Cuba: Campesinos Talk about Machismo

Irina Echarry

Waiting to go in the 23rd and 12 St. cinema.

HAVANA TIMES — It’s common in Havana to hear people talking about machismo and domestic violence, but that doesn’t mean these have been eradicated. In the countryside too there exists a high percentage of tolerance towards these evils.

From generation to generation, men and women naturally repeat patterns, roles and concepts imposed on them from childhood and viewed as correct.

To think about these issues, on Friday (March 15) the 23rd and 12th St. Cinema was stormed by a large crowd of people of all ages, genders and races. They showed up there to watch the documentary “Guajiros… de donde crece el amor” (Campesinos… Where Love Grows), produced by the Palomas Project.

It was nice to see the theater packed and brimming with good energy emanating from everyone. The more that people become involved in the struggle for gender equality, the closer we’ll come to achieving it.

In the documentary, a group of men from different rural areas of the country — each in their natural environment though — talked about how they understood relationships between couples, the impact these have on their work, in their ways of looking at life, how workshops on the issue of gender had influenced them in dealing with women and, above all, they spoke openly of pain, regret and nostalgia.

Men aren’t used to cameras in their testimonies. Some of them were more acute in their questioning, others more hurt, and still others more light-hearted.

Although the drama of the documentary is based on the classic values ??of campesinos — be they partiers, workers, trouble-makers or virtuous men with awkwardness that borders on tenderness — it’s known that men from the rural areas (like their urban counterparts) can be rude, aggressive, drinkers, and many of them see their partner as property.

Is there much of a difference between city-dwelling and rural-living men with regard to their attitudes toward their partners? Does the place where a man lives predispose him to developing domineering behaviors?

It’s true that people in the city have access to other experiences; for their references, they can use other dynamics that don’t reach the countryside. Nonetheless, the Cuban media insists on emphasizing the great distances between them, which usually results in rural men appearing like caricatures, therefore they seem very distant to us.

According to the documentary, with the arrival of the gender workshops in rural areas, major changes have been caused in the lives of these communities. Personally I don’t doubt these efforts have made some impact, but to think the changes have been radical is another matter.

In these workshops campesinos talked about sexism and machismo. Some of them said it was a tradition, one regretted his use of force on his wife; one of them questioned, with some irony, if machismo can be hereditary, and another one said the blame should be placed on patriarchy.

The respondents were cattlemen, farmers, veterinarians and cooperative leaders. What was noteworthy was that few of them seemed very poor. Among the lowest income men, there was one who barely spoke. He couldn’t stop crying. Most of them could be classified as what we might call “successful campesinos.”

While watching the film, many questions suddenly arose: Do all rural residents in these communities think like this? Isn’t there anyone who still believes women have to obey them? Why didn’t they interview or at least mention those men who didn’t want to attend the workshops?

In my numerous trips to remote areas of Pinar del Rio Province, I’ve met some exceptional people – hardworking, honest and hospitable folks. But when I mentioned the issue of gays, there usually arise unspeakable jokes and hatred. These people are homophobic and sexist.

This is why I think that the problem with the documentary Guajiros… is its view about homosexuals.

Notwithstanding, there was one cattlemen who bravely declared that his point of view was different. He said he lives with his male partner, though he didn’t elaborate on how others (heterosexuals) view them or how this gay farmer confronts daily life.

In any case, the documentary was a different approach to life in the countryside, that difficult lifestyle full of hardships. In the words of one of the cattlemen, the reality of living and suffering rural life has nothing to do with the bucolic images of poets.

At the end, along with the credits, it was time for the wives. None of them referred to authoritarian conduct or violent male behavior that many women complain about. Nor did they mention any resistance to this change in values. They didn’t even say if they were interested in seeing their husbands change.

They spoke little but they all agreed that couples should be together and that love is essential. Some of them talked briefly about how they manage entire farms and take on difficult tasks.

In short, there apparently aren’t any conflicts between couples in those communities, where both men and women express themselves very well, love the countryside profoundly (no one had given up on rural living or even wanted to leave; only one a little boy expressed his dissatisfaction). The men did more than break the stereotype that “men don’t cry” (actually there were too many tears for my taste).

Therefore, we’ll have to continue hoping for materials that don’t go to extremes, ones that show reality in all its diversity and explore human beings and their environments without sentimentality.

In this documentary it seems that gender workshops have the effect of magic wands. Again, I know they generate changes, but I felt a lack of balance in this film.

That’s why I anxiously awaited the debate announced to take place at the end of the screening. It would have been good for the protagonists — those people present in the theater — to express their ideas without the manipulation of the camera. It would have been good for all of them to say what they wanted – disagreeing or approving of equity gender, sexism or domestic violence in the fields of Cuba.

But for some reason it didn’t happen. I’m sure we missed some very good stories.


Irina Echarry

Irina Echarry: I enjoy reading, going to the movies and spending time with my friends. Many of the people I love are dead, or are no longer in Cuba. I will do my best to transmit my thoughts, ideas or worries via these pages so you can get to know me. I will give an idea of my age, since it helps explain certain things. I’m over thirty-five, and I think that’s enough information. I don’t have any children yet, or nieces or nephews. There are days when I transform myself into a child with no age at all in order to see life from another angle. It helps me break the monotony and survive in this strange world.