A New History of Iberian Feminisms (review)

REVIEW: Bermúdez, Silvia and Roberta Johnson, eds.A New History of Iberian Feminisms. U of Toronto P, 2018. 522 pp.

(My full-length, non-illustrated(!) review was published with Feministas Unidas in 2018. This is simply a shortened, blog-style version of the review with images and links – I wrote a similar blog-post-review on Multiple Modernities: New essays on Carmen de Burgos (review)).

A New History of Iberian Feminisms is a timely chronological history and innovative discussion of feminist thought throughout the Iberian Peninsula, from the 1700s to the present day. I say timely as its publication comes at a moment when21st-century Spain has been grappling with high-profile controversies related to women’s rights: new threats to abortion laws in 2013-14; debates and protests regarding gender equality, demonstrated by a massive, 5 million+ women’s strike in March of 2018; and sexual violence, specifically the recent #LaManada ruling (June 2018) that cleared five men of rape in a high-profile “Running of the Bulls” case that sparked fierce debate over definition of rape and sexual violence. It is innovative, as it is the first volume of its kind to examine Spain and Portugal together — as IBERIAN feminisms (sharing issues and a trajectory somewhat different from those characterizing feminism in other Western European nations) — in an effort to understand “the Iberian Peninsula as a multilingual cultural and literary configuration in all its complexity” (3).

La manada_yo si te creo

Protests in Madrid regarding #LaManada ruling. Posters include the phrases “Verguenza! / Shame!” and “#Yositecreo / I believe you”.  Image via El pais.

Unlike previous histories, these essays do not privilege the urban areas of Madrid or Barcelona, nor do they treat Portugal as a separate entity. On the contrary, Bermúdez and Johnson have collected 36 essays – from 30 international scholars – addressing feminist concerns in Spain’s Castilian-speaking areas, the Basque Provinces, Catalonia, Galicia, and Portugal. The volume highlights the geographic, linguistic, cultural, and political diversity of the Iberian Peninsula, as well as its historically rigorous Roman Catholic tradition. In the brief introduction, Bermúdez and Johnson explain two important aspects of the framework. First, the “feminist writing” that their volume focuses on is primarily essays (not fiction). Second, they explain that Karen Offen’s European Feminisms 1700-1950: A Political History served as a model, given its holistic view of a diverse region (Europe) containing significant differences among individual areas (nations) (6). Immediately following the introduction is a list of all contributions with a descriptive 2-5-sentence abstract (pp. 7-22), which is especially useful.


The first six chapters pertain to the eighteenth century and comprise Part I (Ch. 1-6), “Iberian Feminism in the Age of the Enlightenment,” coordinated by Catherine M. Jaffe and Elizabeth Franklin Lewis. These essays “situate women” in relation to monarchies, religious ideology, and the family. Of particular note are Franklin Lewis’s chapter on  “civic motherhood” (50-57) and Vanda Anastáio’s discussion of “‘Feminism’ in Portugal before 1800,” in which she aims to dispel the notion that there were no traces of feminist claims in Portugal before the rise of suffragist movements (67).

Part II (Ch. 7-14), “The Long Nineteenth Century (1808-1920),” coordinated by Maryellen Bieder and Christine Arkinstall, demonstrates the volume’s “elastic” chronology, as the dates position early 20th-century feminist activity as a continuation of, or ideological overlap with, 19th-century thought. Here I mention Chapter 13 (co-authored by Amaia Alvarez-Uria, Josune Muños, and Iratxe Retolaza), which highlights the unique cultural and linguistic dynamics of Spain’s Basque region in terms of women’s education. The chapter foregrounds the first woman to publish a book in Basque, Bizenta Mogel (1782-1854), an important writer who also published children’s literature in Basque (182). I was not familiar with Bizenta prior to reading this book, but I found several short articles celebrating her  contributions to Basque literature and culture – many of which are written in Basque (the page linked to above, for example, contains a 5-minute illustrated YouTube video on her life, narrated in Basque).

Bizenta Mogel_aztarna

Bizenta Mogel, image via Aztarna.com

The volume’s third and fourth sections cover the majority of the 20th century. Part III (chapter 15-19), “The Iberian Feminism Movements Gain Strength under Republics, 1910-1939,” attends to the increase in feminist activity in varied regions of the peninsula (again, Portugal, Galicia, Cataluña, the Basque region, and Castilian-speaking Spain). Johnson takes care in chapter 18 to connect overlooked first-wave Spanish feminists to later twentieth century feminist activity, linking Carmen de Burgos to Lidia Falcón (228) and describing Marujo Mallo as a “precursor of the ‘corporal’ feminism that Spanish feminists adopted during the repressive Franco regime” (233).

Part IV (Ch. 20-25), “The Dictatorships of António de Oliveira de Salazar (1926-74) and Francisco Franco (1939-75)” begins with an historical overview of dictatorial Portugal and Spain, detailing common features of both nations, whose regimes overturned prospering feminist progress and caused women’s legal situations to take “a giant leap backwards” (250). Chapters 21-25, then focus on Iberian women’s resistance and the nuances of resurgent feminist activity with individual chapters dedicated to Galicia, Catalonia, the Basque Region, and Portugal.


A sampling of the varied protagonists and complex characters in Almodovar’s films ranging from 1980-2017). Image via Studiouniversal.com

The fifth and sixth sections of A New History cover second- and third-wave feminist thought from the late 20th-century through the present. Part V (Ch. 26-30), ‘A New Beginning: The Transition to Democracy and Iberian Second-Wave Feminism (1974/75-1994/96)” continues to focus on regional specificities, like Basque Feminist Movements (Ch. 29), Galician feminism (Ch. 30), and the expansion of feminist discourses to include voices defending gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals’ rights (which is especially apparent, in my opinion, in contemporary Spanish literature and filmAlmodovar’s complicated protagonists are the easiest way to illustrate/visualize (above) this plurality of contemporary voices).

Finally,  Part VI (Ch. 31-36), “Iberian Feminisms’ Diversity: 1996 to Present,” considers the individual and collective effects of changes in education – today, more women have earned college degrees and, institutionally, women’s studies programs, research centers, and academic conferences have proliferated since the 1990s (354-55). These essays engage with issues that have occupied center stage in the continued struggle for women’s rights in Spain and Portugal since the 1990s, especially “domestic violence, abortion rights, gender equality, and lesbian and queer identities” (348). Related is an article in El Pais that offers perspectives from different generations of Spanish feminists and activists on many of these issues (The Challenge of Being Feminist in Spain Today, [Spanish]).

Manifestacion 8 de marzo_madrid_2017

March 8, 2017 – International Women’s Day, Madrid. Image via elpais.es

Overall, A New History of Iberian Feminisms is an exceptional and nearly comprehensive synthesis of feminist thought and activity in Spain and Portugal, offering new discussions of previously under-analyzed texts or unknown women writers. The thorough historical overviews opening each section are not limited merely to “women’s history,” and they would make excellent supplementary resources for graduate or undergraduate courses on Spanish or Portuguese cultural history. In terms of limitations, there is an occasional lack of synthesis, encyclopedic tone, or unclear chronologies, largely due to the extensive biographic profiles and detailed descriptions or summaries of the content of women’s essays (however, as an essential reference text, this can also be a strength). Additionally, given the focus on essays, some discussions do not necessarily reflect recent critical scholarship that has engaged with women’s fiction to problematize traditional views on what women’s writing meant at different moments (see my post on recent Carmen de Burgos essays, for example). The bibliography is likewise comprised predominantly of secondary sources; primary texts are limited to essays (and some poetry), although this genre preference is clearly prefaced in the Introduction. Nevertheless, A New History of Iberian Feminisms is an essential resource – if not a new “Bible” of Spanish, or Iberian, feminist history – for any scholar studying historic or contemporary women’s issues, or women’s literature and cultural production, either in Spain or Portugal specifically, or throughout Western Europe and the Luso-Hispanic world more broadly.

What other books on Spanish Feminism, Spanish Women’s Literature, or Contemporary Spanish Women’s or LGBTQ issues have you read recently? A few of my recommendations are below, based on some of  my most recent purchases/reads (which are likely specific to my specific research topics… the avant-garde, early 20th century, and issues related to maternity/motherhood).


Bermúdez, Silvia and Roberta Johnson, eds. A New History of Iberian Feminisms. U of Toronto P, 2018.

Castro, Idoia Murga, et al. Mujeres en Vanguardia. Madrid: Residencia de Estudiantes, 2015.

Fernandez-Miranda, Maria. No madres. Mujeres sin hijos contra los tópicos. Plaza & Janes, 2017.

Prado, Antonio. Matrimonio, familia y estado. Escritoras anarco-feministas en la Revista Blanca (1898-1936). Fundación de Estudios Libertarios Anselmo Lorenzo, 2011.

Kirkpatrick, Susan. Mujer, modernismo y vanguardia en España: 1898-1931. Trans. Jaqueline Cruz. Cátedra, 2003.

About Dr. Rebecca Bender

Spanish professor
This entry was posted in Feminism, First-wave spanish feminism, Spain, Women and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A New History of Iberian Feminisms (review)

  1. Pingback: The Body, Blood, and Soul of Spanish Modernity: review of Life Embodied | Rebecca M. Bender, PhD

  2. Pingback: Geographies of Urban Female Labor and Nationhood in Spanish Culture (1880-1975) (review) | Rebecca M. Bender, PhD

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