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February 02 Issue


James Skinner

‘A woman between the ages of 15 and 44 is more likely to be harmed by her partner than by a war injury, a traffic accident, cancer or malaria’...

‘Pinching a woman’s bottom in public was once a favourite male’s pass-time in any Latin country. Spain was no different. If you were a young, single, virile and virgin young man in the forties and fifties in downtown Madrid, with nothing better to do in your leisure time, you would probably stroll around the ‘Prado’ or the ‘Puerta del Sol’ with a few friends seeking out the opposite sex in order to have a go. And the girls knew it!
‘If a young man touches your behind, ignore him and walk right on!’ mothers would say. ‘However, if he’s handsome and well dressed, give him a good smack. He may be a good catch’, they added.

Today’s generations would consider this as sexual harassment and obnoxious to say the least, yet in those days it was all part of the mating game. Sex on the other hand was a long way off.
Spain’s dictatorship had a strong hold on the establishment of the family unit, specially on the laws regarding marriage (divorce was illegal), yet it was mostly the parents that set the rules. They made certain that their daughters remained virgins until marriage. Whilst mother taught them to cook, sew and make beds, father would ensure that they were home every night by 10 o’clock, ready to sit down do dinner with the rest of the family. Sons were a different matter. They had to study to become somebody and eventually earn a living. Provided they weren’t involved in any ‘subversive’ politics and didn’t come home drunk, a blind eye was given regarding their behaviour towards the opposite sex. Marriage was not only the ultimate goal but the normal transition into adulthood.

Honeymoon over, it was literally down to family business. The duties of the ‘head of the household’ was to earn the daily bread for spouse and future offspring. The ‘lady of the house’, on the other hand would make sure that the home was clean, the children cared for and the larder full of food. There were no supermarkets, no frozen goods and refrigerators were a luxury. Food in general was not always plentiful, so ‘Mama Emilia’ would spend most of her mornings at the nearby markets, haggling over the ‘catch of the day’ or the price of a chicken. It was also her daily outing to gossip with fellow housewives and mothers. ‘Papa Pedro’ on the other hand, would be off on the tram at the crack of dawn eager to return for his din-dins at around 2 o’clock. A small ‘siesta’ and back to the office till eight. Weekends were slightly different. Whilst Emilia sewed and played with the kids, Pedro was at the local stadium watching football. A coffee and brandy with his mates after the match and back for more din-dins in the evening. Thus was a normal week in the life of a Spanish family some fifty years ago.

Today’s feminists would’ve gone ‘bonkers’ over such sadistic and male chauvinist lifestyles. There were other factors that would have added fuel to their movement such as women’s education, sexual abuse and domestic violence all within a family unit. Higher education was mostly limited to men, women had to fight hard to go to university. Although nowhere near today’s aggressive statistics, sexual abuse was limited to ‘hubby’s pleasure whenever he was aroused. Because of ignorance, lack of family planning and contraception, as well as a strong backing from the Catholic church, Spanish families grew to be large. The odd small ones would rely on the British Railway system. Always pulling out on time! But the main point is that marriages lasted.

Unlike today’s civilised generations that enjoy sexual equality and freedom, change partners in tune with their jobs and consider children as yet another consumer item, Spanish families of old stuck together. As the marriage vows stated: ‘For better or for worse’. As an example, the small town council of Arbo in Galicia’s hinterland gave homage to 27 elderly parish couples that recently celebrated their golden wedding anniversaries. As the mayor, Manuel Rivera in his honouring speech stated: ‘it’s all a question of putting up with it. Couples must understand each other and sometimes it’s the man who puts up with it and other times its the woman.’

But there has always been an age old seedier side to man’s relationship with a woman. Despite the evolutionary differences over time between men and women, violence has always been around. Males will continue to bash their female counterpart’s brains out, regardless of what century we’re talking about.

Jose Dominguez Rivero, two Saturdays ago, returned home from ploughing his fields in the border town of Verin near Portugal. He started a row with his wife Josefa, and then cracked her across the forehead with a large stone. She fell to the ground in a pool of blood and died soon after. Although Josefa had officially denounced Jose for aggression in the past, the authorities had done nothing about it. Jose, on the other hand, denied all knowledge of the murder and said that it must’ve been a thief or some other marauder. By the way, Jose is 75 years old! Although the age of the culprit of this particular case is unusual, female sexual aggression is an extremely serious and criminal offence, and what is worse, is on the rise throughout the world. Spain is not alone.

During the week of the 18th of February, the Labour and Social Services Ministers of the European Union got together in Santiago de Compostela to discuss the malaise and agree on a future program to combat the problem. The statistics presented at the on set of the conference were frightening. ‘A woman between the ages of 15 and 44 is more likely to be harmed by her partner than by a war injury, a traffic accident, cancer or malaria’, said Anna Diantopoulou, Europe’s Social Services Commissioner. ‘Despite the fact that this problem is considered a crime, legislation on this matter is different in each state. It is therefore very difficult to unify it under a common European law’. As usual, economics would have it’s say, as Spanish Minister, Juan Carlos Aparicio pointed out. ‘An example is Finland, whereby aggression against women cost the taxpayer 50000 million Euros per annum’, he concluded. Whew! What are we looking at in reality? Is this kind of violence only limited to men against women or is there more to it? Is it any different as a present day problem to, lets say 20 or 30 years ago? I would think not.

The world as a whole continues to go through it’s usual historical convulsion of different sorts of violence and for innumerable different reasons. Israelis against Palestinians, Argentines against Argentines, schoolchildren against schoolchildren, the USA against the whole world! Sexual violence is yet another syndrome of man’s inhumanity to man. They’ve all been around for years. The difference is in the numbers (on the increase) and, thanks to modern communications the ease of access to news as well as statistical information. We now hear and know more about it.
What is the real solution? Education? Legislation? World agreements? Who knows? It could be anybody’s guess. All we can do is to keep on trying and hoping for world peace and understanding for mankind. Personally? I’m still thinking about it. Look out for my memoirs in years to come. (Editor take note!)

© James Skinner. 2002
James lives in Vigo and has been married to the same unbeaten wife for several decades now.

James Skinner

...who knows whether a project is legitimate or worse, whether the figures presented to complete the criteria, example number of new jobs created, is genuine or ‘pie in the sky’.

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