Child and woman in bathtub

Photo: Privatfoto

An open moment

One of the movements born out of 1970s activism was the Lesbian Movement; almost in the heart of the movement, a little girl was born. She tells her story in the book "Et åbent øjeblik".

In 1973, Sanne Ipsen gave birth to a child, but she did not become the only mother in the family. In the occupied house in Åbenrå, where she lived, seven women banded together to look after Pernille, as the girl came to be called. Four of the collective mothers - Lotte Eriksen, Else Marie Gert Nielsen, Susanne Schreiner and Vibeke Vasbo - were among the early feminist lesbians who started the Lesbian Movement in March 1974, and they were mothers long before the concept of the rainbow family was born.

In the book "Et åbent øjeblik. Da mine mødre gjorde noget nyt" (2020) (in English: "An open moment. When my mothers did something new", not yet published in English), Pernille Ipsen, who is a historian today, gives a description of the time and the attitudes with which the women were met.

To go through the most difficult thing together

The women were all more or less active in the Rødstrømpe Movement, lived together in an occupied house in Åbenrå next to the first Women's House from 1971-1973, after which they moved to an old villa on Rentemestervej in Copenhagen NV. When Pernille's biological mother, Sanne Ipsen, became pregnant by accident in the spring of 1972, the commune in Åbenrå supported her. They liked children and wanted one, but having a child was also a political project for them.

Vibeke Vasbo with daughter
Vibeke Vasbo was one of Pernille Ipsen's seven mothers. She is photographed in the commune in Åbenrå together with Pernille for an interview series about the women's movement, which Maria Marcus wrote for the newspaper Information. The series was later published on Lindhardt and Ringhof as the book 'Kvinde i dag'.

Photo: Vibeke Winding

"Sanne got pregnant, which surprised everyone, including herself, it was not her intention to get pregnant and she wanted an abortion," Vibeke explains in Pernille's book, and continues: "I was out of myself. Because Sanne really wanted to have a child, she just thought she would not be able to have a child, look after it, take responsibility for it, and so on.” Vibeke could not bear to think that their new collective life together should not be able to accommodate "this the most difficult thing," to take care of a child.

"It meant that we were just at a kind of scout camp, that we were in a temporary state and life organisation, and it made me crazy and mad. I wanted, wanted, wanted that this life of women with women should be able to contain it all.” She wanted to prove that their women's world was able to take care of a child. "The bonds and commitments we had with and towards each other should be as strong as the marriages we had left, preferably much stronger."

A political project

The picture of Vibeke and Pernille as an infant is from the spring of 1973. It is a press photograph taken in the commune in Åbenrå in connection with an interview that Maria Marcus had with Vibeke for a portrait series in Information. The series was later published at Lindhardt & Ringhof as the book "Kvinde i dag".

Vibeke remembers that a friend from the Rødstrømpe Movement became angry at her because she stood out as a lesbian with an infant. "She laid it into me through one night at Lauritz Betjent," says Vibeke. "I could not afford to be pictured with a child and say I was a lesbian." Pernille's mothers had to deal with more than their fair share in 1973. It is no wonder that she was a political project.

Vibeke Vasbo later wrote two Danish lesbian classics: a diary novel about the work of being a crane driver in Oslo - "Al den løgn om kvinders svaghed" (1976) - and a collection of poems "Måske har jeg haft en anelse" (1980), which had a large significance for the Lesbian Movement.

Vibeke believes that "Al den løgn om kvinders svaghed" is the first novel/memoir in Danish where the narrator is a lesbian, without it being problematised or being the main focus in the story. In the autumn of 2021, Vibeke's memoirs from the time in the Rødstrømpe Movement and the Lesbian Movement will be published under the title "Denne gang går vi hele vejen" at Forlaget Café Monde.

Et åbent øjeblik

Pernille Ipsen writes about her mothers in the book "Et åbent øjeblik" (2020). The book is the story of seven so-called redstockings (rødstrømper), who met in different ways at the first women's camp on Femø in the summer of 1971. When the camp was over, they took their new community home to Copenhagen, occupied a house in Åbenrå in the centre of the city and sat down to find out what women wanted and could do if they were not to adhere to men.

It's about the Rødstrømpe Movement, the Lesbian Movement, gender, sexuality, feminism - and about how rewarding and difficult it is to free oneself from the old in order to do something new. Even at a time as radically open to social change as the early 1970s.

Sanne Ipsen
Else-Marie Gert Nielsen was one of Pernille Ipsen's seven mothers.

Photo: Privatfoto

"Et åbent øjeblik" received Montana's literature prize in March 2021. The prize is awarded in a collaboration between Information, Royal Danish Library and furniture company Montana. In the nomination for the award, journalist Lone Nikolajsen from Information wrote: 

“[Et åbent øjeblik] is based on a superb overview of the source material from the Rødstrømpe Movement's first hectic year, when rights were fought for and radical societal change was seen as a matter of time and effort.

Even more impressive, however, is the author's willingness and ability to listen to what is and was at stake for her own living - and related - sources. "Et åbent øjeblik" is based on a staggering number of hours of conversation. For the past ten years, Pernille Ipsen has recorded conversations with her mother, the other collective mothers and their companions from the Rødstrømpe Movement. Some of the mothers have met and recorded conversations about the period. Pernille Ipsen has woven all this together into an easily accessible, thought-provoking chronicle.

"Et åbent øjeblik" is about a political movement that has marked society significantly, and as one of its most important strategies had the conversation and the exchange of experience. It is only fitting that Pernille Ipsen's book is imbued with a particularly stubborn responsiveness.”

Interview med Pernille Ipsen

Interview with Pernille Ipsen, historian and author of the book 'Et åbent øjeblik' about the start of the Rødstrømpe Movement in Denmark, in connection with her receiving the Montana Prize for the book.