A Brief History of Feminist Organizing in Spain: Background information when reading The Wonders

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The Wonders

by Elena Medel

The Wonders by Elena  Medel X
The Wonders by Elena  Medel
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    Mar 2022, 240 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Tasneem Pocketwala
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A Brief History of Feminist Organizing in Spain

This article relates to The Wonders

Print Review

A significant part of Elena Medel's The Wonders is devoted to the feminist awakening of the character Maria. She grows up in a poor neighborhood during Spanish dictator Francisco Franco's rule in the 1960s and early '70s, a time of strict gender roles. As Spain moves out of the Francoist era and comes to a new threshold of feminist liberation and agency, so does Maria, carving out a path towards becoming a feminist activist in her own right.

Women holding banner during 2018 Spanish women's strike in Zaragoza, Spain

Modern Spanish feminism has developed amid specific historical contexts — through a civil war, an authoritarian regime and the country's democratization process. It has been shaped as a response to a culture where patriarchal systems and concepts around womanhood are deeply influenced by Catholicism. But its development has also been affected significantly by the general political turmoil the country has experienced.

Clandestine politics: Feminist consciousness in Francoist Spain

According to an article by Monica Threlfall in the New Left Review, under the Franco regime, citizens were denied the right "to virtually all forms of meeting and association," making it "much more difficult for the ideas and actions launched by women in other parts of Europe and North America to catch on in Spain."

Despite this, anti-Franco clandestine politics among women were underway during the latter years of the dictatorship, with organization happening at the neighborhood level. As Threlfall writes, these mobilizations were initially "designed to bring women who were not part of the labor movement into the anti-Franco struggle," rather than to forge an understanding of gender issues. But women in these groups soon began to think about their own personal issues and experiences, leading to consciousness-raising of their own political situation, separate from men.

The transition period

After the re-establishment of constitutional monarchy and the death of Franco in 1975, Spain went through a transition period as a process of democratization began. During this time, Spanish women began to organize a feminist movement that shared ideals and goals with American feminism. Various groups were formed that worked on behalf of women's issues.

The feminist movement in Spain didn't have it easy. Gender discrimination was still deeply rooted in the political system of the post-Franco era. However, during the '70s and '80s, some changes favoring women and girls' rights were successfully introduced, including divorce, equality in public education between boys and girls, and other equality measures. Other legal rights, such as the right to abortion, would still remain out of reach for decades to come.

Contemporary feminism in Spain

Contemporary Spanish feminism is mainly characterized by the denouncing of institutional violence and inequality against women. Women's rights in recent years have been threatened by the rise of the far-right political party Vox, which according to Laura Mannering, "casts the feminist movement as a radical enemy of traditional family values."

Young people in digital spaces have been at the forefront of contemporary feminism in Spain, which has been spurred on by the global #MeToo movement, as well as outrage over the judicial verdict following the gang-rape of an 18-year-old girl, called the "Wolfpack" (La Manada) case.

On March 8, 2018, as many as 5.3 million women in Spain (over 20% of the female population) joined a union-backed 24-hour strike that demanded an end to gender discrimination and inequality. Marches were held all across the country, including in Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia. The slogan for the strike was, "Si nosotras paramos, se para el mundo" ("If we stop, the world stops"). Medel places this historic event as a pivotal point in The Wonders.

March during women's strike on March 8, 2018 in Zaragoza, Spain. Photo by Gaudiramone (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Filed under People, Eras & Events

This article relates to The Wonders. It first ran in the May 4, 2022 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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