James Michener, in Iberia, published this list of rules for women, which he found posted in a church in rural Spain in 1943, the year my parents married. I grew up in Barcelona, but spent summers in the countryside, and although some of these rules don\’t ring a bell, some do.
Women shall not appear on the streets of this village with dresses that are too tight in those places which provoke the evil passions of men. Ah, those evil passions. I heard about them as a child and for years wondered what they were. \”Never trust a man who has a nose on his face,\” my mother\’s mother used to admonish me when I reached puberty. All this caused my girl friends and me to grow up thinking of ourselves as sticks of dynamite, liable to cause widespread damage any minute.
They must never wear dresses that are too short. By the time the 1950s came around, this was fortunately no longer an issue, because mid-calf skirts were the thing.
They must be particularly careful not to wear dresses that are low-cut in front. While I mostly chewed my nails or amused myself by staring at the row of hairlines in the pew in front of me during Sunday sermons, I do remember one priest thundering against women who decorated their decolletage with a cross.
It is shameful for women to walk in the streets with short sleeves. My mother and my aunts certainly wore short sleeves in summer, and no men that I know of burst into flames at the sight of their upper arms. But they could not appear in church without sleeves down to their elbows. This widely observed rule caused many problems when Northern Europe discovered Spain as the ultimate vacation spot and the churches were invaded by hordes of scantily dressed, sunburned walkyries.
Every woman who appears in the streets must wear stockings. That rule had gone by the wayside by the time I was born. In summer my mother and aunts would drop into church (for a visit with the Blessed Sacrament) in bare legs and espadrilles, though they may have put on stockings for Sunday Mass. No mention is made of the need, first dictated by Saint Paul, for women to cover their heads in church. It was too deeply ingrained. And by \”cover\” I don\’t imply little hats, or those eensy \”chapel veils\” that used to do the job in the U.S. Women wore mantillas to church, which covered their head and neck and were gorgeously embroidered, semi-transparent, and often more beautiful and more inflaming than the hair they were intended to hide.
Women must not wear transparent or network cloth over those parts which decency requires to be covered. Must be the same parts that inflamed the evil passions of men.
At the age of twelve girls must begin to wear dresses that reach to the knee, and stockings at all times. This rule was no longer in operation by the time I came along.
Little boys must not appear in the streets with their upper legs bare. What is this doing on a list of proscriptions for women? I remember my male contemporaries wearing really short pants until they turned fourteen or so. I remember their upper legs turning bright red in winter. Maybe that too inflamed the evil passions of men.
Girls must never walk in out-of-the-way places because to do so is both immoral and dangerous. Obviously the \”immoral\” part indicates a strong tendency to blame the potential victim. However, despite my belief that ideally women as well as men should be free to go anywhere, anytime, I think that while we wait for this imperfect world to become perfect it\’s a good idea for men and women to be led by common sense, and play it safe.
No decent woman or girl is ever seen on a bicycle. Oh, my rusty, brakeless bicycle on which I rode the dusty summer roads around my grandparents\’ farm with the smell of rosemary in my nostrils, hoping for a glimpse of a shepherd and his flock under the blazing sun!
No decent woman is ever seen wearing trousers. I wore not only trousers but shorts in the summer, but I never saw my mother in pants until we went to Ecuador and she had to buy a pair of blue jeans for trudging around in the jungle.
What they call in the cities ‘modern dancing’ is strictly forbidden. I suspect this referred to dances imported from America, such as the fox-trot, which even when done by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers don\’t hold a candle in sexiness or inflammatory potential to the most threadbare flamenco danced around a gipsy fire.
(Thanks to Dona artistseyestudio.com for reminding me of these rules.)