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Genre et Construction de la Géographie

Yves Raibaud
Kamala Marius

Première Partie. Quand le genre désoriente

Gendering Colonial Writing: the Experiences of the Spanish Morocco (1859-1936)

Rosa Cerarols et Antoni Luna

Texte intégral


1Travel writing, inherently intertwines geography and literature and often becomes a practice of representation that generates imaginary and imaginative geographies. Likewise, geographical imaginations—coming from space experiences—have to be conceived as subjective discursive formations of gender that comprise multiple constellations of power, knowledge and geography.

2When analyzing the geographical imaginations of the European imperial period, the postcolonial and feminist revisions show that the relationships between West and East remained marked by an unequal hierarchy of power, focused in a positioning clearly androcentric. Thus, it is elucidated that the colonial travel narratives are not simple descriptions of geographical itineraries but constitute a complex alterity topography of the societies and territories visited.

3On the other hand, the Spanish foreign policy during the middle 19th century redirected its ultramarine interests towards nearer territories. A rising colonialist interest in the Alauita Empire culminated with the designation of a French-Spanish Protectorate in Morocco (1912-1956). It is also confirmed that parallel to the increasing interest of Spain in this territory increased significantly the number of people that were displaced to Morocco and that left their travel experiences written. So, focusing on the Spanish context of the period of analysis and referring to the colonial Morocco, we find out more than fifty masculine traveller accounts and only four writings by women.

4This chapter recovers the contributions Spanish travellers’ accounts referring to his domestic Orient, taking into account the gender perspective. We analyze two important aspects of these narratives, on one side the war chronicles as a distinctive masculine activity. In particular, the paper analyzes two works; “Allende el Estrecho” (1895) by Jose Boada, a Catalan journalist that worked on Morocco on the turn of the century and “En la Guerra” (1912) by Carmen de Burgos, the only known war chronicle written by a Spanish woman. The contrast of the two narrations of the war events gives us a better understanding of the gender disparity in colonial discourses. The second part focuses on Moroccan women representations through the Spanish masculine accounts with the goal of discovering how gender discourse was elaborated in Morocco. The focus of this point is to elaborate on the specific Spanish oriental view of the exotic women by Spanish men and how it is used as a justification of the colonial intervention. Finally, conclusions are also included.

Feminist contributions to the Orientalist and the particularities of the Spanish colonialist discourse

5Edward Said postulated in 1978 that Orient never really existed. It was an European mind discourse which projected an image of the “Other” that tried to define alterity as well as the “real” European and western essence. But Said’s contributions in relation to Orientalism were developed through a too homogeneous conception of the orientalist discourse, including just one and only colonial subject, unmistakably masculine. He didn’t question the meaning of the feminine absence in the production of the orientalist discourses nor the nonexistence of the women as agents in the elaboration of the colonial culture. Therefore, Said, ended up reflecting a traditional vision that has been unaware of the role of women in the colonial expansion context (Blunt et al., 1994; Chauduri et al., 1992; Domosh, 1991; García Ramon et al., 1998; Kobayashi, 2004; Lewis, 2004; McClintock, 1995; Melman, 1992; Mills, 2005; Yegenoglu, 1998).

6On the contrary, feminist contributions referring to imperial period highlight feminine presence and emphasize the concept of ambivalence. They consider women complicity in relation to colonialism as well as its possible negation or resistance. At the same time, their contributions emphasize the role of the European women as relevant cultural agents in the imperial relationships formation (Bassnett, 2002; García Ramon, 2002; McEwan, 2000; Melman, 1992; Monicat, 1996).

7From this point of view, feminist interpretations invite us to listen openly and (re)consider the multiplicity of different voices and forms of understanding colonization and the idea of empire across the study of travel accounts from a gender perspective, either feminine or masculine. Thus, men and women used their class and full-blooded implicit power to negotiate their own presence and/or identity in the colonial space context (García Ramon, 2003, 2007; Lewis, 1996, 2004; McEwan, 2000; Mills, 1991, 2005; Nash, 1996).

8Although it seems true that the feminine point of view does not guarantee a reciprocal relationship with the Other, at least it opens a fissure in the concept of the me/us through which it is been able (re) analyse the idea of alterity less hegemonic and more heterogeneous (Blake, 1992). Therefore, it can be added that feminine ambivalence and its different positioning in relation to colonial discourse generates a view towards Orient and towards the “orientalized” Other that denotes some differences less derogatory than those that find in the orientalist formulation of Said (Lewis, 2004).

9To talk of orientalism in Spain we must refer, first of all, to the notion of africanism, or more precisely, of “marroquismo” (Abel and Cerarols, 2008; Martín Corrales et al., 2002; Morales Lezcano, 2006; Nogué et al., 1999), because the Spanish Orient, since the end of the 19th century, was placed in the south and not in the east. However, the Spanish implication in the North African issues goes back to the middle ages. Since the 16th century military interest remained in different strategic points of the Maghreb’s coast, being the fortified cities of Ceuta and Melilla the most important.

  • 1 “El desastre de 1898”, refers to the lost of the last Spanish colonies of Cuba, Puerto Rica and th (...)

10In fact, the territorial defence of these locations was the source of constant frontier clashes, some of which eventually evolve into several the Hispanic-Moroccan conflicts, as the so called “War of Africa” of 1860 or the “Wars of Melilla” of 1893 or 1909. Thus, the “africanism” was erected as the national police ideology to rectify the “el desastre de 1898”1 and turned into an important subject in the Court as well as in the national press. At the same time, when taking part in the Conference of Algeciras (1906), Spain remained designated, together with France, as the powers that should administer the Protectorate of Morocco between the years 1912 and 1956. The Spanish government saw this as a new opportunity to gain international prestige among the rest of the European colonial powers.

Gender and colonialism: Wars in the hinterland of Melilla

11Colonial travels have been fundamentally masculine. Consequently, the Spanish feminine travel narrative has to be considered exceptional. For this reason it is of great interest to analyze it to see as it remains linked to the colonial particularities of the period. Next, we will observe how and in which way the gender variable conditioned (or not) the perception and popularization of colonialism.

  • 2 José Boada was a Catalan journalist and businessman who had a strong connection with the Spanish a (...)

12The Spanish colonialist practice in Morocco was always belligerent from its beginnings until the very end. In fact, the Hispanic-Moroccan wars had a cause-effect relationship with the Spanish colonial interests displayed in African territories. Wars narratives are usually masculine, and women are never part of the description of the war, neither as active subjects in the conflict nor as victims. For this reason, it has great interest to know how this question was treated from of the masculine and feminine perspectives. In this sense, two of the existing stories deal specifically with the subject of the Melilla’s military campaigns. First one is from José Boada (1893) and the second one from Carmen de Burgos (1909). We will analyze their accounts taking special care of their gender prospects2.

13In the first place, Carmen de Burgos’ narrative has nothing to do with the canonical and typical journalistic war chronicle written by men. Very different from Boada’s narration, the story of Burgos ends up turning into an antiwar manifesto. The contributions of the authoress, which comprise the feminine regard of war spaces, emanate an “everyday life” never observed before in this typology of narrative (always written by men).

14For instance, the importance of the account does not fall either on troops fighting or on the military advanced guards. In the narrative of Burgos has always more prominence all what surrounds the confrontations: the existence of two opposed sides, the complex gestation of news, the feelings of the soldiers, the women, mothers, wives, and sister’s sufferings… Her narrative exposes the geography of the proximity: she incorporates the most human side of the camp and refers to all what is happening in the border spaces beyond what is warlike. Thus, she enriches the chronicle with multiple information concerning to a great plurality of spaces.

15On the contrary, Boada, from the beginning, prevents himself from treating what is not strictly “the war”. For him, the military campaign is limited to the battlefield geography:

I will disregard, not to lengthen excessively this story, the thousand incidences that were developed in the place until the day in which, the operations started, it turned over to acquire importance the Moroccan problem. (Boada, 1999 [1895]: 386)

16In contrast Burgos expresses her personal point of view and her personal reflections of the events she witnessed. This subjective approach is one of the most important differences between masculine and feminine narratives. In fact, Burgos’ feminist principles are embedded in her spatial conception of the reality, in which spaces of reproduction are as important as battlefield grounds. We could say that she goes beyond what Boada considers the real “news”. She recreates the atmosphere of the place, the setting outside the battlefields, her personal ideology or the feelings of the affected ones, giving a special attention to women realities.

17As a journalist, she also has a great interest in leaving evidence of the complex process of elaboration of the news about the military campaigns. While in masculine recounts of the war the goal is to create a single voice that explain the “true” facts of the confrontation; she refused this simplification of the real effects of a conflict with all its contradictions and side effects. Beyond what has been said about the war field, the authoress also informs us about what is happening in the surroundings of Melilla. Accounts:

Curious and emptied went to Melilla with anxiety to contemplate the show of one of the few wars where it shows up the wild tradition of the hatred of races. (Burgos, 1912: 13)

18The Burgos’ point of view not only conceives the military campaign as a thing exclusive to journalists and soldiers (as proves it the story of Boada). She accounts the existence of other outsiders that observe and experience the war in the surroundings of Melilla. Therefore, she also points out on “where” and “how” it is happening:

Squadrons of cavalry, carts, donkeys full of war material, canyons and trucks were seen everywhere […] the war offered a seductive and epic show. It was surprising how close was the city to the battlefield. It was right there, at the foot of the last houses where it started the line of the forts, crowned of canyons. (Burgos, 1912: 21-22)
While the men fought against the Christians, women, kids and old men advanced in queasy confusion towards Melilla. (Burgos, 1912: 52)
There, in the long rooms of the old hospital, all the horror of the war in those spoliations was presented. (Burgos, 1912: 40)

19Burgos informs clearly about the battlefield being almost in the city. It is more; she brings us to the fact place focusing on the blurry existing border between the city of Melilla and the war space, as well as its consequences for the most vulnerable Moroccan population.

20On the contrary, Boada’s contribution emphasizes the personal recreation of the place with reference of what he considers as a war. His narrative shows up how fighting is uniquely a men thing. Thus he associates the virility with the warlike confrontation and (re) built an epic discourse where only males can be heroes or martyrs. We read:

At some point the car stopped… The coachman refused solely to continue. Great quantity of bullets crossed the space, and did not want to run the risk of a sure death. Then we jumped and we escaped directly to the place where shoots were stronger. […] At last we enter at the fort! […] We were in the place of the battle! (Boada, 1999 [1895]: 389-90)

21For the author, the war is stimulant and the necessary instrument of “revenge”. The war happens at the front and so is the news. In this sense, he emphasizes their tricky movements and describes how he moves to the place of the news, standing out his courage first, and then the one of the Spanish soldiers. Advancing a little more in his narrative, he counts to us:

A cloud of blood passed in front of our eyes; we lost the notion of the danger, and, tightening nervously the rifles, the bayonet sunk, we all go out to the field, soldiers and journalists, ready to defend up to the death the entry of the fort. (Boada, 1999 [1895]: 407)

22With this example he also relates us how he “makes war” against the enemy. Through his specific language, the described action and the detailed positioning, Boada ends up appearing in favour of the war, understanding it as a necessary step to obtain the territorial goals of the Spanish colonialism. The position of Boada is a good example of masculine narratives of the war, and significantly differs from the critical point of view of Burgos.

23In this sense, Burgos’ contribution is more wary emitting valuable judgments in relation to the utility of war. According to Núñez (2005), Burgos’ narrative does not include an open declaration of all her pacifist thought to not offend the patriotic mission of the soldiers and to avoid to be censored by the army. Despite appearing cautious and subtle, she was also capable of using the literary resources of the period to build a textual background that makes her opposition to the war evident. Likewise, the protagonist of her narrative is also a woman: Alina, wife of one of the commanders. Carmen de Burgos uses the protagonist voice and regard to catalyze her ideology in relation to the war and to put in evidence the everyday life nearest to the battlefield.

24She also introduces us how the soldiers used their spare time and their emotions when they receive letters from Spain. A letter, a small daily life detail out the logic of the warfare, takes a great meaning in the narrative of the authoress considering it the most decisive moment of the day in the boring lives of the soldiers. At the same time, also shows the other side of the war, the one of those suffering in their Spanish homes waiting for the return of the soldiers.

Gender representations: Spanish masculine representations of Moroccan women

25Another interesting perspective to understand the gender construct on the Spanish colonial discourse are the descriptions of Moroccan women by Spanish travellers and writers during the colonial period. More precisely as we will see below, the descriptions of the oriental women describe the women world from a more subjective perspective in clear contrast with the previous masculine war chronicles. This idealized gender spaces and relations became eventually part of the political justification of colonial intervention.

26The first idea to stand out it is the little importance that takes the feminine topic in the set of subjects included in travels accounts. For many male travellers, Moroccan women are not either a topic or a reality that worth any comment in their narratives. For others, however, will be the basis of the central discursive lines in the narration of the places visited. At the same time, the feminine subject gradually becomes part of the discursive construction of gender in Morocco, always enhancing the difference.

27At the same time, even though many of the contributions and regards included in the narratives intend to be objective with what they observe, when analyzing them in detail we could see how a particular discursive construction arise which is strongly influenced by the cultural and sexual politics of the place of origin.

28Men travellers let us know that women in Morocco are something inaccessible for every non Muslim man. Therefore, the explanations of the feminine Moroccan realm it’s explained without real encounter with those women. As a matter of fact, generally it is narrated indirectly or fruit of ephemeral descriptions of what is grasped in the public space. Women are fantasized in the cultural biased minds of the colonial travellers. However, apart from those idealized descriptions, the traveller narratives will also include more elaborate discourses unfolding the oppressed social condition of the Moroccan women. Eventually as we will see these more elaborated discourses will constitute one of the main justifications for the colonial incursion.

Seen it and not seen it: some paradoxes and fantasies

  • 3 Some examples are Amor, Gatell, Murga, Pareja, Benítez who travelled in Morocco at the second half (...)

29The majority of the masculine contributions firstly points out the invisibility of women in Morocco3. Travellers “do not see” women in the Moroccan public spaces and are not capable of identifying the feminine body. Although there are obviously women on the street, in the squares or in the markets, the masculine colonial eye asserts the nonexistence of women. Spanish men justify this by appealing the existing differences in the conception of the public and private spaces of the Muslim territories. In this way, for the travellers, the women will be inexistent (at a first level of visual recognition) because they remain closed at home. Consequently, we find a first invisibility associated with the imprisonment of the Muslim women and with the difficulty in seeing them out of the reproductive space.

30But the initial invisibility that the travellers present goes beyond this confirmation. The paradox stands up when they make the invisibility persistent in spite of identifying (visually) women in the visited urban public spaces. In this sense, visibility becomes invisible for the traveller eye due to the clothing that the Moroccan women wear. The different attire and the use of the veil will entail the travellers to consider women as invisible “things”. Moreover, when their particular visibility is recognized, those women are described as bulks of clothes or even, as ghosts. Women became dehumanized, are not longer invisible but they have become simply “things” in those colonial discourses.

31Although the first impressions that make reference to women are a fruit of hazardous encounters in the urban public space where the traveller simply leaves evidence of that seen, many other contributions included not seen women. As a matter of fact, it is necessary to highlight the importance of that “not seen” with regard to the construction of the image of the woman in Morocco made by the men (Kabbani, 1989; Mernissi, 2006). The inclusion of references— considered true by them— of what makes reference to the feminine universe that has never been seen, provokes the appearance of the feminine entelechy associated with the “oriental woman”. Thus, this type of contributions nourishes the imagination of what is supposed to be known, guessed or dreamed, collecting the “pathology of the orientalist gaze” of the European men (Sardar, 2004). In fact, these contributions will create a highly sophisticated image of “the oriental woman” who will only exist in the mind of the travellers and has nothing to do with the objective reality of women in Morocco.

32The inaccessibility that men have to get to know the feminine reality of Morocco entails that the world of the women becomes a great mystery and a forbidden space. The impossibility of an encounter generates all sorts of dreams and frustrations on the minds of those men (Alloula, 1986; Kabbani, 1989). In this way, many of the stories written by men include explicit references of those spaces that are exclusively feminine within the sultan’s houses and palaces although they have never been able to really see them. The harem and their mysterious women, inaccessible to the travellers, will generate juicy and stereotyped literary contributions.

Discursive construction of Moroccan feminity

  • 4 As it appears clearly in San Martín, Boada, Eguilaz, Montero, Prats or Juarros.

33From an ideological side, the contributions of feminine topic on male’s narratives show a higher sophistication when describes the socio-cultural differences of women. A gender discourse is constructed with some evident colonialist purposes, resulting in a particular use of the social “condition of women”. The most outstanding features that are detected and spread on those texts configure a set of mini-discourses that justify the Spanish colonial intervention in Morocco4. These arguments are repeatedly used by different authors in an almost obsessively manner. It appears for the first time in a chapter of Felipe Ovilo Canales’s book “Estado actual de Marruecos” (1886). In this text Ovilo unfolds for the first time the relationship between the social condition of women and the need of a military intervention. Ovilo’s book was widely spread among Spanish travellers of the time, who maintain in their recount the same political argument.

34The concordance of the arguments of Ovilo’s book with many other of later appearance demonstrates the need of a particular feminine representation of Morocco that legitimate Spanish territorial possession (Marín, 2002). In this sense, many of the contributions can be qualified of utilitarian since the main purpose of these writings was the construction of a corpus of knowledge on a territory destined to the subjugation (Marín, 1996). Ovilo, sentences:

Morocco, as all the Mahometan villages, has in their religious and political organization, so in fights with the civilization and the modern progress, its oldest enemy: it is enough to direct a glance on the social state of the woman in those countries, to understand one of the fundamental causes of the regrettable holdup in which they are. (Ovilo, 1886: 9)
In the empire of Morocco, the one most fanatical and postponed of all, the man constitutes in them the social unity, and the woman, relegated to the corner most hidden of the home, is considered as an object of luxury, an instrument of pleasing or an engine of work, and, when more, as an essential element for the conservation of the species. (Ovilo, 1886: 10)

35Thus, the discursive basic lines anchor in the unfortunate situation of women and in her oppression motivated fundamentally by the Islamic legislation and also by the moral relaxation of this society. In analyzing the masculine contributions in depth different postulates turn up that in conjunction create a specific gender discourse for the Spanish case.

36Thus, in first place highlight that the ones that undervalue and enchain women is Orient and their men. In second place, descriptions and clichés in relationship to the Moroccan imprisonment and everyday life of the women appears. Next, on the creation of the discourse of gender, the notion of religion also raises as the root of the problem but also the solution once the women became Christianized. The fact of associating the Muslim woman with the sexual instrumentalitzation also turns up with a certain recurrence. In narrow relationship, the great interests are shown that the comparative one means between the women of Occident and those of Orient. Finally, the “dehumanization” of women in Morocco is strengthened and stressed again.


37With travels, certainly, multiple and varied geographical imaginations appears, which analyzing them as discursive formations, explains the colonial experience to us relationally. At the same time, the inclusion of feminine narratives in the colonial discourse analysis it provides more complexity to the Spanish orientalism at the same time as it enriches the ensemble of the existing “geographical imaginations” on Morocco. From this point of view, one may stand out that Carmen de Burgos was the first Spanish woman reporter of war, the texts of which, in spite of the censorship, they irradiated an antimilitarist thought.

38The contributions of Boada as well as those of Burgos deal with the colonialism in direct relationship with the war. However, the example of Carmen de Burgos is differentiated a lot of the other contemporary chronicles of war and possibly it can be stated that it is due to the fact that she is a woman. The use of an almost cupriferous language (feminine literary strategy of the period) and the treatment of the subject are moved away from the typical aggressive and masculine language that has characterized the chronicles of war. Perhaps what is more important is, without a doubt, the emitted message: an approach to the battlefield that comprises geography full of nuances that the legacy of warlike subject enriches in the colonial context. However, the story of Carmen de Burgos has to be considered exceptional when relating it to its context of production. A pioneer example of Spanish literature of women in a narrative typology that was clearly done by and for men.

39Even though “woman” is not the most treated issue in traveller’s accounts, her appearance ends up generating a complex gender discourse that links geography, orientalism, religion and colonialism. The Moroccan feminine world is related to a highly ideological speech, sustained in the construction of the social condition of woman in Muslim countries. In this sense, unlike other European orientalisms (Alloula, 1986; Kabbani, 1989; Lewis, 2004; Lowe, 1992; Said, 1996), the Spanish orientalism referring to women is more utilitarian and less dreamy.

40From a spatial perspective, the treatment of the gender in Morocco comes off conditioned by the existence of a spatial segregation of sexes, where it highlights that of feminine exclusive use in the Muslim dwellings. For this reason, the sex of the persons travelling in Morocco mark a clear difference for the what it makes in the possibility of access (or not) in those spaces. Thus, men will have it totally prohibited. For the masculine European imagination the harems have had a very important weight in the elaboration of some stereotyped representations of the oriental feminity (Mernissi, 2006; Yegenoglu, 1998). Therefore, the fact of being woman or man will be fundamental when grasping and approaching the feminine reality of Morocco. On the other hand, in the process of representation of women as “an image” a very important role will have the characteristics of the visuality of the occidental gaze. This is limited and very conditioned by the cultural referents of origin, and therefore, also will be gendered (Nash, 1996). The occidental gaze interprets first of what makes reference to the cultural alterity.

41In the masculine travel accounts a clear paradox will turn up between the visibility and invisibility of the women in her daily spaces. In general, then, to see them physically or to identify them as “a woman” it will transform in an act of detection of their own invisibility. At the same time, women representation in Morocco will become an entelechy, a “print” that will only exist in the mind of the travellers. This print, at the same time, will be seen lacking in objectivity and she will be the representation of all the range of characteristics attributed to “oriental” otherness which the “occidental” gaze wants to identify.

42In summary, Moroccan women became for Spanish travellers, the most vulnerable group, at the bottom of the human hierarchy in those lands, and becoming something less than human. The “dehumanization” of women is a very characteristic trait of the Spanish literature, which in turn justify by itself the colonial intervention. In this sense, the masculine Spanish view of Moroccan women became much more utilitarian and pragmatic than other European orientalism which present them from a more evasive and trivial way.



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1 “El desastre de 1898”, refers to the lost of the last Spanish colonies of Cuba, Puerto Rica and the Philippines after the Spanish American War. This event created a sense of failure of Spain as a historical colonial power and a profound political and intellectual crisis.

2 José Boada was a Catalan journalist and businessman who had a strong connection with the Spanish africanist movement of the late XIX century. For more information, see García-Romeral (2004).
Carmen de Burgos (1867-1932) was a journalist and feminist writer very advanced in relation to her context and period. She was known as Colombine. For more information, see Núñez (2005), Bravo (2003).

3 Some examples are Amor, Gatell, Murga, Pareja, Benítez who travelled in Morocco at the second half of XIX century.

4 As it appears clearly in San Martín, Boada, Eguilaz, Montero, Prats or Juarros.


Professeure assistante, Université Pompeu Fabra, Espagne.

Géographe, professeur d’université, Université de Pompeu Fabra de Barcelone.

© Maison des Sciences de l’Homme d’Aquitaine, 2013

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