Miriam Gonzalez Durantez meets Miranda Sawyer

There’s an interesting interview between Miranda Sawyer and Miriam Gonzalez Durantez in the Guardian this weekend.

They meet at an Inspiring Women event on sport at the aquatics centre where the Olympics took place and, separately, in Miriam’s office.

Miriam talks about the attitudes in the Spanish village where she was brought up, where people pitied her working mother.

Her mother was the object of some local sympathy. “People felt sorry for her because she had to work,” González Durántez says, “but she wanted to. My mother has taught three generations in the village. I am never going to make so much of a difference.”

Actually, many of the women González Durántez knew had jobs – they just weren’t paid. Both her grandmothers came from rural communities where women laboured in the fields. Her maternal grandmother brought up eight boys (one died) during the Spanish civil war. “She was a tiny, dynamite woman,” González Durántez says. “Always vivacious and positive, a lesson in life.”

Though democracy came to Spain after Franco died in 1975, old-fashioned attitudes took a while to wither. At her school, “when boys did sport, girls did knitting. And boys, when they behaved badly, were sent with the girls.” González Durántez enjoyed reading and music – she played an hour of piano every day (“I say this to my children, who do half an hour a week!”). As the eldest child of the mayor, she was very much part of village life: “I organised things for the little kids, I helped my father in politics, I tried it all. A race or something, there I was. I wasn’t very good at running, but I tried it all.”

She talks about the differences in culture between working life in this country and in Spain and Belgium:

Despite her carefulness, her capacity for work, it’s the subjects of liberty, choice and opportunity that get her going. She wants all women to be able to make their own decisions, in work, within a relationship, with a family or without.

“You know, I love the freedom in this country,” she says. “The very first five minutes when I came to live here, I felt a freedom that I had never felt before in my life, a freedom to be myself. I come from a culture, in Spain, in Brussels, where, if you want to be a lawyer, you study law, if you want to be an economist, you study economy. Whatever you do early in your life determines what you do later on. When I came here, I went for lots of chats with people because I didn’t know what to do. And pretty much all of them said, ‘What do you want to do?’ And I was like, ‘Me? You want to know what I think? I have a choice?’ Now I take it for granted, but it was a complete shock to my system. I still think it today: if I wanted to change my job, everyone would say, ‘Great, good for you.’”

On Inspiring Women, she outlines what she wants to achieve:

González Durántez’s work ethic is perhaps the reason her campaign has been such a success. She also enjoys it, telling me that it’s not only the girls that benefit, but the speakers, too (she thinks that many women are too modest about their achievements). She says that the girls, when asked who they look up to, often say Beyoncé, but just as many say their mum or grandmother (“I want to give them a hug for this”).

“It’s just about inspiring the girls by the very simple concept of ‘I cannot dream it unless I have seen it’,” González Durántez says. “We are, I guess, hoping towards the future. Some girls approach you afterwards and say, ‘This is fantastic. I am going to try this or that.’ But, for many, you are just hoping that you leave a seed. If in the future they think, ‘Well, I will want to be an astronaut’ and they happen to have met the first female astronaut from the UK… It’s a bit of a leap of faith.”

These are just snippets of an interesting and wide ranging interview. You can read the full thing here.

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One Comment

  • Helen Dudden 22nd Mar '15 - 10:53am

    I know there are difference in culture, I have a family there.

    I would like to see things improve for this country. Education is not free to all, health and housing are an issue. Housing is one that I feel needs urgent resolve.

    This is where I feel the EU fails, we need to establish a healthy lifestyle within borders.

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