Victoria L. Enders

Constructing Spanish Womanhood: Female Identity in Modern Spain
Edited by Victoria L. Enders and Pamela B. Radcliff. (SUNY, 1999)

From the Foreward by Karen Offen:

Spanish women’s history has become a burgeoning field of inquiry in Spain since the end of the Franco regime. Gender analysis (which explores the relationship between “masculine/​feminine” in all aspects of culture) is also attracting increasing attention. The founding of the Asociación Española de Investigación Histórica de las Mujeres in 1991 and the debut in 1994 of the historical journal, Arenal (named after the writer and feminist Concepción Arenal) marked rites of passage for Spanish scholarship by bringing women’s history and gender issues into the center of contemporary historiographical concerns. The publication of Mary Nash’s landmark study, Defying Male Civilization: Women in the Spanish Civil War (1995) made available to English language readers a host of new insights into the recent historical experience of women in Spain, as did her earlier landmark essay, “Two Decades of Women’s History in Spain: A Reappraisal,” published in Writing Women’s History: International Perspectives in 1991.

Apart from these contributions the new historical scholarship on modern Spain has not been widely disseminated beyond the Spanish-speaking world, and what was available in English was, with only a few exceptions such as the work of Temma Kaplan, due more to the contributions of literary scholars and critics than to historians. In consequence, and until recently, synthetic treatments of European women’s history in the English-speaking world have inadvertently neglected (due more to unfamiliarity than ill-will), the important findings of historical research on women and gender in Spain, even as all too few historians outside Spain had embarked on such analyses.

The publication of Constructing Spanish Womanhood: Female Identity in Modern Spain assures that such neglect by the English-speaking world will no longer be possible. The is a wonderful book, a landmark collection of well-integrated, highly readable scholarly studies by a cross-section of Spanish-based and Anglo-based research scholars, both established and new-comers. Its contents will virtually double the amount of contemporary historical and theoretical scholarship on modern Spanish women and gender issues available in the English language.

This book links the concerns of Spanish women’s history to those of women’s history elsewhere in Europe and throughout the world. The contributors’ articles represent the best of the new historical scholarship. They expand our knowledge of the general field of Spanish history and contribute to the reconfiguring of European history more broadly through inclusion of the Spanish experience.

The editors, Victoria Enders and Pamela Radcliff, are to be congratulated for bringing this book to completion. Their introductions are theoretically sophisticated and eloquently crafted, persuasive and suggestive. They tie empirical inquiries into the history of women in Spain to current feminist theoretical concerns, including debates about identity and agency, and they show how contesting identities lead to contesting categories and into broad debates about cultural particularism. The book as a whole makes a strong contribution to comparative gender studies; it sparkles with unexpected insights and flashes of recognition. The various articles are harbingers of book-length studies to come, even as their contributions will stimulate new research.

Constructing Spanish Womanhood deserves and will attract a broad audience, encompassing general readers interested in Spain and Europe, as well as students in all areas of modern European history, Iberian studies, and Spanish literature and cultural studies courses. There is no other collection of this range and magnitude currently available in the English-language literature. May it be the harbinger of more such scholarship to come.

Karen Offen
Institute for Research on Women and Gender
Stanford University

Selected Works

This first anthology in English links the concerns of Spanish women’s history to those of women’s history elsewhere.

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