Associate Professor of Spanish and Interim Department Head of Modern Languages, Dr. Rebecca Bender, has contributed an article to the most recent issue of the open access journal, Hispanic Studies Review. Her article, “First-Wave Fantasmas: The (In)Visible Presence of Carmen de Burgos and Maruja Mallo in María Sánchez’s Tierra de mujeres (2019),” places early 20th-century representations of women in rural Spanish territories in dialogue with two 21st-century concerns: (1) “Empty Spain”, or the nation’s most depopulated rural regions, and (2) rural women’s place in today’s feminist movements and activism.
Dr. Bender brings millennial author and rural veterinarian María Sánchez’s narrative essay, Tierra de mujeres (2019) — translated to English as Land of Women in 2022 — into conversation with the work of two Spanish women from the early 1900s. One of these women is the journalist and novelist Carmen de Burgos, who penned articles on women’s role in agricultural communities (1903-31) during her prolific writing careers. The other is the avant-garde painter Maruja Mallo, whose surrealist paintings of the 1920s often center on the urban spaces of Madrid, but whose later works (1927-39) privilege agricultural and rural communities.
These early 20th-century women engaged with issues affecting rural populations — especially women — but have not been visible in contemporary Spain, due in large part to the stagnation and suppression of women’s intellectual contributions under the Franco dictatorship (1939-75). Consequently, female authors and artists like Burgos and Mallo are akin to ghosts (fantasmas), to use Sánchez’s language, as their presence is not readily visible or apparent, but rather an invisible “force” that may be perceived only if deliberately and painstakingly sought out.
Comparing the content of 1903, 1931, and 2019 essays, along with artwork from the late 1930s, offers new insight into how women in rural Spain today may strengthen their feminist consciousness by recognizing the historical and cultural connections with those who came before them. Dr. Bender argues that identifying these “new” (but actually old!) historical connections will point to a commonality of experience that might invigorate rural Spanish women and legitimize their places within contemporary feminism.