SPAIN: Neither Conchita, nor Femme Fatale
Perrine Delangle - 21/03/2008
Neither Conchita, nor femme fatale… Only few decades have passed since the era of Franco and women’s conditions in Spain have witnessed quite a change. The wind of sexual freedom which already blew over Europe reached the peninsula and today’s young women are very different from their mothers. What are their priorities in life? What kind of life do they lead? What worries them and what do they dream of? How do they conceive love? What do they think of virginity, abortion, marriage and maternity? We tried to explore these issues by interviewing 7 of them.
Precariousness is the key word. Housing prices are too high, salaries too low, working contracts are part time or working conditions are illegal, mortgages and loans… this is what Spanish young women have to deal with daily. Being independent is tough. So they take on many occupations, “small complementary or extra jobs”, cohabit with others or live with their parents while dreaming of a small house of their own. Few of them declare - like Rosa, 23, who just opened her own bar by mortgaging the family apartment – that they live at home “because it’s convenient. I work a lot and there I can at least find clean laundry and some food in the fridge”.
Indeed, they work a lot; it’s a priority among many young Spanish women. They have a great thirst for knowledge, big professional ambitions and they’re very undertaking. They most of all want to “assert themselves” by and with work. They want a job they like and they’re ready to make sacrifices for it. Rosa, Laia, Melanie, Paula or Jezabel. To them work is important.
But in such unstable working conditions, little State support and the lack of assistance structures for little children, how can they cope with work and family life, professional ambitions and the desire for a family? Sometimes women like Melanie, 27, married and with a strong desire for a child, give up the idea of building a family right away, “despite the strong social pressure around me”. They postpone everything but remain doubtful as to whether they will manage to do it at the end. Paula, 29, the head of a civil centre, goes even further and explains that “luckily as for now, I manage to repress my desire for maternity thanks to my reasoning and my pragmatism”.
But for these independent women, love still remains one of the primary aspects of life. Therefore, Laia, a single working in a financial department of a big multinational, believes that “love is what’s missing in my life right now”. On the other hand, Rosa, 23, who has been engaged for two years with her school love says that “love IS happiness. You can have everything in life but without love you can’t really be happy”. Whereas none of them believe in ideal love, they definitely know what they want: a mature man, who knows what he wants, with a personality, involved but not over romantic, asphyxiating or too dependent from them. As for marriage, though they don’t rule it out totally because “you never know what can happen”, it’s not really part of their dream!
Obviously, there are some who bank everything on marital love and want most of all to assert themselves through the family; they seek a more traditional role of wife and mother. These women dedicate almost all their free time to their partner. Sometimes the professional goals of some women can be less ambitious, and they seem content with what they have. Chelo, 27, serves at a bar and is the daughter of a family of farmers with 8 children. She’s happy with her work, her boyfriend and even though “it’s not always easy” she’s satisfied and doesn’t want to change anything in her life. Christine, almost 30 and two master degrees, goes even further in “giving herself” and has abandoned her beloved studies, as it was “very difficult to reconcile it with a family life”, for a job that will allow her to dedicate more time to her future home.
Therefore is it “independence” versus “spouse and mother”? According to the accounts of these young women, these two female models seem to represent the two opposites of an imaginary line, where all the others can then be placed, each more or less near to one pole or the other. And whereas the priorities of some of them vary, we remain under the impression that it is due to family pressure.
All of them in any case are highly aware of the issues on sexual equality, independence and the need for women to be present in politics or to hold important posts. However, despite the unquestionable changes that society has gone through, all of them assert that there’s still a lot to do to eradicate male chauvinism! So is this the result of personal convictions and a strong feminist conscience or the fruit of the post-Franco explosion of the debates on women’s liberation in society, media and school? In fact these women are worlds apart: Christina and Melanie - who asserts that “she’s not interested in politics at all” - Chelo who “doesn’t feel qualified to talk about it or be involved” and Paula and Jezabel who both start a long invective on the situation of women in today’s society.
On the other hand, it’s obvious and they know it! Compared to their mothers they are privileged since at their age, the former were all coping with familiar responsibilities and a political climate that was rather hostile to the modernisation and liberation of women. But as if to underline the persistence of the expectations linked to the traditional role of women, Paula considers that actually this greater freedom represents an even higher social pressure since “they want us to be super-women, that is super-workers, super-mothers, super-wives, super-lovers. We’re free to choose but we have to do everything properly. It’s harder for us, we’re oppressed which so much responsibility and pressure”.
Some mothers have apparently always insisted, when educating their daughters, on the importance of “being independent”. But even in this case mother-daughter relations remain complicated. Whether they reproduced their mother’s role in modern terms or rejected it completely, all these women talk about a strained relationship: the projection of the mothers on their daughters and their relative expectations, the emotional dependency, the interference or authoritarianism of the mothers, the daughters’ resentment following to the disaffection of a father seen as a hero… And starting from this, they had to build their female personality!
Therefore, can they speak of sex within their family? Even if Laia, Melanie and Jezabel were able to do it relatively freely, some homes still consider it a taboo. Christine knows it well. They don’t speak about it in her family, and she regrets that when she says that “for a long time I felt guilty every time I happened to do things . I think we should rather be taught not to be afraid of this, to see it as something natural”. Rosa, from her part would rather not talk about it, because she knows there’s a distance and that “her mother’s generation didn’t profit from it as much”. As for Paula, she does it for a personal choice: “this is a private matter, I don’t let her in on this subject, I’d rather talk about it with someone I choose”. Finally, for Chelo, whose parents are almost 75, the question seems almost bizarre.
Their sexuality is therefore more “liberated” compared to their mothers, but they definitely don’t resemble the women portrayed in the films of Vicente Aranda whose sexuality is totally unbridled. They all seem quite well-behaved! When they say that pleasure counts for them and they live it fully, they also all add that it is not the most important issue. Sex remains therefore linked to feelings and love. Rosa even adds, when speaking of the maneaters that crowd the discos: “many girls confuse love with vice nowadays”. Dear me!
What about the right to abortion? Some agree on the principle, others totally agree upon it and others under some conditions. On the other hand, the weight of emotional, ethical and moral rules remains and had they needed to resort to it, they admit they wouldn’t have done it lightly. It’s not surprising, in a country where the feeling of guilt is induced by law (1).
(1) Abortion is allowed in Spain only in three cases: If the pregnancy represents a danger for the physical or psychological health of the mother or child, in case of rape, or in case of deformity of the foetus.