Cuba’s Strange Machismo

Irina Echarry

HAVANA TIMES — Maura almost crosses herself whenever she hears her neighbor shout at her boyfriend in the middle of the street. If I do that to Jose- she exclaims -, nobody will be able to save me from the beating he’ll give me; we have to respect our men.

It’s curious, not too long ago Maura confessed to me that she was the owner of her life and that she didn’t owe anybody anything; she boasts about having worked since she was a little girl and about having brought up her daughters practically alone. The way she makes people respect her is a bit aggressive, but she definitely demands her place in this world. This attitude of a struggling mother and independent woman is quite normal here; however, it’s not strange to find that this battle for their independence ends when her husband appears, as the combative girl becomes an obedient woman, whose only concern is to satisfy her “papi”.

Maura doesn’t seem to be too interested in finding out what it is exactly that makes her a woman; the fact that she has “buns” is enough. Every once in a while, she changes her artificial nails or she gets her hair done; even though she doesn’t go anywhere, she has to be beautiful.

It’s clear that Maura symbolizes a lot of Cuban women. The ones we find out on the street, in lines, at schools, in offices or in the fields; attending people at a hospital or on construction sites building apartment blocks, forming part of an important company’s board of directors, carrying out research at a scientific center or doing house work.

These women don’t want to know how it is we got where we are, living to see tomorrow is their only goal. They don’t know that here in Cuba there are various people who focus on feminist studies, according to what appears in books and what experts on the subject understand it to be; and focus on passing on this knowledge in a bite size way to other professionals and university students. This is definitely something praiseworthy, as it enables the future intellectual generation to be aware of the importance of gender equality, working as a team inside the home, respect, etc.

However, sometimes I ask myself what we could do so that women like Maura aren’t so distanced from these concepts of gender equality and sisterhood. The struggle to overcome many of the problems that affect Cuban women clashes with the Cuban people’s general ignorance of these very same problems.

Most of the time, we aren’t aware that we’re subjugated to men; we’ve internalized it and made it a part of our “culture”. Cuban machismo is strange in that it survives when women are working outside the home, receive the same paycheck as men for doing the same job, are the majority in universities and have a right to decide over their bodies, etc.

There must be several different reasons for this, but I can only think of two very fundamental ones: the legal defenselessness we women have in some aspects, and an education system which doesn’t revolve around thought but memorization and taking in knowledge. One thing leads to another and it becomes a difficult cycle to break.

In many countries, there are laws that help to penalize some actions which before people got away with, such as domestic violence, physical and psychological abuse of women and girls, and sexual harassment.

However, this doesn’t happen in Cuba, on the contrary, the government hides statistics, conflicts or reports about these issues. The most we’ve been able to shine a light on (recognize) is domestic violence, however, we don’t have a legal framework in place to make it stop.

On March 14th, the UN Development Program administrator urged countries to classify this kind of violence as a crime. What has Cuba done with respect to this? Nobody knows.

In other parts of the world, people gather together to demand that laws are met, abolished, reformed or created. Here, the Cuban people are on the fringe of these decisions and it’s common to hear the motto that goes: you don’t argue with laws, as if we’ve been living in a battle the whole time.

At school, we cram our heads with facts, numbers and quotes from writers or heroes who no longer live on this earth or are distanced from our reality. Why do we expect that someone (normally a man) from a past century – no matter how wise, prophetic or psychic he was – be the one to talk to women of these times?

The best thing to do would be to know what is going on in the world today in relation to this subject. What happened in Cuba so that we women were able to achieve the rights we have today and, furthermore, understand why we don’t have some other very important ones?

We don’t need a leader, whose lifestyle has nothing to do with that of the average Cuban, to heap supposedly beautiful and flattering phrase on us; that doesn’t help us in the slightest, it doesn’t help to educate us as active subjects, it doesn’t give us the tools to fight for our real emancipation.

Does it cause us worry to hear the same figures about the positive things we enjoy today over and over again? Of course not, it helps us to become lost in inertia and apathy because, if everything is fine, we don’t have to change anything.

If our education was based on sparking an interest for thinking, for finding solutions, comparing, investigating… then we would be better citizens and academic studies about feminism would be accompanied by strong social activism.

Then, Maura and so many more, would be able to decide whether they want to continue living their lives as working women, struggling mothers and complacent wives, or whether they want to break away from all the ties that domination has created.  They would have the choice to choose how they want to be a woman, whether it’s for their ‘buns’ or for their dignity and pride to be a woman.

7 thoughts on “Cuba’s Strange Machismo

  • This is beautiful. Tell me more!

  • “…operated by a bunch of White Latinos exemplified by the machismo of the Castro brothers” BOOM. I got goosebumps this was so on point, brother. Took the words out of my mouth. Please write up an article on this and submit it back to HT.

  • Vicktor Skarsgard, you omit to point out that an additional spur for Cuban men is that Cuban women hold two thirds of the professional roles in Cuba. That naturally is not reflected in the hierarchy of the Castro regime, but that is because it is operated by a bunch of White Latinos exemplified by the machismo of the Castro brothers – the culture inherited from their Spanish Galician father runs deep in their veins. Fidel with his continuous finger wagging, Raul with his self appointed right to execute people without trial and Alejandro, Raul’s son in his operating the CDR through MININT.
    Although Cuban women clearly exceed Cuban men in educational standards, the regime fears that their views as mothers concerned about the future of their children might ‘taint’ communist preachings.

  • This had so much potential to be an article that talked about the gender problems in Cuba, but I’m sorry to say it fell so short. What’s the conclusion? It has no substance. And I don’t see a Cuban woman, or most Latinas, taking BS from a man. It’s one of the reasons why some sexist black and latino men are said to prefer white women: they are more docile. Of course this is a generalization. But this very point is already an excellent article that could have been written besides the watery article posted above. I was so excited to read something on feminism… and then it fell flat. Was the author scared to provoke? What about the superficial expectations for a woman in Cuba? What about the constant street harassment? What about the fact that they’re viewed merely for sex and that’s all? What about the pressures put on Cuban men to act a certain way or they are not worthy to exist? So many things that could have been hit here but were totally missed…

  • It may be true in the case of the neighbor lady, but from what I have seen during my travels in Cuba, the local women are anything but submissive. I have seen them to be very aggressive when a man disrespects them, and in the family setting, I have witnessed older sisters delivering discipline and chastising male sibling (regardless of age difference) with NO mercy.
    I think Cubanas’ fiery demeanor is one of the attributes of Cuban women that sets them apart from other countries in the Caribbean AND other Latin countries (well ok, maybe not Puerto Rico) :->

  • BS article, most Cuban women are respectful to their men but definitely not submissive and I am from El Cerro.

  • Machismo is a Spanish word reflecting historic Spanish culture along with the bravado of bull-fighting a contest in which the bull is condemned to an excruciating death initiated by sticking large barbs into the neck muscles followed by exposing it to ridicule by the gathered machismo crowd.
    Understandably because of machismo, it is difficult for those women exposed to the Spanish culture to achieve anything resembling equality. Another feature of machismo is a dislike of physical work – it lessens the feeling of superiority inherent within such a cultural infliction..
    One can only hope that eventually Cuba will distance itself from that Spanish inheritance and fulfil the hope of Jose Marti:
    “Cubans do not live as Spaniards live.”
    Perhaps that was wishful thinking!

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