Actively working against a sexist culture that inflicts guilt and trauma on women, sexologist Mónica Ortiz helps women who visit her clinic find themselves again.
In the central area of San Luis, among the stacked homes along the long and winding roads between the San Julián and Feria neighborhoods, a door with wooden panels stands out from the pastel-painted walls. It opens, but what can be seen indicates that this is not a traditional Sevillian house. There is no crucifix hanging on the wall of the entrance, nor Spanish tile, but plants scattered everywhere, accompanied by antique and modern furniture and bathed in abundant natural light. The feeling is to enter another world, away from the hectic streets of Seville and the anxiety they often cause. She greets with a soft ‘hello’ that corresponds to the atmosphere of the place. Monica Ortiz is a psychologist, therapist, sexologist, and feminist –so she presents herself on her website– and this is her home and private practice.
However, being a feminist is not a requirement of being a sexologist. In short, a sexologist is a psychologist who studies sexual relationships between human beings. But in Monica’s case, a central part of her work focuses on exploring how the machista context of our society creates and maintains traumas in both women and men; so, it could be said she practices feminist sexology.
Monica has been interested in mental health from a very young age. “I was attracted to people who thought and lived differently and whom the cultural, political and economic system called ‘sick’.” At that time, she did not know what feminism was, and she still didn’t know when she began her psychology studies. But as a child, she began to realize the differences between men and women in her home, where she received an education very similar to that of any other girl in this city. She observed how different things were among family members in the simplest things: her brother, for example, received more food at dinner for being a boy, and then, when they had finished eating, the men of the family went to the living room, and the women were left to clean up. The message was clear and continues to be transmitted today: “Women are not that important. And this is taught to women around the world.” Another clear message transmitted is that of fear. “All the women I know have been scared by a man who walks behind them on the street or who touches them on the bus without permission. Or by their first boyfriend, who wants sex without consent and who feels that the most important thing is their pleasure and not yours …”
Monica sits up in her chair, stays silent, and smiles. In the seat across from her, between 50 and 60 adult men and women –not children or adolescents– periodically sit down, feeling sadness, depression, anxiety, or simply needing to talk to someone. Interestingly, in most cases, one person’s and another’s boil down to one thing, which is essential: inequality. As Mónica explains, this is sustained by the machista system that governs Spanish society and, above all, the Andalusian one. The dictionary of the R.A.E, in its first entry, defines machismo as the ‘attitude of arrogance of men with respect to women.’ There is another, similar definition: ‘Form of sexism characterized by the prevalence of the male.’
The sexist system, Mónica explains, had a great presence in Franco’s Spain; because its values were identified with those of the Dictatorship, living in a different way implied going against the Franco regime. For those who did not believe in such values, such as Monica’s grandparents, the situation was dire, as they were condemned to silence. “There was no opposition to that ideology; opposition could lead to jail or even death. They had to act as if they believed in that system. It is not easy to break with what we call tradition, partly because there are people who support it but in part, too, because there are other people who are silent because of fear …” After a few seconds of silence, Monica continues. She points out that the change to a Spain democracy and the influence of other countries began the process of dismantling the country’s sexist system. However, there is still a long way to go: machismo persists and continues to be expressed on a daily basis, also in the form of micromachismo and in the sexual or physical aggressions of men towards women. Currently, one in four women in Spain has been attacked in one way or another –and of these, a large part remained silent: only 8% reported it– and 65% admit having felt physically or psychologically harassed by a man, according to the Barometer on feminism. The Ministry of Equality reveals another chilling figure: 2018 closed out with the death of 47 women at the hands of their partners or ex-partners in Spain, 12 of them Andalusians.
The question remains, can something be done today to get out of the machismo system? “The first thing is awareness,” says Mónica. “When patients come, they realize that their symptoms, like anxiety or sadness, are deceptive and originate in something deeper: fear. Fear of suffering and blame that have experienced within the sexist system, a fear that is related to the place where they live. If we feel attacked, we are afraid: it is normal. Patients –both men and women– realize then that they are not the ones who are sick, but that it is the system that is sick, and that they need to start taking control of their lives and doing things for themselves, taking care of themselves. And this leads to another decision: to choose which people in your life are really helping you and which ones are not. “
Monica smiles. The only way women can live in peace, she concludes, would be outside of a machismo context, a context in which they feel respected. A feminist context. In recent years, and although there is still a long way to go, important steps have been taken in Seville and Andalusia. On March 8, 2019, the celebration of International Women’s Day in the city led to a demonstration in the streets with a record of more than 130,000 people participating, according to the figures of the Local Police; figure that the organizers of the 23 different groups say is double. The general feeling is that the feminist drive experienced during 2018’s 8M has not waned. Other data confirm it: 58% of women and 46% of men in Spain identify themselves as feminists.
The conversation comes to an end while she walks towards the front door. Back to the hustle and bustle of the outside world, the context in which the machista system continues to dominate, though less and less. The awareness of the damage it does to women and to everyone is ever evolving. And although it is true that confronting tradition and becoming aware of underlying fears is not easy, there is a feminist therapist and sexologist in Seville who may know where to start.