Different cultures have dreamed up imaginative ways to limit women’s mobility, to control and oppress them. Now then, chaps, don’t stop reading! This won’t be hard and you know it’s true!
Islam throws a black shroud over their women; the Chinese broke women’s feet so they couldn’t run away; female genital mutilation is all about control. All despicable ways to achieve the same goal. But can you imagine the gentle, fun-loving Spaniards covering up their beautiful daughters? or doing them harm in any way? It is inconceivable. But, they had the same problem of wanting to keep tabs on what their daughters were doing. In happy-go-lucky Spain the problem was resolved more humanely. Just put bars on the windows.
When visiting Andalucia, you might be forgiven for assuming that crime rates are high given the fact that every accessible window is protected by more or less ornate, sturdy, wrought iron bars. But crime – at least up here in the mountain villages, I can’t speak for the big cities – is non-existent. The sun is warm, the beer is cold, why bother?
No, the bars are not to keep robbers out but the women in! The simple bars prevent any physical contact except the stroking of fingers through the bars which create a few centimetres of No Man’s land between the public and the private spaces. Under these circumstances, courting has to be carried out verbally. What a good idea! Appeal to my intellect!
While the veiling, the foot-binding, the circumcision do not represent any advantage for the girl, bars on the window certainly do. They would have allowed her to check out her suitors both physically and intellectually while retaining a protective barrier behind which she could hide should she not like the way a young swain smelt, or spoke or seemed.
This is all in the past now. Young Spanish women come and go as they please as women can in most of the enlightened world. But the bars have become a feature of the architecture of the south and no window looks complete without them. When designing and building Los Castaños, I considered rejas de rigueur and they are convenient for framing another form of beauty.
PS When writing this little piece, I became interested in whether the women of Al-Andalus (Islamic Spain 711-1492) were veiled and discovered that there is no concrete evidence one way or the other as the invading Christian armies destroyed records and books of the conquered culture. I found one poetic reference to “…their faces beautiful as moons, behind veils of gold cloth” and other inferences that veiling was for the upper echelons of society. Even so, the veils were not black – but GOLD! Go, Spain!!
PPS an interesting site I found is Islamic Spain – a fount of knowledge of the period.