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Commentary: World Cup kiss sparks #MeToo moment, marking a turning point for Spain

When Spanish football federation president Luis Rubiales kissed footballer Jenni Hermoso on the lips after Spain’s World Cup victory, what should have been a celebration turned into a reckoning, says this Sheffield Hallam University professor.

Commentary: World Cup kiss sparks #MeToo moment, marking a turning point for Spain

Atletico Madrid players and staff hold a banner in support of Spain's Jennifer Hermoso before a match as FIFA suspended President of the Royal Spanish Football Federation Luis Rubiales after the Women's World Cup Final. (Photo: Reuters/@Focus.films.on)

SHEFFIELD, England: Winning the women’s World Cup was a significant moment for Spanish football. Spain is now one of only two teams who are world champions in both the male and female competitions (Germany is the other).

This momentous achievement cannot have been lost on Spanish football executives. For that reason, it is particularly incomprehensible that the president of the Spanish football federation kissed the women’s team player Jenni Hermoso on the lips in plain view of the entire world, turning what should have been a celebration into a reckoning.

Luis Rubiales’ defence is that he kissed Hermoso in a moment of euphoria (diminishing his own responsibility) and, more importantly, that it was by mutual consent. This he explained to a large crowd of the football federation’s members in a general meeting, despite Hermoso saying publicly that she did not consent or “enjoy” the kiss.

So far, Rubiales has evaded calls to resign, both from the public and Spanish football federation officials (though he has been suspended by FIFA). But his protestations of innocence have been drowned out by a vociferous feminist movement, as well as the Spanish government, FIFA and other teams worldwide.

Even some men’s teams are wearing shirts with the message #SeAcabó (it’s over), contigo Jenni (with you, Jenni) and todos somos Jenni (we’re all Jenni).

Immediately hailed as Spain’s #MeToo moment, it appears to mark a turning point. In a society where feminist progress has historically been met with backlash, it shows how far Spanish society has come to reject rancid machismo instantaneously.

Sevilla players wore shirts paying tribute to Jenni Hermoso and the Spanish players' fight against the Royal Spanish Football Federation and Luis Rubiales. (Photo: AFP/CRISTINA QUICLER)


The kiss was not the only moment of such machismo that this team has had to contend with.

In the autumn of 2022, 15 players demanded better working conditions, because they feared for their physical and mental health. “Las 15”, as they became known, play football for first division clubs (Barcelona, both Manchester clubs, Atlético de Madrid), so they knew what can be achieved with better resources and conditions.

These legitimate concerns made in private were leaked to the press and spun as a revolt of spoilt, female brats against the head coach Jorge Vilda. Las 15 published a letter clarifying that their concerns referred to better management of the team to achieve peak performance, and a less controlling leadership style that treats players professionally.

Rubiales, unsurprisingly, gave Vilda unconditional support. And from Las 15, only three players were selected for the World Cup (Batlle, Bonmati, Caldentey), making their win against a formidable English team even more remarkable.


These moments are best understood within the context of wider legal, social and cultural changes that have taken place in Spain. While there was slow but steady progress for women’s rights in the 1980s and 1990s, it was not until the administration of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero (2004-2011) that progress accelerated, and the longstanding machismo culture began to face a real challenge.

Two landmark legislative changes were made to combat gender violence in 2004 and progress gender equality in 2007.

The most recent new legislation, passed in October 2022, strengthens criminal charges for sexual aggression, among other advancements for women’s rights. These changes were described as a fundamental feminist achievement by the UN.

This wording, while accurate, plays into the hands of the far right political party Vox, who all too happily spin these advancements as the making of a (too) leftwing government. Vox is vocal in its condemnation of feminism and blames women for destroying the nuclear family as the basis for society.

Most shockingly, they want to protect men from “fake feminism”, such as supposedly fake stories about gender violence. This is the exact phrasing Rubiales used in his defence, showing how this ideology can be accepted and used by powerful men.

Throughout history, feminist movements have had to contend with setbacks and false narratives against them. As American journalist Susan Faludi argued in her 1991 book Backlash, the underlying cause for such a response against feminist movements is male anxiety about the loss of power in the public and private sphere.

In Spain, you can see these backlashes whenever there were radical (or even not so radical) legal changes. Even during the dictatorship in the 1960s, the slightest progress for female rights was perceived as a danger to a male-dominated society.

Equally, during the transition from dictatorship to democracy (1975-1982) women’s demands for rights were at best considered as an afterthought and at worst seen as a serious danger to society.


The vocal opposition to Rubiales’ behaviour shows progress is being made culturally as well as politically.

Yolanda Diaz, a deputy prime minister, swiftly and confidently reacted to Rubiales’ kiss in a press conference: “Spanish society is profoundly feminist, it’s in the vanguard of equal rights, and that’s why these abnormal behaviours stick out so much.”

This assertion that Spain is a feminist nation is borne out by the statistics both at European and global level. The EU Gender Equality Index ranks Spain 6th of 27 countries, while the Global Gender Gap report ranks it 18th of 146 countries (the US is ranked 43rd).

People hold banners and protest in Madrid following a kiss between Royal Spanish Football Federation President Luis Rubiales and Spain's Jennifer Hermoso after the Women's World Cup, Aug 28, 2023. REUTERS/Isabel Infantes

The vast majority of reactions to Rubiales’ power play was to say “todos somos Jenni/we are all Jenni”, although the most prominent male players were conspicuous by their silence - there is still work to be done.

Female and male feminists from all walks of life took to the streets demonstrating in Spanish cities, showing Rubiales the red card. It’s over for Rubiales, not even football tolerates toxic masculinity anymore.

An editorial in El Pais is brutally frank in its judgment of this powerful man who has behaved like a textbook perpetrator. No country can control its lunatics, but how it deals with them is a sign of its maturity.

Spanish feminism - one, machismo - nil.

Anja Louis is Professor of Transnational Popular Culture at Sheffield Hallam University. This commentary first appeared on The Conversation.

Source: Others/el


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