In the shadow of men

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Carmen, Joaquina, Dolores, Rosario, and Victoria all attended school during the oppressive dictatorship of general Franco, when girls were educated to become servants of men. They now look back to see what has changed.

“Women never discover anything; they lack, of course, the creative talent, reserved by God for the masculine intelligence, we cannot do no more than to interpret, better or worse, what men give us already done.” The year is 1942. The Spanish Civil War ended three years ago, and Pilar Primo de Rivera makes this assertion as national delegate of the Women’s Section of the Falange Española, the Spanish Phalangist party. It is also at this precise moment that a two-year-old Carmen Pina welcomes the birth of her younger sister, Joaquina, in a time where the repression of women was not only perpetuated by men, but just as strongly by women. The two sisters would unknowingly go on to live in one of the most trying times for women in Spain.

The Women’s Section became a distinct aspect of the fascist Falange in 1934, and by the end of the war comprised of half a million members. Originally the organization was formed in order to provide support to prisoners and to those persecuted by the former liberal and communist governments of the Spanish II Republic, enemies of the phalangists. The Women’s Section also provided aid as nurses during the Civil War. However, the role of its members shifted following the end of the battle, transitioning from easing the minds of soldiers and prisoners, to shaping the minds of the next generation of Spanish women.

At only 35 years old, Pilar Primo de Rivera, daughter of the Spanish military dictator during the 1920s, Miguel Primo de Rivera, had already cemented her place as one of the central figures within the Falange Española. The political organization itself was founded in 1933 by her brother, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, and originally possessed a distinctly fascist character. However, following General Francisco Franco’s adoption of the group’s ideologies, and José Antonio’s subsequent execution during the war, the external signs of fascism disappeared, and the group transformed to exist as the core of the sole official political organization, the Movimiento Nacional (National Movement).

The 1940s were a dark time in the history of Spain, as Franco chose to physically suppress all who opposed him through murders carried out by the court system and assassinations by members of the Falange. At one point the number of shootings decreed by the courts reached so high that the government-controlled press ordered the executions to be kept out of the newspapers. However, in February of 1940, a French governmental source estimated the number to be roughly 800 executions per month.

While the violent acts were carried out by the new regime, normal daily life remained relatively the same. Carmen and Joaquina attended a private religious school in their hometown of Seville, while their friend Dolores Hernández, today a retired cosmetics salesperson, studied at a public school. Though the differences between the two educational institutions can be categorized in regards to the varying emphasis placed on religion, Franco’s close relationship with the Catholic Church ensured that a strong religious doctrine would enter the public school system just as much.

Dolores remembers the phalangist chant Cara al Sol that students in all public schools were required to recite in each morning, complete with “Long live Spain! Long live Franco!” shouts made with the fascist salute, the rigid, outstretched right arm. In contrast, virtually no mention of Franco appeared within the Pina sisters’ education, as prayer was the daily focus. Carmen described a typical day within the religious school as “pray and study a little, pray and study a little, pray. We prayed more than learning anything else.” When Franco came to power, the Catholic Church was permitted to reinstall crucifixes in classrooms throughout Spain.

Rosario Malasaña, who was educated in Madrid until the age of nine, and later in Seville, explains her experience, “It was another form of life in that time, more family-centered, more closed off. But it was not a bad life, I always had nice clothing, good food, I went to the beach with my family every year, it was just a less free life than we have now,” she says. Within families, monetary preference was given toward sons in order to continue their education and pursue a career; however, Rosario challenged that societal norm, as she attended the University of Seville and graduated with a degree in business. Given she was one of only a handful of women attending the university, discrimination from her male classmates was expected. However, with an almost matter-of-fact tone, she states the discrimination was normal, as it was expected on the street, more or less as women expect it today.

Regardless of their differing educational experiences, Rosario, Dolores, Carmen and Joaquina agree on one thing: they wish that they would have been allowed to study more and absorb as much knowledge as possible during their youth, when a daughter’s only logical path in life would lead her towards marriage. Girls were expected to aid immensely within the home and learn more practical skills like sewing, cooking, and cleaning, thus leaving little or no time to study. Rosario provides insight on this notion as well, “This was the mentality throughout the world at this time, not just in Spain, although in Spain it was very bad,” she says. “The idea that girls did not need to study, that they only needed to learn to sew, play music, cook, and serve the man.”

The dominant ideology reiterated by Franco’s regime remained well into the 20th century. In a 1962 textbook used by students in their first year of high school, Political and Social Formation, a quote from the Woman’s Section speaks to the unchanging ideas regarding the role of women: “Throughout life, the mission of women is to serve. When God made the first man, he thought, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone.’ And formed women, for their help and company, and to serve as a mother. God’s first thought was ‘the man.’ He thought of the woman later, as a necessary complement, that is, as something useful.”

Six years after this jarring statement was published and used within the Spanish school system, 21-year-old Victoria Sesé began her teaching career in a town barely inhabited by 20 families at the time, Los Badalejos, in the province of Cádiz. Akin to her own educational experience in Ciudad Real, in the central region of La Mancha, two distinct schools existed in order to educate boys and girls, ages 6 to 12, separate from one another. Although in 1968, the year of the social revolution from Paris to Los Angeles, nearly 30 years had passed since the end of the Spanish War, and the world had transitioned into a period of relative modernity, the time-honored notions surrounding the role of sons and daughters in regards to education remained. “There would be girls who would be required to help at home by their parents and would only come to school very little, or sometimes not at all, or sometimes only for a year and then never return,” Victoria remembers.

At this point in time, Carmen had finished her education and would go on to marry in 1965 in order to lead a hard, but rewarding life as a housewife, welcoming two children in 1966 and 1969. Her kids, Óscar and David began their education in Catholic schools, still characterized by the moral and educational influence of the Franco era, but would instead graduate with distinctly new and liberal social values. This can be afforded to both the transition to democracy in Spain following Franco’s death in 1975, and to the new constitution enacted in 1978, which advocated equal opportunities for all Spanish citizens regardless of their sex. The world in which Carmen’s children grew up was far different from that of their mother, Rosario, Victoria, Joaquina, and Dolores. They never truly experienced the overwhelming sense of repression once felt within the confines of their country.