MADRID—On a recent Sunday, a compact huddle of about 100 principally middle-aged men and women slowly advanced onto Puerta del Sol square here in the Spanish capital. A canopy of pale pink and blue balloons swayed above them like a roving baby shower, the theme song from Pirates of the Caribbean blaring from speakers nearby. A man carrying a megaphone led a chant, “Feminism doesn’t represent me.”
The “March for Femininity,” as the demonstration was called, was a counterprotest to an enormous International Women’s Day rally held two days prior, a historic affair that saw hundreds of thousands of women throughout Spain stream down their cities’ major avenues to demand the application and expansion of anti-gender-violence laws. That day, headlines hailed feminism in Spain as a force to be reckoned with. Nearly 65 percent of college-age women here embrace the label and, it follows, form a potent voting bloc for national elections being held this weekend. Politicians on both sides of the aisle have fallen at their feet, trying to lay claim to “real” feminism, whether that has meant touting gender-neutral speech or championing women-friendly economic policies.
The smaller march that followed, however, was decidedly not courting the feminist vote. In a gravelly voice, a small woman introduced as a dissident of gender ideology—the expression is used by the global far right to designate advances in women’s and LGBTQ rights—declared that it was in fact men who were being discriminated against under the law. The crowd responded with thunderous applause. The sexes were being pitted against each other, and the only way to restore the balance, the speaker said, was by voting against feminist legislation.