Joaquina Barrenechea, an 80-year-old housewife, reminisces about her youth and what is was like to be a woman during the Franco regime. Married at age 20, she had to deal with household chores and play the feminine role that was expected of her by her husband and society. She felt like she wasn’t fully grown herself nor ready for that type of commitment.
“This is what was expected of a woman back then, to find a husband and form a family,” she says.
Barrenechea believes that her options were limited and that she was not able to fully develop as a person the way she wanted to. She never thought she could be anything other than a housewife because her potential was never embraced by her social circle. Her rights as a woman were also restricted.
“I remember, at the beginning of my marriage, I needed to buy a washing machine but I couldn’t because they asked for my husband’s permission,” says Barrenechea in outrage. “Can you believe this, in order to buy something that cost a lot, we needed a man’s consent.” She remembers feeling humiliated and ashamed at that moment but also powerless because she could not do anything about it.
Spain is recognized as a country that long struggled to permit women’s advancement. According to Casa Historia, a website of modern history top links, the conservative former dictator of Spain, Francisco Franco, spent the majority of his political career building a regime that slowed the development of Spanish women’s rights. It wasn’t until his dictatorship ended in 1978 that more women started enrolling in public universities and Spanish society accepted the idea of women playing roles other than housewives and mothers.
Today, Spanish society retains traces of machismo. It is filled with the notion that males should be dominant, aggressive, powerful, and sexual. However, a drastic change has taken place these past years, in which Spaniards started perceiving women’s roles differently and modernly.
“Today, women in Spain are more independent, educated and career-seekers.” says Antonio Melendez, a 75 year old, retired business man and father.
Spain has a longstanding tradition of sexist gender roles. For a long time, the primary role of a man under the Spanish culture was emphasized on the fact that they were the provider and protector of the family, whereas women were seen as “marianismo,” that is to say to be loving and caring mothers and wives.
“I think that Spanish society has changed very quickly and there are a lot of younger people who are very serious about gender equality, but there is also a lot of deep-seated prejudice and injustice, especially in terms of the division of labor” says Roswitha Casmier, Professor of Gender Studies at Saint Louis University in Madrid.
“I know some very conservative, Catholic people who tend to have a more traditional view of women. But I also know some people who are extremely feminist and open-minded and think the opposite way” says Casmier.
This conception and gender gap originates mainly from the influence of the Catholic church. These gender roles’ restrictions are starting to untie, shifting into more liberties for women to exercise and to self-advance in the role they wish to undertake.
“When I look back at my grandmother’s generation, my mom’s, which worked as a nurse and mine, I see a positive evolution in terms of women’s role in the Spanish society,” says proudly, 30-year-old, Eva Martin, who worked hard to be able to open her own hair salon and feels she comes along way.
“My husband and I both contribute in raising our kid and taking care of house chores; I take care of cleaning, and helping my son with his homework, and my husband cooks and take care of picking up our kid from school” says Eva satisfied. “For me we are equal, no one’s career is more important than the other.”
The former Spanish political regime might not impact the advancement of women in society anymore but that influence come in a different form. It is true that women are not as limited as they used to be in Franco’s era, however there still some stereotypes embedded within the Spanish culture due to another powerful body, which is the media.
“I was young when Franco was in power, and when I married my wife, even though I was all about gender equality, it just did not matter, she still experienced discrimination because that is how the mentality was back then and we had to respect it. And the Church played a huge role in it as well” says Antonio Melendez, remembering memories of his youth. “Today, I see all these ads and the way they show women and I feel like it is another form of limiting their role in society.”
A research done by Valencia university Professor Marcelo Royo Vela on gender portrayal in the Spanish media and magazines industry during the Franco era, demonstrates that women were portrayed as unemployed or employed in traditional female occupations as wife/mothers, as sexual objects or as decorative roles in relations to the product. The same study was carried on based on today’s Spanish magazines and has found that women continue to be represented in high sexism contexts and reduced to sexual objects in television more often than men.
“Women are considered as products to attract consumers and in order to be appealing to a large number of them especially to men buyers, we have to be at all times well put, that is to say sexy, pretty, and well dressed” says journalist and radio host, 28-year-old Patricia Bernad, who is an expert at the subject since she feels that way in the industry in which she works. “Because of that in the Spanish society, women’ physical appearance is more important and is highlighted more than their intelligence unfortunately” says Bernad.
However, according to the European Advertising Standards, the Spanish Parliament implemented a law in 2004 regarding the issue of gender sexism within advertising and the media, in which it bans ads that use women’s image in a humiliating or discriminatory way or that displays body as an object not linked to the advertising product.
“This law was extremely necessary in Spain, because the media has a strong effect on the people.” says Maribel Cerrato, a 22-year-old, fashion student. “The more the media is going to represent women in a certain way the more this image will be implemented into people’s brain especially when you come from a male-dominated culture such as Spain’s.”
It seems that Spaniards are trying gradually to leave behind the “machismo” and conservative culture and to detach those long attributed, traditional roles to women by being unrestrained to alternatives functions for them. There are various examples of Spanish women to demonstrate this progress.
Sol Daurella, has been assigned in June, 2016 as the chairwoman of Coca-Cola European Partners Plc in Spain, reports the financial elite magazine, Bloomberg. Daurella is one of the many examples that represents women’s advancement in Spain.
“The social barriers for women to progress have largely been lifted, although some psychological barriers remain.” says Custodia Cabanas, professor of organizational behavior at Instituto de Empresa Business School in Madrid, reports Bloomberg.
“I remain extremely positive and optimistic about women’s role in our society. I was lucky to witness so much progress and development that took place since that shameful situation that I went through early on in my marriage” says Joaquina enthusiastically. “Hopefully, Spain will continue on this path.”