Women’s Day in Spain, and Spanish feminism’s great divide

March 6, 2023

Hola a todas, todos y todes!

(That’s how the kids are saying it these days.)

Interesting times for people of all genders here in Spain.

Women’s Day is coming up, and so today we’re going to talk about the new “Ley Trans”, the government’s sex-based quotas, and the divisions within the feminist movement over prostitution and “Sólo sí es sí” – among other things.

Yes, we’re back, with another article about sex in Spain.

And by sex, I don’t mean intercourse.

What do I mean?

Well… Actually, I’m not really sure. It’s complicated.

What is sex, anyway?

Remember health class back in middle school?

You may have had an experience similar to mine.

I’m seeing myself back on the ranch in Arizona, a greasy-haired seventh-grader, listening to the sorta-cool P.E. teacher (who was also the health teacher) as he spent about a week standing in front of a few large diagrams and explaining the ins and outs of the big S.E.X.

You probably know the diagrams I’m talking about: the cross-section of a human being’s reproductive apparatus, neatly labeled “male” or “female” according to what organs were being pictured.

Imagine yourself – or a loved one – being suspended on a medieval torture device, and then split right up the middle, starting between your legs. The resulting cross-section would leave your gonads and such out in the air for anyone to see, and if someone were to make a diagram, you could perhaps use it in a middle school heath class.

(They really did this, back in the day. It was called death by sawing.)

Anyway, that’s the sort of diagram. The sorta cool P.E. teacher stood there with his long wooden pointer, indicating the clitoris, the fallopian tubes, the testes, the glans… The delicate ballet of vagina, urethra and rectum, all running in parallel.

We kids sat and giggled nervously. I hadn’t yet had sex at that point – I guess most other seventh graders in my class hadn’t either – and the whole Sex Ed experience made it sound like a sort of awkward medical procedure to be undertaken with caution. Appropriate organs wrapped in latex for reasons of hygiene.

Those were simpler times, of course. They taught us that sex could lead to HIV, herpes, genital warts, pregnancy, or extreme embarrassment. But as far as I know, nobody was questioning the basic male / female dichotomy, or the biology of “ovaries = woman” and “testes = man”.

Now things are different.

How? I’m not really sure. Let’s talk about it.

First up…

Spain’s new “Ley Trans” makes sex change easy

At the end of February, the government’s new “Trans Law” was published.

It’s a very long document, with plenty of stuff about the protection of LGBTI people in general, and I’ve only read the relevant parts of Title II. You can check out the whole thing in the Boletín Oficial del Estado if you want.

Women’s Day protest signs in my neighborhood in Barcelona.

Among other things, the Trans Law allows anyone age 16 or older to change their “bureaucratic sex” just by filling out some papers. No parental consent, no medical certificate, no psychologist, no hormones. Men can now become women – and viceversa – at the stroke of a pen.

By “bureaucratic sex” I mean, of course, the little M for “masculino” or F for “femenino” we all have on our national ID cards. (Does this apply to immigrants like myself with a NIE? Apparently it does, but it’s a longer process, with more paperwork.)

What effects will this have on Spanish society?

Only time will tell, I guess. It’s a pretty complex topic.

So far, according to what I’ve read, men who become women will have all the rights and protections established in the Ley Orgánica 3/2007 for the “effective equality of women and men”. (That’s another long document and I haven’t read it, but you’re more than welcome to go down that rabbit hole.) And women who choose to become men will not lose any special rights they had before their transition – with regards to inheritances and such.

So that’s one thing. For now, let’s move on…

Sex-based quotas in government and major companies

Over the weekend, the government also announced that they’ll be passing sex-based quotas both for members of parliament, government ministers, and for the boards of directors of large companies.

Details are still a bit fuzzy, since the law hasn’t been passed yet, but for now it appears they’ll be requiring 50% of all MPs to be women, no matter which party is in power. An exact 50/50 split of the two bureaucratic sexes, in other words. (The electoral lists will alternate man-woman-man-woman all the way down, so no matter who gets elected, things should shake out to 50/50 – at least that’s my understanding.)

In large companies and among government ministers, it’ll be 60/40 – at least 40% of the boards of directors and ministries will have to be composed of the “less represented sex”. The EU has recently passed a similar directive.

rosie the riveter wants you to celebrate women's day
Rosie the Riveter wants YOU to celebrate Women’s Day 2023.

So, sex-based quotas. I’m not sure what to think. My first reaction was “that’s silly” and my second was “well, I mostly despise politicians anyway, so this changes nothing for me…”

In reality, I don’t follow much of the who’s who of Spanish politics, and I don’t have much hope that changing the mix of women and men in parliament will improve the lives of the average person. But maybe it’ll help. Who knows?

The bigger question in my mind is this: How will the quota system, etc, interact with the new law saying anyone can change their sex at any time? People tend to follow incentives, and if (for example) you declare one sex to be basically toxic while also allowing members of that sex to opt out and join a protected class… well, I’ll let you fill in the blanks there.

And if you think I’m exaggerating about the “basically toxic” bit, gentle reader, please allow me to translate a few of today’s major news headlines for you. These are from Spanish newspapers:

  • “Post-sexism: the outraged movement that wants to destroy feminism’s achievements.” (El País.)
  • “Digital Misogynists: how they act and why they get away with it.” (La Vanguardia.) And my personal favorite…
  • “Who will stop the terrorist movement of sexually frustrated men?” (Also La Vanguardia.)

That’s just headlines I’ve seen today – and to be fair, we’re in the run-up to Women’s Day, so it’s natural there would be more focus on these sorts of issues this week. But still.

Anyway, all this brings us to our final point…

Spanish Feminism: divided on Women’s Day

March 8th is International Women’s Day, and as usual there will be marches in cities all over Spain (and a general strike for those who wish to participate).

But this year things will be a bit different, due to the divisions within Spain’s feminist movement.

One issue is the trans law I mentioned earlier: some feminists believe that making sex (or gender, perhaps) into a simple bureaucratic formality “erases womanhood”. Others believe people should be free to change their sex/gender at will.

Another issue is the “Solo sí es sí” law which was intended to bring consent to the forefront of sexual assault cases, but which also had the side effect of letting a certain number of rapists out of prison. (I wrote a bit about that in a previous article, but once again, it’s a complex topic.)

These charming fellows were protesting in Madrid in 2019.

And finally, there’s a new scandal on the block: PSOE has a corruption (and prostitution) problem.

The “caso Mediador“, as it’s being called, involves Canary Islands MP Juan Bernardo Fuentes, AKA Tito Berni, and an unknown number of others in a web of lies: bribery, extortion, money laundering, coke and hookers.

The story’s pretty new, and there will surely be more details soon, but these things tend to drag on for years and I quickly lose patience. Like I said: I despise politicians.

But allegedly, Tito Berni was asking Canarian business owners for bribes in exchange for special consideration when it came to public contracts, extorting those who refused, and then taking everyone out to the local puticlub for some “hookers and blow” action after hours.

Prostitution, as I explained in another article, is legal here in Spain. But again, that’s controversial. The leftist coalition government is divided over whether to abolish it, regulate it, or (apparently) enjoy it in the company of friends.

The “feminist government” has some big problems this Women’s Day

It must be said that Spain’s parliament is already one of the most equal in Europe, in terms of the sexes, with more than 40% of MPs currently identifying as women.

And they like to call themselves the “most feminist government” that Spain has ever had.

But the deep divide between old-school radical feminism and new postmodern “queer feminism” is not going to be swept under the rug.

(Apropos of nothing, the Spanish Communist Party is celebrating Women’s Day with a call to “sweep away the patriarchy” and an illustration on their official poster of hands holding up mops and brooms. Because nothing says female empowerment like mopping. But I digress…)

sweep away the patriarchy women's day in spain
Sweeping away the patriarchy, with the Spanish Communist Party.

For now, the “Solo sí es sí” law is up for amendment (a mere 6 months after it was originally passed) and it looks like the parties in the coalition government aren’t going to come to any sort of agreement about just what to change.

In Madrid, the two factions of feminism (radical and queer) will be marching separately on Women’s Day. Other cities have a variety of events planned. Here’s Barcelona and Catalonia. Check your local Google search for more info.

And people have already started changing their bureaucratic sex at the Registro Civil.

Like I said: interesting times to be a man, womxn or what have you.

Intersectionally yours,

Daniel AKA Mr Chorizo.

P.S. I did most of my research for this article in Spanish, but El País in English has a good bit of information about Women’s Day and related issues as well, and it’s not paywalled.

P.P.S. Are you planning on striking or going to a protest? What do you think about the division between Spanish feminists? Hit me up, right here in the comments…

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About the Author Daniel

How did I end up in Spain? Why am I still here almost 20 years later? Excellent questions. With no good answer... Anyway, at some point I became a blogger, bestselling author and contributor to Lonely Planet. So there's that. Drop me a line, I'm happy to hear from you.

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  1. I went along to get a volante from the town hall, to prove that I am still and kicking. They said that if you don’t have an appointment, you have to come back after 11.30, as they returned to reading either the local newspaper or their Facebook posts.
    So I went off to read my own damn paper.
    Then, when I returned at the appointed hour, the fellow printed me up the doc saying that I’m me, alive and registered on the padrón as… a woman.
    Hey, hold on here just a damn minute, I’m a man, I said with a slight tremor in my voice.
    Without batting an eye, he changed my sex on the document.
    Jus’ like that.

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