Skip to main content

The Rise of Vox: Machismo Culture in Spain


"Your fear of my freedom is called Machismo". A woman protesting Machismo at a rally in Madrid on the International Day Against Violence Towards Women, 25th November 2019.

by Edie Clee

Since its conception in 2013, Spain’s far-right party, Vox, has enjoyed an unprecedented rise to the forefront of Spanish politics. Going from being a relatively unknown political entity only 6 years ago, to now being Spain’s third biggest political party after a shocking performance in the recent November elections. In 2018, the party was thrust into the national spotlight when it suddenly won 12 seats in Andalusia’s regional elections. This is the first time that a far-right party has won representation in Spanish regional parliament since the death of its fascist dictator, Francisco Franco, in 1975.

Vox’s rise mirrors the other populist and far-right parties across Europe, with remarkable similarities to Victor Orban’s nationalist political agenda in Hungary and that of Marine Le Pen and the Front National in France. The party’s leader, Santiago Abascal, has pledged to “make Spain great again”. Vox is Latin for ‘Voice’: as can be seen in populist rhetoric around the world, this party claims it will give a voice to the unheard, the forgotten people of Spain.

However, according to the far-right, the ‘forgotten’ are not ethnic minorities, not immigrants, and not women… but Spanish men? A key aspect of Vox’s election campaigns was its anti-feminist stance driven by the belief that men and women are already equal; Vox sees the only way to ‘restore the balance’ would be through voting against feminist legislation. Therefore, Vox argues for repealing Spain’s Ley Contra la Violencia de Género, it’s landmark 2004 bill that sees the government providing support and funding for victims of gender-based violence. It also advocates for the removal of government funding for abortions, and the end to “subsidised radical feminist associations”. In Vox’s view, it is men who are being discriminated against under the law. Vox’s leader in Andalusia, Francisco Serrano, claims “a real genocide is under way”, referring to men attempting or committing suicide over false accusations of domestic abuse. In fact, only 0.01% of accusations are deemed false, according to Spain’s attorney general. So where are Vox’s ideas coming from? And how have they gathered enough support to win them 15% of Spain’s seats in parliament?

Although Franco’s death in 1975 saw the end of fascism in Spain, many of the values promoted during his dictatorship live on. The culture of machismo - men believing they are of greater importance than women, allowing for male dominance, aggression and violence towards women - was prevalent during the Franco years, when women couldn’t vote, nor file for divorce from their husbands, and were expected to bear many children and stay at home while their husband worked. Considering Franco died under 50 years ago, it is perhaps not all that surprising that some of these attitudes remain today.

Machismo and the ideological propaganda promoted by Franco is passed down from generation to generation, but during the years immediately after Franco’s death until recently, these views were less acceptable to hold, especially in public. This is most likely due to Spain’s political leanings after Franco: the country has gone back-and-forth between the Socialist - Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) and the moderate-Right - People's Party  (PP), both of which do not actively promote a machista agenda. Spain’s prime minister from 2004-2011, Jose Luis Zapatero, was a self-proclaimed feminist who promoted equal representation in parliament and was responsible for the bill on gender violence being passed. This has meant that in the public or political sphere, there was little room for chauvinist attitudes, and more space for feminist groups to pressure governments into granting women’s rights.

However, where there is a feminist, there is a resentful man desperate to prove it is he who is discriminated against. Vox’s insidious growth seems to rest on the belief that female activists in Spain are ‘going too far’. An organisation called Hazte Oir (Make Yourself Heard) promoted a #StopFeminazis bus, which drove around Barcelona with an image of Hitler wearing pink lipstick to represent ‘militant feminists’. This group called on Vox to double down on anti-feminism and restore what they see as the natural order of things. In allowing this mentality to become part of popular conversation, Vox has effectively ensured something that was not openly discussed is once again being debated.

(Warning: the following paragraph may contain emotionally sensitive information)

The ramifications of a culture in which sexist and abusive behaviour and language not only exists, but is encouraged, can be seen in a recent case known in Spain as “El Caso de La Manada”, which means Wolf Pack. At the famous Running of the Bulls in Pamplona in 2016, 7 men violently gang raped an 18-year-old girl. The case attracted widespread outcry, but only 5 of the accused men were found guilty – not of rape, but of sexual assault. The verdict was appealed, and it took two sessions at the Supreme Court until judges decided the men were guilty of rape. Of the other two men, one was acquitted because he was masturbating during the rape and “because he couldn’t have done anything affective to prevent the cries committed” according to testimony; the other was filming the act on his phone and posted it to a WhatsApp group. He was acquitted of all charges.

A stark reminder of masculine authority in the public and private sphere, the case brought Spain’s machismo problem into the public eye once again. Vox’s sudden appearance in Spanish politics has helped this patriarchal mindset become socially acceptable again; the ‘man first, woman second’ model that was strong during fascism is re-established.


Study Abroad Columnist: Eddie Clee, 3rd Year BA Spanish. Currently studying Humanities at Universidad Pontificia Comillas, Madrid.