All Spanish political parties running in Wednesday's parliamentary elections are wooing the crucial women's vote, but their male chauvinist approach is having mixed effects.
A rightist matron who fears that democracy will destroy the Spanish family and the protected position of wives and mothers under the dictatorship of the late Francisco Franco remarked, "I'm not interested in the handsome faces of the candidates. I want to know whether I'm going to be protected from divorce and from foreign women's liberation ideas."
She went on to complain that neither King Juan Carlos nor Premier Adolfo Suarez, who masterminded Spain's transition to a democracy, have said whether they intend to preserve legislation imposed by Franco to preserve the traditional role of the family in Catholic Spain.
One women's liberation advocate was just as unhappy, but from a different point of view. She raised objections not only against Communist, Socialist and extreme-leftist leaders.
"None is concerned with the specific problems of the Spanish woman, she said. We were second-rate citizens under Franco supposed to obey father and husband, and we are second-rate citizens now, even in the leftist parties. All the left offers us is divorce, the pill and abortion, but these are really macho-oriented solutions."
The political parties are aware of the importance of the womern's vote and women's attitudes in a fast-changing Spain. They represent nearly 53 per cent of the country's voters.
Of the 6,000 candidates running for 350 seats in the Assembly and 207 in the Senate, however, only 596 are women. The most prominent woman candidate is Dolores Ibarruri, 82, president of the Communist Party.
Many male Communists are unhappy with "La Pasionaria," a legendary civil war leader. They mockingly call her "La Patrona - the boss - and wish she had never returned from Moscow last month after 38 years in exile.
Aware of the women's vote, Communist Secretary General Santiago Carrillo repeatedly stresses that the party has the largest number of women candidates - 47. The gesture, however, does not appear to have attracted many women voters, except professionals and intellectuals who opposed the Franco dictatorship.
Felipe Gonzalez, head of the main-stream Socialist Workers Party, seems to have done better. Appealing to younger women, he recently said that Spain remains a "phallocracy" and that his party intends to change the status of women.
The rightist Popular Alliance went so far as to make a play for the vote of Spain's cloistered Roman Catholic nuns with letters stating that the party stands against divorce, abortion, pornography and contraceptives. The nuns condemned the party for mixing politics with religion.
Suarez recently won the plaudits of traditional-minded women by ousting an unconventional aristocrat, Carmen Diez de Rivera, as his chief assistant. The removal of Diez, however, hurt the premier's standing among tens of thousands of young career women.
She is now with the Popular Socialist Party, headed by Enrique Tierno Galvan. One of her complaints was that Suarez and his party, the Center Democratic Union, did not have program for ending discrimination against women.