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Mariel Radek ’16 Explores Position of Women in Franco's Nationalist Spain


Mariel Radek ’16 is pursuing research this summer through an Emerson Foundation grant exploring the socio-political position of women in Francisco Franco’s Nationalist Spain. Radek’s research, under the advisement of Associate Professor of History Lisa Trivedi, is delving into the role of the Feminine Section (La sección femenina), and its leader Pilar Primo de Rivera in forwarding an unusually progressive agenda during the largely conservative reign of the Francoists. 

Radek became initially interested in the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath during the spring of her sophomore year at Hamilton, during a Hispanic Studies course focused specifically on the topic. “It is a fascinating sequence of events that does not fit neatly into the narrative of American history or those of the First and Second World Wars, and so many American students are unfamiliar with it,” said Radek, adding that her interest has only been enhanced by her opportunity to study abroad in Spain during her junior year.

about Mariel Radek ’16

Major: History

Hometown: West Caldwell, N.J.

High School: James Caldwell High School

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The focus of Radek’s research, Pilar Primo de Rivera, has been cited as one of the most influential women of the Franco regime, and often pursued an agenda in stark contrast to that of Franco himself. Rivera established the Feminine Section prior to the Spanish Civil War as a woman’s organization intended to reinforce and propagate the fascist ideals delineated by the political party founded by her brother Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, the Falange, and to reaffirm the dominance of traditional values within Spanish society. After Franco’s victory and the conclusion of the Spanish War, both the Falange and the Feminine Section were incorporated into his government.

The Feminine Section became the foremost woman’s organization in the country, with the purported objective of educating and aiding women in order to make them better wives and mothers. However, in large part due to the changing ideals of Pilar Primo de Rivera, the Feminine section slowly became one of the most progressive elements within the Francoist government, often clashing with the more traditional views of the administration.

This issue, however, is not only of historical and academic interest to Radek. She claims that her time in Spain illustrated many of the ways in which traditional gender roles are still deeply ingrained in that society, and how they can have a profound effect on the experiences of women. “Sexism and gender-based discrimination are still pervasive in Spain, and are an almost accepted part of the country’s culture,” she said. “There are subtle, as well as blatant, differences in the interactions between men and women of all ages in Spain and those that I am accustomed to, and I hope that my research this summer will help me to better understand the origins of those differences.”

Radek said that while her life in the United States up until going abroad was certainly not free of the effects of sexism, her time in Spain deeply informed her desire to study the roots and impacts of gender discrimination, in an effort to make a difference one step at a time. “...My experience abroad has inspired great deal of pride in my identity as woman,” she said. “This summer I hope to contribute a small piece to the women’s rights movement by shedding light on a period of history that is widely unknown and, perhaps, misunderstood,” she concluded.

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