Señoritas in Blue
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This book explores the role played by the Female Section of the Spanish Fascist Party (Sección Femenina de la Falange SF) in promoting women’s political and professional rights within the authoritarian Franco regime in Spain. While acknowledging the organizational and financial ties, as well as the great ideological affinity between the SF and the regime, Inbal Ofer demonstrates how the SF’s national leadership promoted an autonomous social and political agenda. Despite the need to constantly maneuver between the cultural and legal dictates of Francoist society, the unique activities and personal experiences of SF members at the heart of political power became a model for an array of policies and reforms that greatly improved the lives of Spanish women. From a unique gender perspective the topic of the Sección Femenina de la Falange contributes to the debate on the nature of authoritarian regimes by reflecting on issues of policy formation and implementation; mass mobilization; and the role of coercion alongside the creation of a culture of consent”. In exchange for a long-term commitment to the survival of the regime, both the Catholic Church and the Spanish Falange gained considerable administrative power and a measure of freedom to act on political and social matters. As explained, the promotion of women’s legal and political equality (reflected in the struggle to amend the Civil Code and ratify the Law for Political and Professional Rights) is a good example of the way organs within the regime” made use of their position in order to legitimize non-consensual forms of activism. The SF efforts to increase the number of gainfully employed women and improve their working-conditions is an example of the unexpected uses made by agents of the regime” of the freedom of action accorded them in the public arena. Inbal Ofer raises questions regarding the nature of women’s political activism and capacity for autonomous action within authoritarian regimes, setting out the debate on the nature of feminism and its relation to female activism and the promotion of women as a collective. More specifically she engages with those works that critically evaluate women’s public contribution within Catholic and / or nationalist settings, and is required reading for interested in the history of modern Europe.
Inbal Ofer is Assistant Professor of Modern European History, the Open University of Israel, specializing in 20th century Spain and gender and women's history within Right Wing movements and authoritarian regimes. She has published articles relating to the history of women under the Franco regime in several leading journals in the US, UK and Spain. Her work on the Women Section of the Spanish Fascist Party received the II Premio Internacional José Antonio Maravall de Historia Política, from Departamento de Historia del Pensamiento y de los Movimientos Sociales y Políticos, Universidad Complutense, Spain.
“In reassessing the Sección Feminina, Inbal Ofer has drawn upon the new approaches to gender studies … She contends that the SF did not blindly follow the dictates of a regime based on the exclusion of women from the public sphere, but eventually developed and defended its own, autonomous social and political agenda … Señoritas in Blue therefore marks a radical rupture with the dominant narrative on the Franco dictatorship. What Edward Malefakis has dubbed the ‘essentialist’ vision of the regime maintains that Franco controlled all aspects of civil, economic and political life and that all of the regime groups were prepared to renounce their ideological and religious goals in exchange for the exercise of administrative power. By contrast, Ofer argues that each group possessed considerable autonomy and defended its own ideological and collective interests in the negotiations that characterized all policy-making under the dictatorship. Only in this way was the SF able to increase substantially the number of women in the labour market and to better their working conditions.” —Nigel Townson, General Editor, Sussex Studies in Spanish History“A historian specializing in 20th-century Spain and gender, Ofer argues that the organization she examines here, despite its deep financial and ideological ties with the fascist dictatorship, used its formal political connection to promote an autonomous social and political agenda that greatly improved the lives of Francoist women. She discusses education, professional training, and the Civil War experience; the genealogy of a gender identity; gender legislation; and the struggle for the Institute of Physical Education and Competitive sports for Women.” —Reference & Research Book News“At least two aspects of Ofer’s book are outstanding. The first achievement of this manuscript is the in-depth study of the SF leadership. Particularly insightful are Ofer’s remarks on class issues regarding the SF hierarchy (and some of the gender policies promoted by the SF). For instance, Ofer convincingly shows that although SF rhetoric attempted to reach all social classes, only middle-class women could in fact become SF national leaders. The position of SF national cadre was a full-time and demanding job with long working hours, salaries of SF national leaders were very low, and SF leaders from Provincial Delegate upwards had to be single or childless widows. Thus, without a bread-winner husband ‘only a woman who had an independent income or the support of her family could afford to continue working for the SF’ (p. 42). Also perspicacious is the research into the commonalities and differences between the two generations of SF leaders. … The second achievement is the brilliant analysis of women’s physical education and sports heralded by the SF since its origins. In supporting women’s sports, the SF encountered an enormous (and at times insurmountable) resistance from the Catholic Church hierarchy and most sectors of Spanish society. … Because of its brilliant achievements and in spite of its less convincing aspects, this book is a remarkable manuscript. It is of interest not only to specialists in gender politics in Spain, but also to any scholar interested in authoritarian regimes, political organisations and political elites.” —South European Society and Politics