On International Women’s Day in Cuba

Irina Pino

Three HT female contributing writers.
Three HT female contributing writers.

HAVANA TIMES — “An honorable, intelligent and free soul makes a woman more elegant and powerful than the highest fashions found at stores will ever do.” “Rich in clothes, poor in spirit.” “Whoever holds much within needs little without.”

These are some of Jose Marti’s beautiful lines defending the importance of education for women. Though they are still relevant today, in other texts Marti underscores the importance of achieving a balance between the material and the spiritual, telling us that the harmony between the two can help make us one with our surroundings.

International Women’s Day was celebrated on Sunday, March 8, a date in which the media here made a point of underscoring the unique values of Cuban women, emphasizing their achievements in all spheres of society.

Though such achievements have actually been made, there are a number of taboos that are never addressed, or are addressed superficially. This morning, for instance, I saw a report on female beauty and about how the media (through music videos, beauty pageants and soap operas) govern women’s beauty standards, implanting their virulent seeds in them.

I agree that this is equally true. Beauty cannons are imposed by the mass media and play an essential role. Behind such advertisement is the need to sell a product that will fatten the pockets of the cosmetic and other industries.

The use of implants, liposuction, dieting, fashion brands – this is a world that is entirely foreign for many. There are old women here who don’t even have a proper bed to sleep on.

I recall the years in which my younger niece was a social worker, the critical cases she dealt with. There was an elderly woman who had been requesting a pension for years. When they finally granted her one, she had already passed away. Another old woman lived by herself under inhuman conditions and didn’t even have a mattress to sleep on. Such situations are not publicized. What could anything mentioned above mean for these elderly women? Absolutely nothing.

Big Eyes, a Tim Burton film about a female painter who signed her pieces using the name of her husband, a phoney visual artist who exploited and manipulated her, living off her work and stuffing his pockets at her expense, was recently shown on Cuban television. It was based on a true story.

We can think of innumerable cases across history in which women have submitted to men. Male chauvinism persists. Though some links in the chain have been broken, others remain strong, and women themselves have worked to keep them this way.

In literature, there is no shortage of women writers who established themselves through talent alone, as is the case of Virginia Woolf, whose poetic prose style makes abundant use of inner dialogues. One of her most important essays is A Room of One’s Own. There, she tackles the different ways in which women suffer discrimination, speaking to us of story tellers and poets and exposing her points of view on this.

Women continue to be pushed back to the background. In a post dealing with the faces that appear on Cuba’s new bills, my colleague Dmitri Prieto advanced the idea of using other faces, such as that of Cuban poet Dulce Maria Loynaz. I propose we also use that of Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda, Luisa Perez de Zambrano, Celina Gonzalez and Rita Montaner.

If it’s a question of making changes, we could try the following experiment: shoot music videos, films and soap operas in which men are treated like sexual objects, make men do all of the house chores, stay at home and look after the kids, take care of elderly relatives who are ill (at home or in the hospital), give up their government jobs and adopt a passive attitude, willingly submitting to women.

No one will be subjected to physical or psychological harm and both crimes of passion and rape will be out of the question – everything will be done on the basis of a mutual agreement between the genders. Then, we can see how it works out and how long men put up with it.