Accepted paper:

Pockets of resistance in the performance of ritual in the public space: the contented participation of women in festive parades of the Basque Country


Margaret Bullen (University of the Basque Country, Donostia-San Sebastián)

Paper short abstract:

This paper looks at how an ongoing conflict over women's participation in the traditionally male-dominated annual parades of two Basque towns has led to the discussion of women's place not only in the festival but in society as a whole. It presents the polemic in terms of a vindication of the symbolic centre stage of the public space.

Paper long abstract:

Since 1996, in the neighboring towns of Irun and Hondarribia situated in the Spanish Basque Country, there has been an unresolved polemic raging over the participation of women on equal footing with men in the parades which constitute the principal act of the annual local festivals known as Alardes. Following the privatization of a previously public festival as a measure by the local authorities to avoid upsetting the majority opposed to granting women equal terms of participation in the parades, the conflict has produced huge debate both within the local populations and beyond, in the law courts and wider political community. It illustrates the problems posed for achieving equal rights in what in the Spanish state is a relatively recent arena in terms of challenging the gender order: ritual and festival. The cases studied have also been compared with other areas in Alicante and Andalucia where women are demanding equal rights with men in parades, processions and pageants, and bring an innovative perspective on how, in symbolically charged rituals, women's incursion into the public space is seen as a sacrilegious challenge to a traditional gender order. The analysis reveals that public festivals have constituted a stronghold of male power which had remained in place while other more urgent ground- such as the workplace - was being gained for women, and that the resistance is couched in terms of the defense of tradition and cultural specificity, interlocking with a discourse of Basque nationalism.

panel G01
The gendering of public space in the globalized world (IUAES Commission on the Anthropology of Women)