Concepción Arenal, the essayist who dressed as a man and challenged her time | Babelia

Concepción Arenal, criminalist, essayist and self-taught editorialist Despite the law, despite the times. He preferred philosophy books to learn in school the social ways that were presupposed to a woman of the nineteenth century. He dressed as a man to go to the University. He advocated the female priesthood. He defended an austere and simple appearance before Coco Chanel. He faced “women of the home” of his generation. But her preaching, as the writer Emilia Pardo Bazán said of her, was heard only by a few. On the bicentenary of his birth (1820-2020) - and for less than five years - publishers recover their work (scattered) because statues, cultural institutions and squares with his name have not been enough to echo his legacy.

“In 1869 Arenal was already a known woman in political and intellectual circles. About to turn 50 he had published some important works. The most relevant in his career were to be published, ”writes Anna Caballe in the prologue of The woman of the future (Nordic), the book that recovers The woman of the future Y The woman of her house Two of his essays are reflected in his pioneer feminist ideology. The historian got the National History Award for biography, CArenal onception, the walker (Taurus) in 2019.

Antonia Santolaya.

Antonia Santolaya.

“He prefers the concept of a woman from home to‘ angel of the home ’that describes reality without false veils,” explains the expert in the first pages of the book. “A concept totally lacking in prestige. That a woman acts as a woman of her house is nothing, it is less than nothing and for anyone it means nothing. It is as if, giving himself to the care of the home, he fulfilled a customary work that no one deserves a respectful look, but which cannot be dispensed with. From here all the evils come, ”reads Arenal's work that cried out:“ The man will not progress if he leaves the woman stationary ”.

The author's first years of life would mark the texts she would later write. Her childhood was crossed by the death of her father when she was nine years old, a military man convicted of his liberal ideology from which he inherited his stubbornness for defending what he considered fair. The opposite relationship to the one he had with his mother, the one that forced him to go to a school he did not want and the one that instilled a strict religious education present throughout his life.

Through the books of philosophy and social sciences that she was rescuing from family libraries, she began a self-taught career since adolescence that took her to the Central University of Madrid. He came to law school with short hair - he used to pick it up in a low bun - and men's clothes: frock coat, cape and top hat. "The weirdo," "the provincial," "the eccentric," said his companions, all men, women had no right to attend college.

Antonia Santolaya.

Antonia Santolaya.

They caught her. He reached an agreement and continued as a listener. He never got the official criminal title, a role that did not prevent him from becoming the first visitor to women's prisons with 44 years. The work took two years, the time it took to demand a reform of the Criminal Code in the trial Letters to criminals and to defend that the prisons fulfill a reintegration function with the motto: "Open schools and prisons will be closed". Part of this stage appears in Arenal conception. Moral and social reformer published by Paraninfo focused on "his particular ethics of compassion as a pillar of social intervention".

Arenal met Fernando García Carrasco, her husband, 15 years older, at the University, with whom she agreed to an equal marriage. No physical or mental restrictions between the walls of a house. They went together, dressed as men, to talks and gatherings. They shared their reflections - not authorship - in editorials of the liberal newspaper Iberia. The death of her husband was the end of her work in the publication: in 1857 a law of the Government of Cándido Nocedal (1856) promulgates a law that requires signing all articles in the press and, once again, Arenal, woman, no He could continue with his mission.

In the prologue of The woman of the future, Caballe remembers how Concepción Arenal was able to change his ideas as he accumulated knowledge. “The contact with Anglo-Saxon suffragism means that it no longer disdains the political condition of the female subject. He realizes his previous error and his entire essay will focus on the deconstruction of a myth, that of the domestic ideal as the main responsible for the social and moral marginalization of women, ”says the expert.

Arenal was able to contradict his time and his head. Even so, her contemporaries threw the discredit on her. "They only saw eccentricity, madness or vain pretenses of recognition," summarizes Caballe.


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