Banner at Puerta del Sol reading: "The revolution will be feminist or will not be!"
When feminist activists joined the massive anti-government protest camp in central Madrid last week, they were met with a mixed response from other participants. Is Spain’s progressive ‘revolution’ actually a macho movement?
The ‘feminist commission’ is one of the more recently installed tents in the protest camp that has occupied Madrid’s Puerta del Sol plaza since May 15. Their voices joined tens of thousands of others protesting against political corruption, welfare cuts and Spain’s soaring unemployment rate.
The protest camp was timed to coincide with the regional and local elections on Sunday May 22, which delivered a heavy blow to Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's ruling Socialist Party. But Puerta del Sol demonstrators decided in a general assembly to keep going for at least another week before holding another vote to decide the best course of action. Although the number of campers has dwindled, the movement remains extremely active online, with over 150,000 friends on Facebook and as many Twitter followers.
Activist on the Puerta del Sol reading WITCH (Women's International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell), an anthology of feminist texts. Photo posted on Flickr by Gaelx.
"We try to make protesters aware that some of the language and slogans they use are profoundly misogynistic"
Our Observer is a member of the Puerta del Sol feminist commission, who asked to be identified only as 'Marcia.'
We Madrid feminists were active long before M-15 [one of the movement’s nicknames, in reference to its birth date] existed. When the sleep-in on Puerta del Sol began, we immediately decided to take part in it. At first we just meant to add our own banners and slogans to the spontaneous protest movement, but the attitude and reactions of some of the protesters made us realise that a specific feminist commission within the movement was absolutely necessary.
When we arrived last week, we unfurled a big banner that read “The Revolution will be a Feminist One”. Pretty soon, a male protester approached us, tore the banner down and began insulting us. He was visibly drunk and rather young, but that’s no excuse for his attitude. The following day, we brought the incident up at the protesters’ general assembly, where we were overwhelmingly supported by participants.
“Sex-worker activists began holding posters that read: ‘Excuse me, but I’m a whore, and I can assure you these politicians are not my sons’”
After that, we decided that we absolutely had to have a pedagogical, and not just militant, approach. We try to make protesters aware that some of the language and slogans they use are profoundly misogynistic, even if they don’t mean them to be. People tend to call such-and-such politician a “son of a whore”, for example. In response, a group of sex- worker activists began holding posters that read: “Excuse me, but I’m a whore, and I can assure you these politicians are not my sons.” We try to use humour and dialogue, not so much to change the actual words people use, but to get them to reflect on negative gender stereotypes and their impact on society.
One of the posters that offended feminists: "Let whores govern, since their sons have failed us."
A sex worker's response: "We whores insist, the politicians are not our sons!"
We have set up a permanent tent on Puerta del Sol, where we organise workshops and discussions. We answer protesters’ questions about feminism. Some people are aggressive, others are genuinely curious. We explain that feminism is not about pitting men against women - it’s just about equal rights and opportunities for citizens.
Feminist information tent on the Puerta del Sol.
“Even in a globally progressive movement like this one, abortion remains a sticking point”
However, not every principle we defend is agreed upon by all the protesters. In a recent general assembly, we presented our own ‘manifesto’ listing the concrete proposals we want to include in the demands of the M-15 movement. The assembly agreed with pretty much everything except for one crucial point: access to free and unconditional abortion for all women who need it. In Spain, abortion is legal until 14 weeks into the pregnancy and up to 22 weeks in case of a health risk for the foetus or the mother. Nevertheless, many doctors refuse to perform them in public hospitals due to ‘objections of conscience’, then go on to practice them in private clinics where they charge exorbitant fees. Even in a globally progressive movement like this one, abortion remains a sticking point. But we’re not giving up!
Zapatero billed himself as a strong defender of women’s rights, but my opinion is that his policies are feminist in form but not in substance. To us, gender issues (such as childcare, salary inequalities, minority privileges) are clearly at the root of many of Spain’s social problems, and re-thinking the system necessarily means re-thinking gender relations. One of the Spanish revolutions’ main stated goals is to put life, not money, in the centre of society. This is a profoundly feminist value.”
A euro sign with macho horns on a feminist/gay rights flag.
This sign reads: "You want me to be a virgin, you want me to be a saint, you want me to be submissive...I'm fed up with you".
"We don't want 50% of your capitalist hell, we want 100% of our feminist paradise!". All photos of Puerta del Sol feminist banners posted on Flickr by Gaelx.
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Lorena Galliot.