Amelia Valcárcel (Madrid, 1950) is professor of Moral and Political Philosophy at the UNED (National University of Distance Education), Member of the State Council and Vice-president of the Real Patronato of Prado Museum. She is also a consultant in Gender Policies for the United Nations and one of the most prestigious Spanish feminist thinkers.
What did feminism mean 40 years ago in Europe and what does it mean today?
It didn’t have a good reputation then nor it has it now but this is fine, because it means it’s alive.
Obviously, because otherwise it would be in a museum and wouldn’t scare anyone.
Is it possible to say the same thing about global feminism?
Yes, of course. There are many societies where feminism, I guess, has a horrible reputation. Just think about all those places where women are not considered as human beings.
So which would be the main difference between 40 years ago and today?
Freedoms, at least here, were much less than now and I think the consideration toward the word feminism hasn’t changed as much as our freedoms have.
You mean the meaning of the word has stayed behind?
No, the word is alive and, once it is so, it can keep making things but people end up being content with what has already happened and most of the times don’t like what might come.
What does feminism mean to you?
I don’t think it can have a meaning which might be for me only, once it is a political movement with a political theory and 300 years of history.
As a philosopher and an historian of moral ideas and politics, I see feminism not only as an object of study. I’m committed to it because throughout my whole life I had to study and push significant advances toward freedom, dignity and acknowledgement of the importance of “possessing themselves” of women.
Why do you think feminism, at least in Europe, keeps being considered (also among many women) more as a cause some take than as something concerning all women?
It is because of the poor awareness women have as a group. Up to the extent that we gain freedoms we tend to consider ourselves as free individuals with no ascriptions and thus to become part of causes of free individuals with no ascriptions. We only see ourselves as a group when facing situations we have already overcome. For instance, western women clearly see the unbearable life women in other places of the world live and they do feel supportive as who owns a different kind of life. But it is much more complicated to set this in someone’s present. Only toward really hard situations women become aware as a group.
Do you believe feminism is ontologically destined to belong to a minority or we simple are in a certain stage of the process and it is okay the way it is?
It’s undoubtedly less associated to a minority than it was before. During the Nineteenth Century up to the extent that it gains educational and political rights, feminism starts to be followed by many more people. With regard to nowadays we have to consider that in any political movement the avant-garde is always small and feminism is an avant-garde. The matter is how many people do follow it.
As women which are the advantages and the limits of leading a process voluntarily separated from men in order to overcome differences in rights and duties among the genders?
I surely don’t belong to this way of seeing things. When I was 20 year old I did think that unless we had a radical and separated group of political action we couldn’t keep neither the expectations neither the feminist agenda. It was right then but afterwards it has also been right to join global political causes with the idea that only getting inside the power feminist transformation agenda can be carried on.
But today it still happens that when treating gender issues whose focus are women (such as sexist violence with in the couple) it’s very common to have men saying they’re being stereotyped or not taken into account. How do you think we should deal with this?
I have ascertained this hundreds of times and I still do. For instance if I say “Men generally tend to feel superior to women” there’s always a man who raises his hand saying he doesn’t belong to this kind of man and he does it with astonishing airs of superiority. The matter is that women at the end of the day have to endure the fact that tons of generalizations are said about them and they can’t take the hint. Men generally think that any kind of generalization refers to them.
Why is it?
Perhaps because it is true. They mostly aren’t renouncing to what they do nor are they blaming as subgroups those who do it.
Referring to my previous question, during the short life of this blog, for instance, I have already received oral comments of male friends saying generalizations and exclusion toward them do take place here…
Stop worrying about them because here you’re acting so that women have their own voice and it is very important because it barely exists one. Go and see the big literary awards or there where power is managed and you’ll see that there are only men. That one is an exclusion process. In my opinion you shouldn’t see it as a symmetric issue and think that if they exclude you and you do exclude some dear male friend from your blog you are doing the same thing.
Why isn’t it the same thing?
Because your blog is a poor thing which is springing up now while banks, for instance, have a terrible power.
How do you think you made it, as a woman, to get where you are and not to be gotten rid of on the way?
It took me a lot and I wear its traces. We are forced to have a double curriculum.
It even happened to me to get paid the double from the same institution when talking about philosophy than when doing it about feminism.
Are there still moments when you feel you’re not taken into account in the same way you would be if you were a man?
Every day all the women are discriminated against a little. Being women means belonging to a group that comes after and when you belong to a group like this you are only granted respect inside small groups where you belong but in any communication between unknown what works is stereotype because there are no marks to help assessing the situation.
In your book “Feminism in the global world” (ed. Cátedra, Madrid, 2008) you state that the so called clash of civilizations is mostly a conflict on which is the role of women. Could you explain it better?
Civilizations are, among other things, contexts of commonly accepted values and the idea that all the women of the world should have the same rights and chances that some people see we have in the western cultures, although we see they are much less than it seems, brings many people to go straight to fundamentalism, because it’s unbearable for them. Our freedom plays in a global world where communication is immediate.
Could you give me an example of what you are saying?
All the Muslim countries are now debating on which freedoms women should have. A hundred years ago they weren’t talking about it. Why are they doing it now?
Because they see it here?
Of course. What women achieve also provokes reactive movements, even in our society. Just think about the images of Villa Certosa. Things like that didn’t even happen with the emperor Tiberio.
How do you interpret it?
I think it has a lot to do with male-chauvinism and with the fact that Italian feminism hasn’t been very lucky. In general I think that what happens in a country has to do with the moral state of it.
Going back to your last book, you also talk about the “Ley del agrado” (the pleasing law). What is it?
It is a non written law thanks to which women always feel out of obligation to be “available to” and don’t refuse to have this as their way of staying in the world. It is very hard to change this in order for us to choose to raise our heads instead of lowering our eyes.
How can this be achieved?
Without fear of our own will, with courage and through the teaching of its appreciation.