—One of our professors at Casa de las Americas spoke with us about feminism in Cuba after watching the classic Cuban film Lucia (1968) in class. One thing that he said in particular stuck with me; that Cuban women have value in Cuban society, but they don’t have any power in their relationships with men.
Almost half the Cuba’s workforce is female, and many women hold very demanding jobs. According to the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, an organization supporting Cuba based out of Britain, women today comprise 44 percent of the workforce, as compared to 17 percent in 1956. They also make up 61 percent of lawyers, 87 percent of administrative jobs and 35 percent of the parliament, as well as 62 percent of university students.
Despite the fact that nearly half the workforce is female when they get home most are expected to do the majority if not all of the cooking, cleaning and childcare.
I recently spoke with a Cuban friend about machismo in Cuban society. I told him that in the United States, at my house and most of my friend’s houses, the father takes responsibility for a good deal of the cooking, cleaning or childcare, and sometimes all three.
I joked that when I get married, if my husband tells me to cook and I don’t want to, I will tell him to call for a pizza. He found this hysterical, but I was only half-kidding. At his house his mother does everything for him, his father and his brother.
He said he wondered if he would marry someone like his mother, or someone like me. He said probably his mother, because it would be easier. Although he laughed when he said this, I’m pretty sure he was only half-kidding too.
I tried to explain that it isn’t that American women don’t want to do nice things for their spouses, but that we don’t like there to be an expectation that we are going to do everything, especially if it becomes so routine that our hard work is no longer appreciated.
Women have taken huge strides in Cuba, and I have been told that in many ways they are envied by other women in Latin America. The rations, free education and job opportunities have made it possible for women to be more independent from men, and leave men if they are being mistreated without fearing that they will not be able to survive on their own.
Yet there is still a culture where if a woman is told to do something by her husband, she will generally do it without question, not seeing any other option.
It seems to me that the only thing holding Cuban women back is Cuban men’s machista attitude. Cooking or cleaning does not emasculate a man; it just shows his desire to make his wife’s life a little easier. And if men truly respected their wives and thought of them as equals they would not expect them to do more work just because they are female.
My friend told me that Cuban women are strong because they have to do so much, but I think they would be strong either way. They should not have to harden themselves in order to deal with being in relationships of unequal power.