I am still reflecting on the overt religious names of my female peers in 1983 Spain: Concepción, Purificación, Asunción, Piedad, Remedios, Candelaria, Soledad, Encarnación, Milagros, Inmaculada, and Adoración. Not to mention, María José, María Jesús, María Pilar, and many other variations.
A wild child of sorts myself, these faith-based names portrayed a different cultural orientation, a Catholic history. At age seventeen I thought they were beautiful, especially those with four or more syllables, and I would pronounce them over and over like a prayer. However, it was difficult for me to reconcile the divine protection of women these Christian names denoted and specific events during that visit.
My homestay brother and I were in a bar we frequented (because I liked the fried pork served on toasted bread rounds – cuchi) and it was packed with young people. A twenty-something man I did not know struck up a conversation with me stating, “Computers are better than women.” When I protested, he replied, “Women are only good for one thing.” The implication was bed. His chauvinistic words did not strike me the most; the silent wife at his side shocked me more.
Living in Herencia, Spain (population 7,000) I had already observed the few freedoms granted to women. They did not did not smoke, cuss, drive, wear pants or shave their legs. Only widows and wives walked the streets alone. This was a stark contrast from my life in Divide, Colorado (population 1,000) where I drove myself to school, smoked a pack of Marlboros a day, and wore Levi 501s for every day or Gloria Vanderbilt jeans to dress up.
Ideologically, I was a raging feminist. I had campaigned for Pat Schroeder, the first woman elected to Congress from Colorado, with my mother. I was reading feminist thought and questioning the world around me. I would not stay silent as a man in 1983 Castille insisted that computers were better than women.
Weeks after, during our tour of Madrid, I would confront a jarring image of women that did not correspond to the ideal of abstinence and fidelity signified by the chaste names of my new-found friends:
A couple dances in a close embrace, kissing. Above, a bust, its phallic nose rests face down. Insects, eyelashes and stones dot the surreal landscape of this human figure. A woman’s bust – a classic beauty – emerges from the jawline. A cala lily rises from her cleavage even though we do not see her breasts. Head turned, she is about to perform fellatio on a male body standing above her, only his lower extremities framed. What the h#*% is this I thought. Invisible from the neck down, the woman has no physicality of her own; she purely exists to give pleasure. I was already angry that in rural Spain my sex was cloistered, censored, and instructed. This jerk, Dalí, was a misogynist to be sure, I fumed. His supposedly radical canvases may have questioned reality in their day, but they offended my politics of feminism.
Dalí painted “The Great Masturbator” in 1929 but its grotesque depiction of human sexuality still has the power to shock today. In 2013 at another Dalí retrospective in Spain’s capital, I repeated to any student who would listen, “Here’s the thing: Dalí is messed up about women.”