"Only Yes Means Yes"

Cristina Fallarás on the changing tide of sexism in Spain

September 8, 2023By Mariane Pearl

Last month during the Women’s World Cup medal ceremony in Sydney, Australia, the president of the Royal Spanish Football Federation, Luis Rubiales, grabbed and forcibly kissed player Jenni Hermoso on the lips in front of the world’s cameras. Hermoso filed a formal complaint amid a global outcry and a national rally against sexism in Spain. Rubiales potentially faces jail time for his crime due to a new Spanish law widening the definition of sexual assault.

Cristina Fallarás is a journalist, blogger, author of eleven books, and one of Spain’s most celebrated feminist activists. In 2018, in the wake of #MeToo, she created the hashtag #Cuentalo (Tell Your Story), which generated three million posts in just 10 days.

The Meteor’s Mariane Pearl spoke to Fallarás about the public mood in Spain, what Rubiales’ reaction reveals about sexism, and why a kiss isn’t just a kiss.

Mariane Pearl: Five days after the kiss, a defiant Rubiales spoke at a general assembly meeting of the Royal Spanish Football Federation. The audience, overwhelmingly male, began to applaud as he refused to resign. He claimed that the kiss was consensual and that Hermoso brought his body close to hers. What did you feel when you heard him speak?

Cristina Fallarás: His speech will remain in the annals of misogyny and self-entitlement. As he spoke, I became physically ill. My hands began sweating, I had vertigo, akin to this nauseous feeling you get when you walk alone at night in a dangerous place. During his speech, he pounded on the desk, screaming five times in a row that he wouldn’t resign. Rubiales wasn’t even defending himself; he was attacking Jenni Hermoso. It was a classic case of revictimization. 

He also talked about “false feminism.” What do you think he meant by that?

He said this was a social assassination and that he could have given the same kiss to one of his daughters, whom he called true feminists. He claimed “false feminism” is a plague in our country. But Rubiales belongs to what I call the “boys’ club.” Members are generally white, heterosexual, older, and rich. It’s a closed circuit with a misogynistic mindset that [trumpets] virility and abhors what they call “fake” or “radical” feminism. They exchange numbers, documents, money, and women. 

Still, the public reaction was huge. Even the Prime Minister of Spain, Pedro Sánchez, called for Rubiales to step down. Does the massive reaction reflect a change in Spain’s mindset about gender equality?

Rubiales’ arrogance raised a giant wave of protest in the country and worldwide, a collective “enough is enough” sentiment. This movement is a massive rebuke. [And this case is] not happening in a vacuum. Just a year ago, the government passed a law known as “Only Yes Means Yes,” which puts Spain at the vanguard of the global battle for sexual consent. It establishes sexual aggression as a crime with or without violence or intimidation. 

As a result, thousands of women have come forward to denounce their perpetrators. There are 50 new shelters established by the government across the country. Our society was ready for this, but the recent rise of Vox, the far-right party, is a cause for concern. Vox programs [would] roll back decades of progress by blocking abortion access, repealing legislation on gender-based violence, and shutting down the ministry of equality and LGBTQ centers. We are vigilant, but I am terrified of what would happen should Vox win in the next elections.

Many women have reacted to the fact that what brought Rubiales down was a “simple” kiss.

The media only speaks about violence against women when there is a femicide, gang rapes, or if the victim is a minor. But the Rubiales kiss tells us that every assault matters. Laws are important, but they are useless if there aren’t visible stories—like the kiss—that are symbolic enough to start a new narrative and capture people’s indignation.

In 2018, you launched the sister of #MeToo, named #Cuentalo. Millions of women testified. And just last week, you launched a new campaign to denounce sexual violence, mostly in the workplace. Were you surprised to receive thousands of answers?

Twitter is very efficient for multiplying hashtags and giving visibility to a movement, but Instagram is different. It’s intimate. This time, people are not retweeting a hashtag; they are writing to me personally and I am answering them one by one, reposting their stories after editing them to ensure anonymity. Sometimes, when I receive a testimony, I look at the person’s account and what I see are women on the beach, pictures of kittens, mothers, and grandmothers with children. So it’s not the world of militants or even feminists; these are the women next door. This is everybody. 



Mariane Pearl

Mariane Pearl is an award-winning journalist and writer who works in English, French and Spanish. She was most recently the managing editor of CHIME FOR CHANGE, and is the author of the books A Mighty Heart and In Search of Hope.