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The Catholic Historical Review 89.2 (2003) 320-321

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True Catholic Womanhood: Gender Ideology in Franco's Spain. By Aurora G. Morcillo. (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press. 2000. Pp. ix, 214. $36.00.)

The Franco regime shared with the Roman Catholic Church a series of assumptions about gender roles and their allegedly 'natural' basis in sexual biology. In this way of thinking, women were destined by their reproductive capacity to a life centred on the home and the care of children. Work outside the home was at best an unfortunate necessity, made more tolerable if it could be interpreted—for instance in teaching or nursing—as an extension of the woman's domestic role as nurturer and healer. By contrast, the external world of work was regarded as a male sphere. It followed that boys and girls should be [End Page 320] educated separately and differently. Predetermined gender roles defined what was appropriate and possible in education, in work, and in social relations.

To this conservative ideology of female domesticity, the Franco regime added the element of duties to the state. Like many other authoritarian systems, it held that women served the state and the nation, as well as God and society, by rearing children and inculcating in them suitable values and attitudes. But, paradoxically, this wider responsibility required training courses in practical skills, and patriotism, which actually removed women from the domestic environment. Aurora Morcillo is particularly interested in this 'nationalizing' of women in Franco's Spain, especially through the Womens' Section of the Falange, to which the regime entrusted the education in citizenship of Spanish women. Many previous scholars have explored the paradox of Womens' Section members instructing other women, quite professionally, in how to give absolute priority to being a wife and mother, in the home. Like them, Aurora Morcillo notes the genuine enhancement of skills and widening of experience, that this training—however conservative—often provided. She then adds a further strand to her analysis of women's education in the Franco regime, by pointing out the new demands and the new opportunities introduced by the modernizing of the economy in the 1960's. Women were to be wives and mothers, patriotic citizens, and also contributors to the emerging capitalist economy in a period of rapid growth.

Professor Morcillo traces carefully the strains and ambiguities of the conflicting demands of a conservative gender ideology, the 'nationalizing' of women, and the involvement of women as producers and consumers in an expanding market economy. She chooses to do this by studying the Womens' Section, and university-educated women, where these strains were apparent. Of course, they were also apparent, and always had been, further down the social scale, among women workers. But this is a useful analysis, reinforced by some interview material. She is able to show that the efforts by church and state to define what women could be and could do were only partly successful. As she points out, "The language and nature of true Catholic womanhood was not fixed" (p. 164). There were too many other influences and experiences for the identity of Spanish Catholic women to be effectively controlled.


Frances Lannon
Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford



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