Feminist zines in the fight against Franco

Words: Anusha Persson

For Spanish feminists living under the dictatorship of General Franco, DIY media was a vital lifeline. Combatting years of social isolation and heavy censorship, zine creation and independent magazines were a way of forming cultural identity and raising consciousness. 

The existence of an independent, do-it-yourself style media has long been associated with leftist, anarchic freedom of expression. Nina Njisten argues that it can provide an alternative view of society that challenges the mainstream, as a ‘participatory alternative medium.’  Feminists, particularly, have used DIY media to inform and empower, giving women the vocabulary to critique structures of control and the established media.

Zine culture, specifically, has always attracted younger communities. Zines started off with fanzines, and developed into a way for younger people were able to find a sense of community, bonding with others over shared stories and photos. A handcrafted amalgamation of poetry, photography and comics, zines were a way for people to share emotions and bond. Crucially, zines were constructed devoid of the influence of ruling elites – think riot girl sentiment and slogans with anti-corporate agendas – and were low cost and easy to disseminate.

For young people in Spain, then, zines were a vital way to create a cultural identity, particularly as Spain slowly reopened in the final years of the 1970s. Magazines like Triunfo (‘Victory’) opened up discourse, exploring taboo subjects like capital punishment.  

The new youth media formed alongside La Movida, a youth subculture which was strictly in conflict with Francoist repression. The movement emblemized the generational conflict at the heart of Spanish society: older populations were often distrusting of international ideas, whereas young people were supportive of an Apertura – an opening – and particularly, an end to sexual conservatism and religiously-enforced domesticity. These ideas flourished in post-Francoist Spain thanks to high levels of migration from rural to urban areas, fast-paced industrialisation, an exalted consumerist culture and an influx of examples of modern European behaviour, modelled perfectly by the plethora of tourists to Spain’s sunny stretches of coastline. 

This idea of the Movida can also be seen in the trajectory of Spanish feminism. The fall of the Second Republic (La Segunda República Española) to Franco in 1939 signalled the end of a relatively progressive government – one which had conceded suffrage to women in 1933, allowed broad freedom of speech, and seen women run in all of its three elections. The political engagement of women had brought feminism into the mainstream political conversation.

These gains were a far-off dream for the young feminists fighting in the latter years of Franco’s dictatorship, forty years later. Decades of religious oppression meant that women were forced into social isolation in the domestic sphere, restricted to the home and disempowered from political action. Unlike other countries, which had seen a rise in women’s public participation as the 20th century onward, there was a regression in women’s roles in Spain. This was compounded by a strict moral sense of right and wrong under Franco: feminism was classed as taboo, alongside drug addiction and sex work. 

‘Unlike other countries, which had seen a rise in women’s public participation in the 20th century onward, there was a regression in women’s roles in Spain.’

For young Spanish women, the ability to create an independent media which challenged institutional beliefs was significant. Vindicación Feminista – evoking Wollstonecraft’s ‘Vindication of the Rights of Women’ – was established in Lídia Falcón in 1976, and aimed to construct a sense of Spanish women’s history. The magazine also touched on tough subjects like abortion and adultery, and was unwavering in its lack of faith in the Spanish government at the end of Franco’s life. Vindicación Feminista intended to create a cross-cultural narrative, drawing comparisons with feminisms in the United Kingdom and France. But the publication, and much Spanish media in the transition, still faced the dual challenge of censorship and social conservatism – which made its successes all the more impressive.

It’s also worth evaluating the community aspect of DIY publishing. For women, disenfranchised and disconnected from one another on an organisational level, bodies like Barcelona’s LaSal BarBiblioteca were vital. As a publishing house, organisation centre and community hub, LaSal BarBiblioteca was designed to cater to the needs of Barcelona’s working-class communities. It was also a site of consciousness-raising, allowing women to learn how to tackle the abuse they suffered and, potentially, how to find a way out. They released a yearly magazine called La Agenda de la Mujer (‘The Women’s Agenda’), and collections of prose and poetry, as well as novels. 

Unlike much of our linear historiography around the women’s movement, the dictatorship of Franco after a period of progression makes Spain’s feminism in many ways unique. Our simplistic understanding of modern European feminism – that it was borne out of the challenges of World War II and developed by the accelerated technological growth of the latter half of the 20th century – is a mould into which Spain does not fit. Spanish women had to find different outlets for their frustrations and aspirations.

What the zine movement does reinforce, though, is the importance of looking to the margins to understand periods of history. Political rebellion can be found in the cultural outside, couched in contradiction, and offering us, as historians, the pertinent and timeless reminder that lo personal es político. 

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Anusha Persson is a final year History and Spanish Student at Durham University. Follow her on Twitter.