to the “default heirs,” one of the profiles of the children of the soixante-huitards (veterans of May ’68) presented by Julie Pagis. This profile includes children who were in the forefront of their parents’ countercultural experimentation with educational norms, who experienced a certain material and emotional instability throughout their childhood, and who underwent the dyssocialization specific to this generation in the form of suffering. [46]

48In this case, the mother’s feminism falls within Christophe’s conflictual relation with his parental political legacy, and it is the subject of remarks as vehement and charged with resentment as the rest. [47] Whereas his mother, for her part, believes she sought to protect him from activism, [48] Christophe represents her as a “matriarch” who tried “to break [his virility]” when he was a boy, and on whom he blames his later difficulties in romantic relationships with women. While he also calls his stepmother, with whom he lived for several years, a “matriarch,” that does not prevent Christophe from insisting that she and his father formed “a very traditional couple in practice,” emphasizing his father’s dominance.

49With regard to feminism, Christophe displays resolutely differentialist positions (“our biology entails different roles for us. We are equal in rights but not equal in nature”) and expresses, over the course of the interview, a certain number of remarks characteristic of anti-feminism. [49] For example, he spoke of his particular mistrust, among the feminists, of “extremists” and “lesbians for whom guys are worth nothing” as well as a “hatred of men that makes [him] uncomfortable.” On other subjects, Christophe reiterates masculinist theses, as demonstrated by the following exchange on the subject of violence, this reiteration coming after the interviewee described to me having had “a violent relationship with women” for a long time:


CM: And when you’re talking about violence, you mean violence…?
C: Well, violence is violence, whether it’s physical or moral [morale], uh… verbal [orale], it’s the same thing. Generally with men, it’s physical, physically, and the women it’s verbal, verbally, but it’s the same thing. […] Lots of women at battered women’s shelters are violent women. They just express their violence verbally. That doesn’t leave a mark. And the men opposite them are also in a violent relationship, but they’re men, so violence with men is expressed physically and not usually verbally, and it leaves a mark, and that’s what counts for the court.

51This oppositional relation to feminism is also reflected in the situation of the interview, Christophe obviously seeking to present himself in a sexist light and to provoke the investigator to whom he ascribes feminist convictions, even to intimidate her, since the interview is taking place in his residence.

52Nevertheless, the analysis of the interview makes it possible to see that, in spite of this vociferous opposition and his anti-feminist positions, Christophe has internalized quite a number of the contents that can be attributed to the presence of feminism within the family universe. It is first of all in his knowledge of the history of the feminism of the 1970s, and particularly of the movement for the right to abortion, that we can detect the marks of a legacy. The practice of clandestine abortions by the MLAC or the organization of buses to take women across the border for abortions are thus spoken of during the interview. In particular, the central feminist principle, symbolic of this movement—namely, women’s right to do as they wish with their own bodies—seems to have been internalized, as testified by his current position on abortion:


As long as it’s the only solution there is, well, it has to be done, it has to be allowed. And secondly, I’m a man, I’m not a woman, so my only role is to shut up. […] I don’t think I have to involve myself in things that are women’s business. There’s a saying that, to me, is very true, which is that if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament. And I don’t understand men getting involved in these things.

54We can then see that in his own way, Christophe integrated certain feminist contents, which are closely linked to the very activist generation and movement to which his mother and stepmother belonged. Another indicator underlines the historically situated nature of the appropriated contents. Questioned as to whether or not he identified himself as a “feminist,” Christophe answers: “Uh, if it goes back to… the original idea, which was ‘women’s bodies belong to women,’ then yes. If it’s egalitarianism, like they’re always telling us, with quotas everywhere, then no. The business with the quotas bothers me a lot, and it bothered my stepmother, too.”

55These last words clarify the part played by his stepmother in Christophe’s socialization with regard to feminism. Indeed, more than his mother, with whom complicated emotional relations limited the transmission, the stepmother seems to have been the principal agent of socialization into feminism. [50] Their having lived together during a period when Christophe was older, so that their relationship—described as “simpler and healthier”—provided socialization opportunities in everyday life in the form of discussions, to which Christophe refers at several points in the interview. In the same manner, it was also his stepmother who persuaded him, during this period of living together, to help with the housework:


“I think that what was good for me in… I grumbled about it, sure, it’s because I had a stepmother. Thus my stepmother was much more…forced me, as a boy, to do more things than if I had been her son. There it is. But not my mother.”

57This was a learning process that is not unrelated to his current practices in the sharing of domestic tasks in his relationship, which Christophe, like his mother, presents as egalitarian.

58Thus, in Christophe’s case, we can observe a conflictual and ambivalent process of reception of the feminist legacy, marked by opposition and the rejection of certain elements as well as by the internalization, almost despite himself, of other contents. In spite of this conflictual reception—and in this respect the comparison with Laurent, whose trajectory was analyzed in the first portrait, is illuminating—it is once again a matter of an appropriation of the feminist legacy, which is also politicized. Christophe’s relation to feminist ideas, even if it is characterized by a certain oppositionality, remains nonetheless on the register of politics, as demonstrated by his capacity to express a position: “In relation to feminism, I’m anti-egalitarianism, I’m for complementarity.”


59The four portraits analyzed in this article made it possible to highlight the varied modes of reception of the feminist legacy by activists’ children. While the overall analysis of second-generation socialization in the fifteen families surveyed makes it possible to determine the contours of the “generic” contents of the feminist legacy, these contents are adapted in various ways by the children surveyed over the course of their life trajectories, [51] as the variations observed among the siblings in the first case study illustrate in a paradigmatic way.

60Beyond the idiosyncrasy of the life trajectories and the individual variations observed, the qualitative analysis carried out here, as informed by other cases encountered in the investigation, makes it possible to draw out some more general observations concerning the socialization processes studied. Indeed, the cases analyzed present different types of reception of the legacy, which fall along a continuum ranging from the internalization of contents (illustrated by Laurent’s case) to political and activist appropriations of the feminist legacy (Stéphanie). Appropriations may indeed be distinguished from mere internalization of specific dispositions when the inheritor takes up at least a portion of the transmitted contents that he/she explicitly endorses. These ordinary appropriations may have politicized dimensions, without this necessarily resulting in activist practices (as we witnessed in the case of Rebecca’s trajectory), even when they are oppositional (Christophe).

61Relays of socialization are the mechanisms that allow this appropriation to take place and make it possible to reinforce—even to renew—the contents of the legacy formed within the family sphere. Several types of relay have become apparent in the course of the analysis: the socializing role played by others in one’s immediate circle who stand as meaningful figures with regard to feminism (like Christophe’s stepmother); university studies in the social sciences, which can lead to contact with gender studies; activism; or experiences of discrimination and gender inequality.

62We may note, finally, that the various processes involved in the reception of feminist legacies are strongly gendered. This is the case on the level of family socialization itself, first of all, since the mothers did not always have the same socializing intentions and behaviors toward their sons and their daughters. Moreover, as we saw in Laurent’s case, gender influences the possibility of a “positive” reception of this socialization by the children, who experienced and felt it in ways that also differed according to their positions within gendered social relations. Lastly, beyond family socialization, the opportunities for relay made possible by the appropriation and renewal of feminist legacies are also partially dependent on gender, whether one thinks of gender studies, feminist activism, or experiences of inequality and discrimination.


  • [1]
    “Ma fille et moi,” La Revue d’en face 6 (June 1979): 29.
  • [2]
    Leila J. Rupp and Verta A. Taylor, Survival in the Doldrums: The American Women’s Rights Movement, 1945 to the 1960s, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987); Taylor, “Social Movement Continuity: The Women’s Movement in Abeyance,” American Sociological Review 54 (1989): 761–775.
  • [3]
    Bibia Pavard, “Si je veux, quand je veux: Contraception et avortement dans la société française (1956–1979)” (Rennes: Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2012); Nancy Whittier, Feminist Generations (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995).
  • [4]
    Brigitte Studer and Françoise Thébaud, “Entre histoire et mémoire,” in Le siècle des féminismes, ed. Eliane Gubin et al. (Paris: Les Éditions de l’Atelier, 2004), 27–45.
  • [5]
    On this subject, cf. Marion Charpenel, “Le privé est politique!”: Sociologie des mémoires féministes en France, Diss., Political Science, Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris, 2014.
  • [6]
    Sabine Fortino, “De filles en mères: La seconde vague du féminisme et la maternité,” Clio 1 (1997); Whittier, Feminist Generations. A recent exception, in Italian, is the work of Caterina Grego and Patrizia Romito on feminists’ male children: Caterina Grego and Patrizia Romito, Madri (femministe) e figli (maschi) (Roma: Edizioni XL, 2013).
  • [7]
    Barbara J. Risman and Kristen Myers, “As the Twig is Bent: Children Reared in Feminist Households,” Qualitative Sociology, 20 (1997): 229–252; Colleen Mack-Canty and Sue Wright, “Family Values as Practiced by Feminist Parents: Bridging Third-Wave Feminism and Family Pluralism,” Journal of Family Issues 5 (2004): 851–80.
  • [8]
    Christine Bard, ed., Les féministes de la deuxième vague (Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2012).
  • [9]
    Françoise Picq, Libération des femmes: Les années-mouvement (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1993).
  • [10]
    Annick Percheron, “La transmission des valeurs,” in La famille: L’état des savoirs, ed. François de Singly (Paris: La Découverte, 1991), 183–93.
  • [11]
    Muriel Darmon, La socialisation (Paris: Armand Colin, 2006).
  • [12]
    Bernard Lahire, Portraits sociologiques: dispositions et variations individuelles (Paris: Nathan, 2002).
  • [13]
    N=125, a response rate of 37 percent.
  • [14]
    Twenty-four interviews in total were carried out with children of the second generation.
  • [15]
    The elements of the following presentation pertain only to these fifteen families, who present some idiosyncrasies in comparison to the characteristics of the overall population surveyed by questionnaires and interviews, which is advisable to keep in mind. The most notable of these is the near absence of homosexual women among the activists in this subpopulation (except for one case) due to the need to recruit interviewees specifically for an investigation of family transmission.
  • [16]
    The French equivalent to the Planned Parenthood Federation.
  • [17]
    Given their ages, of course, the term “children” is used here in a sense referring to a position in the generations of a family and not to a category of age. It is in this sense that I sometimes use the term “second generation” to describe the feminists’ children.
  • [18]
    The exact distribution of responses is as follows: 72% “yes,” 23% “strong yes,” 1% “strong no” and 2% “no,” for a total of 93 people, which is the number of people out of all the respondents (n=125) who had raised children..
  • [19]
    Annick Percheron, La socialisation politique (Paris: Armand Colin, 1993).
  • [20]
    Of the fifteen families surveyed, just three of the mothers had other feminist engagements later on, after the retreat of the movement in the 1970s, and remain engaged today. However, only some of the children were born before 1975 and were thus old enough to experience this period directly during their childhood.
  • [21]
    I find this same tendency among respondents to the questionnaires: 58 percent of respondents said that they had “told a few stories, but nothing very detailed” in answer to a question about telling their children about their feminist activism.
  • [22]
    The Mouvement de libération des femmes (Women’s Liberation Movement).
  • [23]
    Cadre d’interprétation féministe: translation of Nancy Whittier’s concept of a “feminist framework” (Whittier, Feminist Generations, 92).
  • [24]
    David O. Sears and Nicholas A. Valentino, “Politics Matters: Political Events as Catalysts for Preadult Socialization,” American Political Science Review 91 (1997): 45–65.
  • [25]
    In French, “putain” – literally “whore,” but used in expressions such as “putain de merde” (“what the fuck!”) or “putain de toi” (“damn you!”).
  • [26]
    Raewyn W. Connell, Gender and Power: Society, the Person and Sexual Politics (Cambridge: Polity, 2009).
  • [27]
    Sophie Maurer, “École, famille et politique: socialisations politiques et apprentissage de la citoyenneté: Bilan des recherches en science politique,” Dossier d’études 15 (Paris: CNAF, 2000).
  • [28]
    According to Anne Muxel, starting from the data of the French electoral panel carried out by the CEVIPOF in 2007, “Four out of ten French people (41 percent) make the same left or right-wing choices as their parents. If the number of those who say they are apolitical, in other words neither right nor left, is added […] continuity in politics dominates and characterizes two-thirds of the French population (65 percent).” Anne Muxel, Politics in Private: Love and Convictions in the French Political Consciousness, trans. Chantal Barry (New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), 19.
  • [29]
    I.e., the homogeneity and visibility of the parents’ political preferences, a high degree of politicization, and a certain stability in political choices. Cf. Percheron, La socialisation politique; M. Kent Jennings, Laura Stoker, and Jake Bowers, “Politics Across Generations: Family Transmission Reexamined,” Journal of Politics 71 (2009): 782–99; Julie Pagis, Mai 68, un pavé dans leur histoire: Événements et socialisation politique (Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 2014).
  • [30]
    Olivier Fillieule, “Propositions pour une analyse processuelle de l’engagement individuel,” Revue française de science politique 1 (2001): 199–215.
  • [31]
    Self-identifications should be distinguished from individuals’ relations to the goals and aspirations of feminist mobilizations. This is what Aronson’s study demonstrates (cf. the article translated in this issue), in which the totality of the informants, who present varying relations to the feminist label, nonetheless support the objectives of these movements. Pamela Aronson, “Feminists or ‘Postfeminists’?: Young Women’s Attitudes toward Feminism and Gender Relations,” Gender and Society 6 (2003): 903–22.
  • [32]
    Connell, Gender and Power: Society, the Person and Sexual Politics.
  • [33]
    Eleni Varikas, “Subjectivité et identité de genre: L’univers de l’éducation féminine dans la Grèce du XIXe siècle,” Genèses 1 (1991): 29–51.
  • [34]
    In all of these portraits, first names, as well as certain biographical elements, have been changed to preserve the informants’ anonymity.
  • [35]
    Percheron, La socialisation politique.
  • [36]
    The use of this poster during discussions with the activists’ children was one of the “tricks” I used to persuade all the informants—and not only those who already had a certain reflexivity on this subject—to talk about gender and their own gender socialization. The presentation of this prop in the second part of the interview was accompanied by an oral instruction consisting in asking them to comment on this poster in general, in relation to the way in which they had been raised and the way in which they had raised their own children, if applicable.
  • [37]
    For an analysis of the gendered construction of body socialization in childhood via the practice of sports, cf. Martine Court, Corps de filles, corps de garçons: une construction sociale (Paris: La Dispute, 2010).
  • [38]
    The appropriation of feminist discourses by men is not impossible as such but requires a labor of legitimation and construction of meaning, as is demonstrated, in another context, by Alban Jacquemart’s work on feminist activists. Cf. Alain Jacquemart, Les hommes dans les mouvements féministes: Socio-histoire d’un engagement improbable (Rennes: Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2015).
  • [39]
    For an analysis of the effects of gender studies on students, cf. Muriel Andriocci, “Entre colère et distance: Les “études féministes” à l’Université,” L’Homme et la société 4 (2005): 73–93.
  • [40]
    Similar processes were also observed in other feminist activists’ daughters. Often marked by a family socialization seeking to transcend gender norms and to deny importance to gender (“For a long time, I didn’t consider myself a girl, I was… for me, it wasn’t… I’m a girl, I have brown hair, I’m short, it was the same kind of thing, and these things aren’t important,” one of them explains, for example) the experience of discrimination by these people serves as a gendered wake-up call which then leads them to reevaluate the relevance and importance of feminism, supporting the activation of the legacy.
  • [41]
    Cf. Pagis, Mai 68, un pavé dans leur histoire.
  • [42]
    Nicole’s choice to go to the demonstration with her daughter highlights in a particularly dramatic way the gendered character of the mother’s socializing intentions in this family in relation to feminism, of which there are yet other indications. Nicole indeed explains never having done this kind of thing with her older son, for whom the transmission was made in a “much more diluted [way], in terms of values passed on over time, and then much more subliminally.”
  • [43]
    On the incorporation of dispositions toward activism and collective action during primary and/or secondary socialization, see Lilian Mathieu, L’espace des mouvements sociaux (Bellecombe-en-Bauges: Éditions du Croquant, 2012).
  • [44]
    Some recent works have criticized the unidimensional character of studies on (political) familial socialization, arguing for an approach that takes into account the way in which children also socialize their parents. Cf. Irene Bloemraad and Christine Trost, “It’s a Family Affair: Intergenerational Mobilization in the Spring 2006 Protests,” American Behavioral Scientist 4 (2008): 507–532; Delphine Lobet and Lidia Eugenia Cavalcante, “Transmission à rebours, filiation inversée, socialisation ascendante: regards renversés sur les rapports de générations,” Revue Internationale Enfances, Familles, Générations 20 (2014): i-xii.
  • [45]
    These events nonetheless seem not to have deeply affected his school career, as Christophe earned a postgraduate degree and today occupies a managerial post in the public sector.
  • [46]
    Cf. Pagis, Mai 68, un pavé dans leur histoire.
  • [47]
    In other situations, we can observe a decorrelation between the (conflictual) relation with the parental political legacy and the relation with maternal feminism, the latter being the only aspect eliciting, on the inheritors’ part, not an explicit rejection but, on the contrary, a positive embrace.
  • [48]
    During the interview, Françoise explains as follows: “I had the feeling that I didn’t need to load all of this weight onto this little boy. The number of times I kept myself from saying something to him, like ‘Oh, guys, they bug me,’ in response to something, because I thought it was too heavy for this little boy to carry.” It should be stressed that the specific difficulties, fears, and modes of action for the socialization of boys that are revealed in these remarks were present in the majority of the ex-activists interviewed who had sons.
  • [49]
    Christine Bard, ed., Un siècle d’antiféminisme (Paris: Fayard, 1999).
  • [50]
    On the role of stepmothers as agents of political socialization in recomposed families, cf. the work of Manon Réguer-Petit, Les belles-mères et la politique (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2012). Her work forms part of a recent revival of approaches, in opposition to the persistence of a “traditional” model of the family in the literature on political socialization.
  • [51]
    On the interweaving of family socialization with the various socializations experienced by individuals in the constitution of their relation to politics, cf. Daniel Gaxie, “Appréhensions du politique et mobilisations des expériences sociales,” Revue française de science politique 2–3 (2002): 145–78.

Based on a study of second-wave feminists in France, this article focuses on the diffusion of feminism within the activists’ family sphere, a space of transmission relatively little explored in the literature. More specifically, it examines the processes of reception and appropriation of a “feminist legacy” among the activists’ children. After a general presentation of these legacies and the mechanisms of their transmission, an analysis of four portraits of activists’ children will highlight the various modes of reception, from the mere internalization of contents to political and activist appropriations. Informed by other cases encountered in the course of the investigation, this analysis makes it possible to draw out some more general elements in order to understand the variations observed.

Camille Masclet
Camille Masclet is a doctoral candidate in political sociology at the Université de Lausanne (IEPHI) and at the Université Paris 8 (CSU-CRESPPA) as well as a member of the Research Center on Political Action at the Université de Lausanne (CRAPUL). Her research concerns the biographical consequences and family transmission of engagement in the second-wave feminist movement in France. She recently published “La quête des féministes: Techniques et enjeux de reconstruction d’un mouvement social,” Genèses 95 (2014): 120–135.
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