TRAFFIC signs as subliminal messages to alter male behaviour: it may be laughable at first glance but on closer inspection there may be more to this than bureaucratic eccentricity.

By Lisa Tilley

Spain is a relatively fledgling democracy, by democracy I mean it is governed on the principle of equality and rights for all. Until the 1970s Spain was a dictatorship, by this I mean citizens were ruled by coercion by the dictator, the nation’s patriarch. Stay with me on this one. The home is a mini reflection of the state so within a dictatorship the home is ruled by the patriarch through coercion if necessary. And so the theory goes that this accounts for the higher rates of gender violence in dictatorships or new democracies.

Because, of course, the state may change overnight but society evolves over generations, this is how long it takes to wring dictatorial attitudes out of a culture, to convict and sentence all the miniature domestic despots.

Furthermore, those who have been raised in such patriarchal environments may repeat the same behaviour and so on until the pressure from society becomes so great that the behaviour is all but eradicated. Of course gender violence occurs in even the oldest of democracies but most democratic societies appear to be developing in a way in which it is at least made less and less acceptable.

Gender discrimination covers a multitude of sins, from the vaguest insult to the most heinous of crimes. Keeping on the vague insult end of the scale, I keep experiencing this strange feeling of déjà vu and this has really only been happening since I moved to Spain. It goes like this: my partner (he of minimal Spanish) and I (fairly fluent-ish) are having a conversation with someone. ‘Someone’ can be a mechanic, a bureaucrat, a shop-keeper, a builder; ‘someone’ is always male.

I am talking to this someone about something important, I am addressing them in a clear and polite manner, they are responding to everything I’m saying and gesticulating to support their words, but they are not looking at me.

No, they are looking at my male counterpart who is shifting from foot to foot and smiling uncomfortably because they have no idea what this someone is saying. It is embarrassing for all concerned but it seems that a lot of men will prefer to explain something to a male who doesn’t speak their language than to a female who actually understands their words.

Granted, being ignored is a far cry from being physically beaten, but these both stem from the same perception of the female as subservient and inferior, the beatings and lack of attention are simply tools to remind her of this. The state now says that this perception is wrong because it is at odds with the egalitarian democratic values we all now embrace.

So, perhaps the ayuntamiento which plans to feminise its pedestrian crossings may have some sense after all. Perhaps we need constant and noticeable reminders that women are to be seen and listened to rather than abused or subordinated before we can eradicate violence against women from society.?

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