The word feminismo appeared in the Spanish press in the 1890s and was extensively discussed thereafter, even though an organized feminist movement was almost nonexistent in Spain until the end of World War I.[1] Starting in the late nineteenth century, the improvement of women’s education and work opportunities and conditions constituted the main goal of feminist advocates in Spain. Later on, during the early twentieth century, civil and political rights were also part of the platform of most feminist organizations.[2] World War I was a turning point for Spanish feminism, “el salto cualitativo y cuantitativo que va a lanzar a la mujer al mundo del trabajo y, por lo tanto, a una cierta independencia que posibilitará las bases para la organización” (González Calbet 52). As a result, the 1920s was a decade of relatively intense feminist activism, which came to a peak during the Second Republic (1931-1936), while women were increasingly visible in universities, offices, and other workplaces previously occupied only by men (Johnson and Castro 214–15). The term feminismo was thus common currency in the Spanish press when the first issue of the popular illustrated magazine Estampa came out in January 1928. One year after its launch, this periodical claimed to have “emprendido conscientemente una grande y eficaz campaña feminista (‘Feminista’ en el buen sentido de la palabra)” through the dissemination of “la actividad de las admirables mujeres españolas” (La Redacción 11).[3] In this essay, I analyze the framing strategies used by Estampa in its coverage of female education, work, and civil rights, which were the central tenets of Spanish feminism during the first four decades of the twentieth century.[4] I have identified three frames that the majority of journalists and contributors employed to write about these matters. The most noticeable frame is a discourse aiming at the harmonization of feminism and femininity. Second, feminism is frequently framed as an invasion by women of men’s spaces as well as a threat to male power both in the public and private spheres. Finally, feminism is routinely considered a successful movement that has already achieved its goals. In my conclusion, I assess the portrayal of feminism in Estampa compared to other periodicals of its time and reflect on the question of press representation and reality.

I have screened close to 200 issues of Estampa dated between 3 January 1928 and 18 July 1936 (out of a total of 415 issues) and searched in Hemeroteca Digital (Biblioteca Nacional de España) with the keywords feminismo and feminista. This process has yielded a corpus of at least 130 pieces that deal with female education, work, and civil rights, evidence of the abundance of attention paid to these topics. The texts comprise different journalistic genres, such as feature stories (reportajes), interviews (often embedded in the feature stories), and stand-alone front covers. I will highlight a few representative examples that fully illustrate the frames.

The concept of framing is key within media studies and has been especially useful for examining the representation of the women’s movement in the press.[5] In a general sense, framing “concerns how events are turned into news stories or social issues” (Kitzinger 156), a process that “essentially involves selection and salience” (Entman 52; italics in the original). As Robert M. Entman explains, journalists and other media professionals select and highlight certain aspects of “reality,” from which they formulate a particular definition, interpretation, and moral evaluation of a specific social issue (52). Frames are constructed by means of keywords, metaphors, stereotyped images, sources of information (who is interviewed and what is asked), language style, tone, etc. (Kitzinger 141–43). Conversely, frames are also defined “by what they omit,” which may be as crucial as what they include (Entman 54). Finally, it is important to emphasize that framing is unavoidable for the perception and communication of events because “any account involves a framing of reality” (Kitzinger 137; italics in the original). As a matter of fact, the phrase with which Estampa qualifies its declared “campaña feminista” (“‘Feminista’ en el buen sentido de la palabra” [La Redacción 11]) is in itself a broad frame, one that leaves out those brands of feminism that condemn the marriage institution and engage in rigorous critiques of the structural subjugation of women under the patriarchal-capitalist order. Anarchist and socialist articulations of women’s position in society, such as Federica Montseny’s and María Cambrils’s respectively, are entirely excluded from Estampa, as are discussions of sexuality, free love, and sexual education.[6]

This exclusion of certain kinds of feminist thought is not surprising at all, since Estampa would be best defined as a family magazine that intended to appeal to every segment of the population. Considered state-of-the-art in the rapidly modernizing and expanding Spanish press industry, Estampa immediately overtook older illustrated magazines such as Blanco y Negro (founded in 1891), Nuevo Mundo (founded in 1895), and Mundo Gráfico (founded in 1911); shortly after its founding, it entered in direct competition with Crónica, whose first issue came out in November 1929. Both Estampa and Crónica were the creation of Antonio González de Linares, an experienced journalist who was a correspondent in Paris and was influenced by French and German weekly news publications (Paris Soir, Vu, Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung). Estampa was characterized by copious photographic content and the innovative style of their young reporters, such as its editor-in-chief Vicente Sánchez-Ocaña, as well as by the adoption of the most advanced printing techniques of the time. Francesc Vera Casas encapsulates Estampa in three keywords: modern, visual, and mass-market (318). It covered heterogeneous topics and contained regular sections on women’s fashion, cinema, and sports, among others. It also made ample use of the new journalistic genres imported from the United States, specifically the interview and the feature story. Estampa was a popular, light-hearted publication aimed at a growing mass market and depended on advertising and sales revenues for its survival. It reached a circulation of nearly 200,000 copies (Sánchez Vigil 180–82; Seoane and Saiz 500).[7]

The study of the illustrated magazines is pivotal for a better understanding of the literature and culture of that time, for they “became an important ingredient of the collective life of the city” and attested to its complexity and heterogeneity (Charnon-Deutsch, Hold 2). Estampa and other popular illustrated periodicals of its time provide a window into how the meaning and practical implications of feminism were portrayed in the domain of popular culture; in other words, they help “to better explain public perceptions” of feminism and feminists (Huddy 184). As Leonie Huddy indicates, “[f]or most people, the media are the most obvious source of information” about the definition of these terms (183). The Spanish illustrated press participated in the network of discourses on gender that coexisted during the first decades of the twentieth century and was an integral part of what has recently been called “la otra Edad de Plata.” Like the popular novella collections also sold in the street kiosks, the illustrated magazines became “discursive constructs” where “changing conceptions of gender, sexuality, national identity, cosmopolitanism, and consumerism in Silver Age Spain” were constantly negotiated (Zamostny 7).[8]

Feminism and Femininity

In Spain and elsewhere, the perceived tension, or downright incompatibility, between feminism and femininity was at the center of the debates about the implications of the former in both practical and theoretical terms. The fear of women’s masculinization was widespread and sparked a good deal of misogynistic texts, as scholars have extensively documented.[9] In fact, this reaction was common across Europe, where “antifeminist rhetoric grew more shrill” over the 1920s (Offen 273–74). Although by no means did these antifeminist voices cease, they were increasingly counteracted with a discourse that defended the compatibility of feminism and femininity. Supporters of feminist demands put forth a “feminist femininity” in which women’s emancipation and womanhood could coexist in harmony. As a result, we find a growing acceptance of a new template for femininity—one that differed from the “angel in the house” in significant ways but still upheld motherhood “as the core definition of gender discourse and female identity” (Nash, “Un/Contested” 42). Unlike the participants in the second-wave women’s movement, first-wave feminists insisted that they were not hostile to femininity; they assured, on the contrary, that feminism and femininity were perfectly agreeable, a belief that Estampa helped to disseminate through its numerous features on feminist advances.[10]

The effort to reconcile women’s new spheres of action with the preservation of their femininity is highly apparent throughout the issues of Estampa, both at the visual and textual levels. Photographs are crucial to the process of framing, literally putting women into frames that make a statement about feminism and femininity. Captions further contribute to the production of meaning by anchoring the images in an attempt to reduce the inherent polysemy of the visual, as Roland Barthes explains (Barthes, “Rhetoric” 38–39). Anchorage is one of several connotation procedures taking place “at the level of the production of the [press] photograph,” along with the choice of object, pose, framing, trick effects, and page layout (Barthes, “The Photographic” 199–206). Captions direct the viewer to a particular reading of a photograph, thus constituting a control mechanism that guides not only identification but also interpretation, its principal function being ideological (Barthes, “Rhetoric” 39–40).

We find a good example of this visual/textual dynamic in a 1928 front cover showing two young women who look at the camera, with a caption that runs as follows (Fig. 1)[11]:

Vean ustedes cómo en los Centros de enseñanza modernos no se descuida la instrucción “femenina”—digámoslo así—de la mujer. Las muchachas contemporáneas aprenden Química y Filosofía del Derecho, pero siguen aprendiendo, como nuestras abuelas, a “gobernar una casa.” Estas dos muchachitas, tan monas, no crean ustedes que estén bordando en un rincón provinciano, en alguna vieja y atrasada ciudad pequeña. No. Son dos alumnas de la Escuela Normal de Maestras de Madrid, trabajando en su clase diaria. Se puede conocer el “Discurso del Método” y al mismo tiempo saber zurcir. ¿Verdad?

Figure 1
Figure 1.Front cover of Estampa, 10 April 1928

Hemeroteca Digital, Biblioteca Nacional de España

Femininity is here articulated through the type of activity (embroidering) and aesthetics (“muy monas”). At the same time, there is an attempt to combine “masculine” fields of knowledge (chemistry and philosophy) with “feminine” ones (sewing). The inside feature reveals an analogous tension between learning and femininity. Specifically, the conversation of the reporter with some students is a mix of feminist declarations and conservative statements about women’s roles and nature. For instance, while one student declares that “[l]a mujer, no solo debe intervenir en la vida pública, sino que también es digna de los puestos más elevados en todas las ramas de la vida,” another assures that they study only “por vocación”: “Claro es que aunque abogamos en pro del feminismo, soñamos en un hogar feliz primero, y antes de nada, somos mujeres” (Paso Andrés and Izquierdo Sánchez 36). This traditional view is immediately and mockingly counterbalanced by her fellow student, “la poetisa”: “¡Ah!, un hogar feliz. No hay nada tan halagüeño como la vida en el hogar, junto al bebé caprichoso y al marido insoportable” (36). It is indeed noteworthy that the genre of the interview leaves room for a polyphony of voices, tones, and opinions inside a single piece; then, even when some male journalists are condescending and focus on the femininity of the women they interview, they are often refuted by their answers.

Six years later, well into the Republic, the same attempt to harmonize feminism and femininity is visible on a front cover that features a student of the Escuela de Enfermeras (Fig. 2).[12] The caption to the picture goes like this: “Usted, señorita, puede resolver su porvenir haciéndose enfermera, profesión que constituye ya una solución clara y definitiva para muchas jóvenes. Si usted desea saber, antes de dar rumbo a su vida, cómo mejor puede emplear su inteligencia y los caudales de su ternura, lea la información que publicamos.” Like the previous caption that commented on the students of the Escuela Normal, this cutline merges the “masculine” quality of intelligence with the “feminine” one of tenderness, making nursing the ideal profession for women because it allows them to bring together their femininity and their feminist ambitions (the latter being identified as financial independence through work). The article intends to convince young women that nursing perfectly suits “ese bello temperamento femenino” (Toca 3). Female readers are directly addressed and asked to read this feature before they commit themselves to “otras actividades” such as commerce, medicine, law, or philosophy—implying these are better suited for men (3).

Figure 2
Figure 2.Front cover of Estampa, 12 May 1934.

Hemeroteca Digital, Biblioteca Nacional de España

This idea is reinforced throughout the images, captions, and body text. One photograph shows a nurse washing a baby’s eyes, and the caption says: “Lavado ocular a un niño pequeño. Vean, pues, nuestros lectores cómo el aprendizaje de enfermera es útil no solo para ganarse la vida, sino también para ser una buena madre” (Toca 4). We find once more the fusion of masculine and feminine characteristics: “ganarse la vida” and “ser buena madre.” In another picture, we see two students in their bedroom, which the cutline describes as “alegre y muy femenino”: one is holding a book and looking at the camera; the other has a doll in her arms (5). Like many of the images across the pages of Estampa and other similar magazines, this photograph intends to dispel the stereotype of the bitter, ugly, masculine feminist or emancipated woman.

Similar endeavors to strike a balance between feminism and femininity abound in Estampa. For example, Magda Donato interviews one of the founders of “La Liga de Mujeres de su Casa,” a new association whose purpose is to rationalize and modernize the Spanish home through the promotion of healthy food, hygienic habits, simplicity, better treatment of servants and so on.[13] Because “La Liga” is the creation of a small group of “abogadas, médicas, escritoras, artistas o simplemente mujeres cultivadas e inteligentes,” Donato questions the suitability of “mujeres ‘intelectuales’” to fix these problems, but one of the members argues against her skepticism: “Las mujeres ‘intelectuales’ tienen casa, marido e hijos, como las otras” (14). This message is visually bolstered by the six photographs that illustrate the interview, all of which show renowned women performing a domestic task: “[l]a marquesa del Ter—figura eminente del feminismo mundial” is watering her flowers (13); novelist Concha Espina is making coffee in the kitchen (14); “la gran actriz Pepita Mellá” is cooking a “paella valenciana” (14); and lawyer Matilde Huici is ironing (15). In this interview, the compatibility of a male activity with femininity is articulated through the theme of feminists living as “ordinary women,” that is to say, as housewives. The same strategy was used for the coverage of the women’s movement in the 1970s, where “[f]eminists were constructed as ‘ordinary’ through being described as attractive, educated, heterosexual, or mothers” (Mendes, “Reporting” 491). The frame of “ordinary women” domesticates the “deviant” woman’s behavior by “localis[ing] feminists within acceptable feminine parameters” (Mendes, “Reporting” 491).

Estampa’s front cover of 11 April 1931, which shows a young woman on a motorcycle (Fig. 3), conveys a different nuance of the relation between feminism and femininity. The picture, a visual message of joy and determination, is labeled “La mujer y su nueva conquista;” the caption goes as follows:

Las muchachas de antaño se pasaban el día suspirando, o por un enamorado romántico, o por un nuevo traje, según las necesidades del momento. Ahora, quieren correr. Correr muy deprisa sobre la carretera y sobre la vida, salvando todos los obstáculos y todos los prejuicios. La velocidad es su nueva conquista. . . . Véanla ustedes dominando el pequeño monstruo mecánico. Su rostro dice toda la satisfacción que experimenta al sentirse dueña del potente aparato, cuyo motor ruge como bestia vencida… Dominio… conquista… ¿no son, en definitiva, estos dos conceptos la entera ilusión de la mujer?

Figure 3
Figure 3.Front cover of Estampa, 11 April 1931.

Hemeroteca Digital, Biblioteca Nacional de España

Running functions as a symbol of feminism, which is constructed as an unstoppable force that brings about power for women, an element of the second frame that I will examine in the next section. But this image is also an embodiment of the woman/machine hybrid analyzed by Maite Zubiaurre in her study of “sicaliptic” Spain (223-53). Given that “a woman on a bicycle was considered a threatening metaphor of feminism,” a woman on a motorcycle would doubtless have posed even more of a threat (224). The bicycle provided mobility, which was perceived as a dangerous emancipator of women. To impede this newly acquired freedom, the ensemble of woman and machine (“the dangerous conjunction of wheeled iron and female flesh” [232, 235]) was restrained by its sexualization, “which goes hand in hand with forcefully imposed domestication” (230). Hence the bicycle became “one of the most efficient and recurrent eroto-technological devices within the context of visual sicalipsis” (224).

The attractive, modern-looking woman on the front cover under consideration is wearing a sleek, short, sleeveless dress, shiny pantyhose, elegant shoes, a necklace, make-up, and a perfect hairdo, none of which seems the most adequate outfit for the speedy ride announced in the caption. In fact, she stays immobile to pose for the photograph. Zubiaurre asserts that “eros” is a means of “keeping women at bay” and requires “[f]emale immobility,” which “is central to the male erotic experience” (223). For that purpose, the female body must be paralyzed “with the help of motionless entities” such as books, mirrors, and typewriters, or “with visual props that suggest and deny movement at the same time” (223). As the words in the caption evoke a sexual encounter between the “satisfied” young girl and the “potente aparato” that “ruge como bestia vencida,” the feminist conquest that the woman on a motorcycle is said to symbolize is reversed by her erotization both at the visual and textual levels. It becomes, in fact, nothing more than a modernized reiteration of the images of “posed women” that dominated the visual landscape of the late nineteenth-century illustrated press (Charnon-Deutsch, Fictions 3).

Another version of the woman/machine composite is found in “Taqui-mecas,” by José del Campo, where typists are systematically infantilized and eroticized in a way that strikingly resembles the strategies for their erotic representation (albeit certainly devoid of “the whorish aspect of female sicaliptic ‘typistry’” [Zubiaurre 247]). On the visual level, all the women in the photographs are static, posing for the camera and feigning to grab a document from the file cabinet or to type a letter on the typewriter, while the captions frame them in terms of their feminine ornamental value (Fig. 4). For instance, a cutline describes the image of a typist as follows: “La máquina parece que ha sido inventada para que luzcan sus uñas pulidas al rojo o barnizadas al púrpura. En realidad, una muchacha sobre una máquina de escribir tiene un gesto tan femenino como ante el espejo del tocador” (Campo 10). The mirror is precisely one of the paralyzing entities identified by Zubiaurre; in this case, it establishes “a strong link between the machine and its female operator” and underscores the traditional close association between the typewriter and women (245). In addition, the typewriter was regularly likened to the sewing machine and the piano, activities that took place within the domestic sphere (245).[14] Not surprisingly, a picture in “Taqui-mecas” shows a woman dictating a text to a typist, and the caption makes this analogy: “En el siglo pasado estas dos muchachas componían un dúo de piano y canto. Ahora manejan la máquina de escribir y se dictan cartas que hablan de unas cosas terriblemente graves” (Campo 11). As these words lay bare, this article constitutes a systematic attempt to teach women that typing “is not a serious occupation, only a game” (Zubiaurre 249). To that end, the author repeatedly infantilizes typists (by referring to them as “un sinnúmero de chiquillas adorables” and “esta linda chiquilla”) and claims that they are naïve and neither understand what they write nor know how to spell (Campo 11). This is a manifestation of “the cliché of the heavily aestheticized, eroticized, . . . as well as profoundly incompetent, typist,” who “does not know how to type, but still looks pretty” (Zubiaurre 253).

Figure 4
Figure 4.Estampa, 12 February 1929, p. 10.

Hemeroteca Digital, Biblioteca Nacional de España

But not all the articles on women’s labor and education run in Estampa made the preservation of femininity their main concern. Particularly remarkable in their highly positive framing of these issues are Josefina Carabias’s features and interviews (Cruz-Cámara, “Los reportajes” 157–61). Likewise, Vicente Sánchez-Ocaña strikes a different tone in “El feminismo en marcha. Las ‘abogados’ de España están contentas de su profesión,” where he interviews the only three women who practiced law in Madrid in 1928: Victoria Kent, Clara Campoamor, and Matilde Huici. The three of them were also engaged feminists, and popular magazines provided a forum for disseminating their ideas. In this piece, they demand the opening of all judiciary careers for women and the equality of the sexes. Huici categorically dismisses the opinion that women cannot or should not enter certain professions: “Desengáñese, son necios todos esos distingos de propio e impropio. No hay más límite que la capacidad individual” (20). This is an article that supports the opening of new professional venues for women and avoids trivializing or derisive strategies.

To be sure, the emphasis on the beauty of emancipated women was no trifling matter when we consider how feminists were depicted in, for example, a turn-of-the-century article entitled “El feminismo… feo” (González Díaz). The illustration accompanying the text speaks for itself (Fig. 5). The author assures that feminism is “asunto de las feas,” envisions “[e]stas valientes emancipadas” as “un ejército que sube al asalto” and affirms that “[a] ninguna muchacha bonita se le ocurrirá vestirse de doctora, ni perorar en los congresos” because they know that such behavior would turn them ugly (6; italics in the original). Thirty years later, women clad in caps and gowns, white lab coats, and overalls were featured on the front covers and pages of Estampa and other illustrated magazines—and they all turned out to be “lindas muchachas” and “bellas señoritas,” which were the usual terms for referring to them.[15]

Figure 5
Figure 5.Nuevo Mundo, 25 January 1899, p. 6.

Hemeroteca Digital, Biblioteca Nacional de España

Feminism as a threat

A front cover from late 1931 displays a woman wielding a whip, an image that captures another recurring frame for the portrayal of feminist advances in Estampa (Fig. 6). Flaunting the attributes of the modern woman (short hair, make-up, pajamas pants) and a smirk on her face, she is supposed to represent “la pesadilla de los maridos,” as the caption explains:

Favorecido por las leyes, el sexo masculino se defendía a duras penas en la eterna lucha conyugal, porque las mujeres son más hábiles y disfrutan de mayor resistencia en la pelea. Ahora, igualados los medios ofensivos y defensivos, ¿qué va a ser de ellos? Ante su inminente derrota, la dulce compañera de antes se ha convertido en un ser temible. Y en las pesadillas del hombre, la mujer aparece así más a menudo que bajo la forma de una lírica criatura.[16]

Figure 6
Figure 6.Front cover of Estampa, 19 December 1931.

Hemeroteca Digital, Biblioteca Nacional de España

The cover story, entitled “¡Pobres maridos!” and written by Luis G. de Linares, ran ten days after the passing of the new Constitution that granted women, on paper, the same civil and political rights as men.[17] The cover picture caption synthesizes the way the topic of equal rights for women was presented in terms of “the battle of the sexes”; it is also paradigmatic of the frame “feminism as a threat,” which was often projected onto the realm of marital relations—the personal being already political back then. Indeed, as Danièle Bussy Genevois observes, the boundaries between the public and the private became so permeable during the Second Republic that “lo privado pasa del recinto del hogar a la primera plana de los periódicos,” in reference to the press attention to the first divorce in Spain (Bussy Genevois, “El retorno” 123). This permeability is manifest in a cutline inside the issue that comments on a full-body photograph of the front cover woman: “Con voto, divorcio y pantalones, aunque estos sean de pijama, así se figuran los hombres a la mujer moderna” (3). This is a significant conflation of terms that attests to the blurring lines dividing the public and private spheres: political rights, civil/marriage rights, and fashion converge and transform the modern woman into a domineering lion tamer in the home.

The article centers on a newly married couple, most likely fictitious, and relates the steps by which Maribel takes absolute control of Ricardo, her husband. The whole story is a comical mock scenario where everything is upside down vis-à-vis traditional sex roles and spheres of action. In this view, legal equality for women entails that men take charge of the housework: “Igualados los sexos, el marido puede sin sonrojo cumplir con las obligaciones de ambos, mientras la mujer educa su espíritu,” comments the caption under an image of Maribel reading a newspaper while comfortably sitting in an armchair (3). Linares depicts a similar situation in “El arte de hacer guisar a los maridos,” where, again in a joking tone, he frames feminism as a danger for men in the home: “El peligro que amenaza al género masculino . . ., señores, vergüenza da confesarlo, es la cocina” (9). He concludes here that, as modern women enjoy full rights and receive “como preparación conyugal, clases de automovilismo, de golf, de esquí y de natación,” they will manipulate their husbands into doing all the domestic tasks (9).

The frame of feminism as a threat was also couched in terms of “invasion,” which implies the notion of an illegitimate and forceful occupation of “funciones ajenas.”[18] This theme is salient in several articles on female education and labor in which women are viewed as threatening competitors for men, who are seemingly defenseless against an invading army. For instance, a front cover of 1928 shows a photo of three young women described with this caption: “La mujer española en la universidad. Las Universidades españolas son invadidas rápidamente por las mujercitas de ahora, dispuestas a todo menos a la vida de renunciamiento de otras épocas”.[19] Similarly, a back cover in 1933[20] declares “La derrota de los antifeministas” and illustrates this phrase with a picture of two female students in the library; the caption points to women’s “invasion” of higher education spaces and warns against the danger of this for men:

En la Universidad de Madrid estudian más de mil señoritas. La carrera de Leyes se ha puesto de moda entre las muchachas. La Facultad de Filosofía y Letras se ha convertido en monopolio femenino. ¿Qué van a hacer los hombres para defenderse de la rivalidad que le plantean estas terribles competidoras que invaden la vida universitaria?

Since the defeat of the antifeminists implies the victory of the feminists, this caption also fits into the frame “the triumph of feminism,” which I will examine in the next section.

The fear of invasion runs through “¿Qué porvenir nos aguarda a los hombres?,” in which its author, M. P., reflects on a group of female home painters he encountered in London. In a jesting tone, the journalist assures that “nos gusta ver a las damas incorporarse con su trabajo al progreso del mundo. Nos seduce la mujer aviadora, la artista, la amazona, la abogada,” but, he goes on, “¡ya es demasiado! En su afán de invadirlo todo, nos van a dejar a los hombres relegados a las faenas del hogar” (26). Once again, the public and the private spheres intertwine: as a result of women’s assault on men’s jobs (“asaltan los oficios”), men will be demoted to caretakers of household chores. In sum, like many other reporters, M. P. resorts to key terms that frame the assessment of feminist advances in terms of both a war against men (invasión, asaltar, legión) and the impression that “the women’s movement has ‘gone too far,’” a common theme in the 1970s and afterward as well (Mendes, “Reporting” 493).

The triumph of feminism

The phrase “el triunfo del feminismo” and its variant “feminismo triunfante” turned up in the Spanish press as early as 1897. In these years, the expression was usually employed in damning predictions of what the future would look like if the triumph of feminism came to pass. For instance, the periodical Arquitectura y Construcción ran an article in which the author gives his opinion about the one female student of architecture in the Escuela de Bellas Artes: “para mí la mujer que se disfraza de hombre y usurpa a este lo que es su patrimonio, es un monstruo” (P. L. 244–45). For P. L., the existence of this student represents “el triunfo del feminismo instransigente,” and he thereupon foresees a reversal of sex roles: “Mientras el marido mezca al niño o espume el caldo, y la mujer corte las plantillas de cantería o calcule un muro, el absurdo tenderá su mano al feminismo” (245). Three decades later, as we have seen, several contributors to Estampa foretold the same destiny for men (housekeeping), but the tone of those articles bears no resemblance to the disdainful rage contained in P. L.'s remarks. In Estampa, female lawyers, pharmacists, nurses, athletes, doctors, painters and so on were not presented as monsters but as faultlessly feminine women.

Many writers for Estampa regard “el triunfo del feminismo” as a fait accompli. Donato is a good case in point to illustrate this frame. In 1928, she affirms that Spanish women are ready for “la actividad pública” because they have “realizado en quince años la evolución social que las mujeres de otros países han tardado en realizar siglo y pico” (Donato, “La ‘Liga’” 13). Later, she claims that, thanks to “[e]l triunfo del feminismo (entendiendo por esta palabra su aspecto más noble y simpático, que es la redención económica de la mujer),” “nosotras hemos aprendido a prescindir de ellos, nos hemos redimido de su yugo económico” (Donato, “Páginas” 28; Donato, “Páginas” 19; italics in the original). She assures that, as a result, being single or widowed has ceased to be “un pavoroso problema económico” for women (Donato, “Páginas” 19), thus ignoring altogether the fact that, when she wrote these words, Spanish married women were legal minors entirely subject to their husbands’ authority and had neither political rights nor access to most professions. Notably, Donato depicted quite a different reality in her novella La carabina (1924), which tells the story of a middle-class widow’s struggles for survival a few years before she published these articles in Estampa.

Assertions of that kind are habitual in Estampa, and some authors even expand the triumph of feminism worldwide, such as Julián Robledo (“A estas alturas, el feminismo es flor de todos los países y climas del orbe” [22]) and Juan López Núñez (“Hoy que el feminismo ha triunfado y se ha impuesto en el mundo entero” [32]). It is also frequent to come upon the perception that there have been drastic, rapid changes in Spain over a short period of fifteen or twenty years. Robledo confidently maintains: “Ahora todo va sobre ruedas; pero hace solamente veinte años confesar esta fe era una temeridad, y tratar de imponerla, un desafío que se pagaba carísimo” (22). Painter Paula Millán Alosete’s father puts it this way: “Esto de no tener más que hijas, y cuatro, parecía hace veinte años una catástrofe. Ahora, ¿por qué? Mire: la pintora está colocada en el Jardín Botánico. Es un empleo que depende del Ministerio de Instrucción Pública. Cosa segura” (Coves 22). It is tragically ironic that the “cosa segura” ended the very day this issue of Estampa was published on 18 July 1936.

These triumphant visions were a far cry from reality, as the facts attest. From 1910 onwards, when Spanish women were finally permitted access to the university without permission from the authorities, the percentage of female college students increased from 1.5% in 1919-1920 (345 versus 21,813 male students) to 8.8% in 1935-1936 (2,588 versus 26,661 male students). But the gap between Spain and other Western countries was still substantial: whereas, in 1930-1931, women comprised 6.3% of the total college student population in Spain, this percentage was 27% in Great Britain, 25.8% in France, 27% in Germany, and, ten years prior, 43% in the United States (Montero 128). Likewise, salaried female work in Spain was mostly precarious and very limited in terms of available options. Mary Nash asserts that, between 1875 and 1936, “no se puede decir que hubo un incremento notorio en las opciones abiertas a la mujer, ni tampoco una incorporación masiva de mujeres en la producción” (Nash, Mujer 49–50). Rosa Ma Capel Martínez expresses the same view when she compares Spanish women’s incorporation into the workforce to other Western countries and finds the former considerably lagging behind (43). Therefore, rather than reflect factual reality, triumphalist proclamations of that sort speak to the fears and desires—depending on who is writing—concerning the outcome of women’s fight for emancipation, a question I retake in the conclusion.


An assessment of Estampa’s declared “campaña feminista” must be put into perspective with other contemporary periodicals. Its portrayal of feminism is akin to its direct competitor, Crónica, and to other similar, albeit older, illustrated magazines such as Nuevo Mundo and Mundo Gráfico. Estampa’s framing of women’s advances may well seem rather limited in scope and nature, yet we find the same insistence on the intact femininity of female workers and students in the feminist-republican women’s magazine Mujer (Bussy Genevois, “Presse” 58). Likewise, as much as the feminist-conservative women’s magazines Mundo Femenino and La Voz de la Mujer advocated for the improvement of women’s condition, “sus objetivos fundamentales seguían siendo el de ser una buena esposa y una buena madre, educadora de sus hijos” (Perinat and Marrades 360). On the other hand, when compared to the staunch antifeminist stance of Catholic publications, Estampa comes across as a champion of women’s achievements. In Estampa, feminism was associated mainly with women’s ability to be financially independent while preserving their femininity at the same time, which amounts to what was called “el feminismo bien entendido” or “feminista en el buen sentido de la palabra.”

With regard to the degree of fidelity with which Estampa portrayed women’s “reality,” it is useful to take into account Bussy Genevois’s observation on the value of the press as a historical document: “La prensa resulta pues buena fuente documental, con tal de que se la considere como reveladora tanto o más de aspiraciones que de realidades” (Bussy Genevois, “El retorno” 117). Accordingly, the frames of “feminism as a threat” and “the triumph of feminism” can be regarded as “una ‘lectura imaginaria del momento histórico,’” in the sense that “a los mismos signos (las mujeres fuera del gineceo) aplican los contemporáneos códigos y, por lo tanto, lecturas opuestas” (113). With this in mind, we should not underestimate the extent to which certain sectors of Spanish society understood women’s incorporation into the labor market as a very real threat. Specifically, working-class men believed that female competition put their jobs at risk, whereas the Catholic press persisted in pushing the arguments “de que el trabajo de la casada desnaturalizaba a la mujer de su verdadera función y ocasionaba desempleo masculino, degeneración de la raza y otros males sociales” (Núñez 431).

Whether faithful to reality or not, Estampa and other similar periodicals circulated many and various images displaying female college students, intellectuals, artists, and professionals. Most likely, this had a “cumulative power . . . to inflect the gender ideology” of its readers (Charnon-Deutsch, Fictions 271), as must also have been the case with other embodiments of the modern woman—particularly athletes and politicians —ubiquitous in this type of magazines.[21] Writing about the period of 1868 to 1900, Lou Charnon-Deutsch likens the “vast infusion” of “images of domesticated women” showcased on the pages of the Spanish illustrated weeklies to the circulation of “a cognitive map of feminine variations, forcefully registering some points on the map as more or less ideal and more or less desirable than others” (Charnon-Deutsch, Fictions 270, 269). As the twentieth century progressed, it became apparent that a rearrangement of this map of femininity was rapidly taking place. As part of this reconfiguration, there occurred a shift from insistently framing the feminine “so as to promote traditional women’s work” (Charnon-Deutsch, Fictions 269) to featuring abundant visual evidence of modern womanhood. Admittedly, there persisted a good deal of continuity from the late nineteenth century, such as the “beautiful women” posing as a lure to sell the magazine itself and the products advertised within (Charnon-Deutsch, Fictions 268–69). Nevertheless, it is also true that the popular illustrated magazines of the interwar period conceived of frames welcoming to (moderately) modern women and made the term feminism a tolerable, even palatable, word.

  1. The first references to the word (in the sense of advocating for the improvement of women’s socioeconomic status) date from 1895 and appeared in the daily newspapers El Imparcial (19 April 1895, p. 3) and Heraldo de Madrid (24 April 1895, p. 1), according to a search in the catalog of the Hemeroteca Digital (Biblioteca Nacional de España). The term gained traction afterward, although the labels movimiento femenino and la cuestión femenina were still usual. Starting in 1896, Alfonso Posada published several essays on feminism in La España Moderna, which three years later he compiled in a book entitled Feminismo (Davies 67).

  2. See Calle Velasco and Nash, “Experiencia.”

  3. All the press articles discussed in this essay have been retrieved from Hemeroteca Digital, Biblioteca Nacional de España: <>. All the images reproduced in this essay belong to Biblioteca Nacional de España. None of the images has been modified.

  4. Two other recurrent topics in Estampa and other illustrated magazines that constitute a large group in themselves were female sport and, during the Second Republic, women’s political participation. See Cruz-Cámara, “La participación” and “La representación.”

  5. See Ashley and Olson, Costain et al., Larrondo Ureta, and Mendes (Feminism 30–41).

  6. For Montseny, see Cruz-Cámara, La mujer moderna; for Cambrils, see Solbes et al.

  7. Crónica had a circulation of about 200,000 copies as well; in 1927, Nuevo Mundo’s circulation was 80,000, Mundo Gráfico’s was 130,000, and Blanco y Negro’s was 100,000 (Sánchez Vigil 173). As per the Civil War period, the editorial, technical, and administrative staff of Estampa seized the company on 24 July 1936 and continued publication of the magazine as an organ of the Popular Front until its disappearance in August 1938. The war occupied most of its content, a good deal of which was devoted to women at the front and the rearguard.

  8. For the Silver Age, see Mainer; for “la otra Edad de Plata,” see Ena Bordonada, Mañas Martínez & Regueiro Salgado, and Romero López.

  9. See Aresti (69–113), Bretz (404–40), Castillo Martín (83–87), Mangini (74–112), and Scanlon (161–94). See Luengo López for press examples of how feminism was regarded unfeminine, most of which date from the 1910s and ran in Blanco y Negro and some local newspapers.

  10. During the second-wave women’s movement, “femininity was constituted as a ‘problem’” because it was “seen as a major cause of women’s oppression”; in this way, “the identity ‘feminist’ was predicated on a rejection of femininity” (Hollows 2). Conversely, one dominant trend in third-wave feminism seems to advocate for its harmonization with conventional femininity (Hinds and Stacey 153–54).

  11. Estampa, 10 Apr. 1928.

  12. Estampa, 12 May 1934.

  13. I have been unable to locate any other reference to the existence of this association.

  14. See Zubiaurre (246–47) for erotic images linking together the three artifacts.

  15. A group of women in overalls appeared on the front cover of Estampa, 20 Jan. 1934, identified as “Las ochenta obreras mecánicas de la calle Galileo, de Madrid, ¿anuncian la conquista de la industria por las mujeres?”; and in José Díaz Morales, “También las mujeres ayudan a construir aeroplanos,” Estampa, 11 Feb. 1930, pp. 13-14.

  16. Estampa, 19 Dec. 1931.

  17. For information about the changes and continuities in women’s situation during the Second Republic, see Aguado and Ramos (203–21) and Yusta.

  18. Three definitions of the word “invadir” are: “Irrumpir, entrar por la fuerza”; “Ocupar anormal o irregularmente un lugar”; “Entrar injustificadamente en funciones ajenas” (Real Academia Española).

  19. Estampa, 13 Mar. 1928. It should be noted that in 1929-1930 there were only 1,744 female college students in Spain or 5.2% of the entire number of university students (Montero 113).

  20. Estampa, 24 Jun. 1933.

  21. See Cruz-Cámara, “La participación” and “La representación.”