Women in the Media: Spain


Decades after the end of Franco’s dictatorship, women in Spanish media are still represented, or underrepresented, in a way that does not reflect changes in society.

Spain is a country tainted by ‘macho’ culture and chauvinism. This was especially reinforced during the dictatorship of Franco from 1936 to 1975. During this time women were meant to take care of the house and please their husbands, and had little to no rights. Girls in school had mandatory classes on cooking, sewing and home economics and women could not vote or get a divorce.

More than 40 years have passed since the end of Franco’s regime and things have changed considerably. Women can and do vote, get divorced, speak up and work, and are independent. The education system is exactly the same for boys and girls, and men and women have equal rights. However, it is still one of the most chauvinist countries in Europe where there is a wide gender pay gap and very high level of gender violence.

The media play an important role in reinforcing the stereotypes which women in Spain have been fighting against since the end of Franco’s dictatorship. Although women are no longer confined to the home and the role of caretaker, existing only to please their husbands, in many cases this is not what the media are telling their audiences.

Mainstream media

There are different ways in which women are misrepresented in the Spanish media. The first of them has to do with the depth and authority of their roles. Female characters are usually silenced – they are less present than men and even when they do appear on screen they sometimes do not speak. In many cases, women are cast in less powerful positions than men. The media usually highlight women’s family role, the way they dress, physical appearance, etc.

TaronjaSatsuma [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

TaronjaSatsuma [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

In Spain, 46.4% of doctors are women, however, when it comes to female doctors on television, the figure shrinks to just 26.7% and a larger proportion appears instead as a service user. This means that women are associated with less authoritative roles and with passivity, and they are often shown receiving a service rather than providing it.

According to an article in eldiario.es, male and female characters in Spanish television series have contrasting roles, a fact that reflects a disparity in the country’s society. In Spanish media, women have less power and they are often associated with low-qualified jobs, or the private sphere – doing housework or taking care of someone.

With regard to the news and other television programmes, female politicians have a scarce media presence. When it comes to social programmes, the presence of women increases significantly, but the topics covered focus mostly on their personal lives. On the other hand, men lead conversations about the economy, employment or politics.

In terms of sport in Spain, the press only features female sports news in 5% of their coverage. This is shocking given that in 2015, women held 21.5% of all national sports licences, and that during the 2016 Olympic Games 53% of Spain’s medals were awarded to female athletes.

Spanish films - sexualising women

Spain’s dictatorship was highly conservative: media content was carefully censored and any sexual or provocative images were banned from films, television or other media. However, during the last years of the dictatorship, a new film genre flourished in Spain: cine del destape (uncovered cinema). This new genre was characterised by its high erotic content, low cost and quality, and by regular appearances of naked women on screen.

This genre appeared as a consequence of the newly restored democracy at the end of the dictatorship and used naked women as a demonstration of liberalism. The films became a success and were legitimised by those who made them and by their consumers. In 1976 almost 50% of all films produced in Spain belonged to this genre. Forty years later, Spanish film still sexualises women. Some of the most well-known images of nude women in Spanish film over the past 30 years include:

  • Ana de Armas in Mentiras y gordas (A Albacete, D Menkes, 2009)

  • Penélope Cruz in Jamón jamón (JJ Bigas Luna, 1992)

  • Paz Vega in Lucía y el sexo (J Medem, 2001)

  • Kira Miró in Crimen ferpecto (A de la Iglesia, 2004)

  • Leonor Watling in Son de mar (JJ Bigas Luna, 2001)

  • Elena Anaya and Natasha Yarovenko in Habitación en Roma (J Medem, 2010)

  • María Valverde in Melissa P. (L Guadagnino, 2005)

  • Amaia Salamanca in Fuga de cerebros (FG Molina, 2009)

Sexist advertising

The advertising industry in Spain, as with films and mainstream media, is still lagging behind when it comes to equality. Between September 2016 and August 2017, the advertising agency Sra. Rushmore analysed 262 adverts from 50 brands. The results of this analysis showed that advertising in Spain is still sexist: women are relegated to the beauty, fashion and hygiene industries.

According to Sra. Rushmore’s research, advertising sees health, work and sports as male topics. About 59% of adverts in a professional setting featured men, over 67% of doctors featured in adverts are male, and men are the protagonists in 60% of adverts that take place in a sports setting, for example a gym. On the other hand, 63% of fashion adverts have female characters, as do 68% of adverts for beauty and hygiene products.

The advertising industry is conscious of this disparity and is working towards gender equality. Sra. Rushmore’s states that there is also ‘encouraging data that show a conscious effort by creators and agencies to make advertising more equal’, and research found that in the cleaning products industry, men featured in 47% of adverts, and women appeared in 46% of adverts for the automotive industry.