Oh, Woman

By Caridad

Finally the sanitary napkins have arrived.
Finally the sanitary napkins have arrived.

“Oh, woman!  What would become of us poor men without you?”  The sense of this ridiculous phrase is present in every male-official-political speech (which are all the same thing).

A few weeks ago, the Federation of Cuban Woman (FMC) celebrated its 49th anniversary.  Ever since I was born, we’ve heard that this is the organization of Cuban women.  I’ve also heard that in the 1960s the FMC did many good things for women.

In the 1960s, but I was born in the 70s.

A few weeks ago I again heard the speech “oh women, what would we do without you?”  Oh, poor us, who have come into this world so that men might feel less miserable.

In line with male-official-political “editorial policy” guiding the coverage of the anniversary of that non-governmental organization, there was an article on women who achieved military rank in the Cuban war against Spain.

In one newspaper, on one page.

… and a few other research papers printed by a few provincial publishers.

That’s all there was about the Cuban women who fought shoulder to shoulder with the valiant and well-known “mambise” independence fighters.

“Without your presence and help, the country could not have come out ahead.”

Our help…a nice way of recognizing that had it not been for women this country would not have achieved independence until a decade ago.

In those off-the-cuff speeches, we find many nonsensical remarks; far from paying homage, these only annoy us.

Recently I heard a graduate who holds an important position in the Ministry of Culture speak of Simone de Beauvoir as a “decadent who followed behind Sartre.”  He added, “If he went to bed with three women, she followed suit to imitate him,” which is why de Beauvoir could not be an example for Cuban women.  He felt it was not logical that we identify ourselves with that feminist, that revolutionary de haut niveau.

Another example: A few years ago, the Cuban newspaper Juventud Rebelde published an article by a very well-known official intellectual who judged – more than her work – the dubious sexual mores of the writer Anaïs Nin.

One Example Tells All

Packages of sanitary napkins.
Packages of sanitary napkins.

I could write thousands of pages about these amusing anecdotes, but I believe the examples are sufficient.  Yet just one sole anecdote is enough for most women to identify with the male-political-official slant in this country.

What do I do every month when my menstrual period comes?

For several years there has been established a system for supplying sanitary napkins through “ration books.”

The pads – beyond the cumbersome paperwork – come once every three months.  Their quality is detestable; they barely absorb, even less in the center; they move around all over your body because of the poor adhesive.  And making matters even worse, there aren’t enough provided for women with heavy flows.

Still worse, what do you do when the official delivery hasn’t come in?  Or when you don’t receive them for an entire year because you didn’t renew your ration card at the time when the pharmacy decided you should?

Oh sure – there are always the “dollar stores” (shops that sell in Cuba’s hard currency called CUCs).

Suppose you’re a working woman.  It should cost about one CUC to buy these pads.  For one reason or another you might wake up and remember that this is the day your menstrual period starts (or has already begun).  Since you don’t get paid in CUCs, you have to go exchange your regular pesos for one.

But where?  Most likely you’ll have to catch a bus a couple miles to find a Cadeca (a money exchange facility).

However, with the new energy saving priority, the Cadecas don’t open up until 1:00 in the afternoon.  Only then, will you – reliable woman on schedule – be able to change your pesos for a CUC and fly to a store to buy your pads.

But now let’s suppose that you had saved up a CUC for that monthly emergency….

You go to the store in your neighborhood, but don’t find any pads there.  So, you take a bus that goes to the center of Havana and go to another store, then another, and another, and still don’t come up with any.

As a last resort, there’s a different type of pad that can be used, at least when your menstrual flow is very light.

“Well,” a friend said to me, “I warned you there was going to be problems with those products. There’s a crisis. The best thing – when you find them – is to hoard several packages.  If you don’t, you’re going to have to go through this every month.”

Every month of my life until I reach menopause?


Caridad: If I had the chance to choose what my next life would be like, I’d like to be water. If I had the chance to eliminate a worst aspect of the world I would erase fear. Of all the human feelings I most like I prefer friendship. I was born in the year of the first Congress of the Cuban Communist Party, the day that Gay Pride is celebrated around the world. I no longer live on the east side of Havana; I’m trying to make a go of it in Caracas, and I continue to defend my right to do what I want and not what society expects of me.

4 thoughts on “Oh, Woman

  • Yordanka, my third and hopefully final comment on this subject. The trading market brought back as part of cooperative socialist reform of the Cuban economy would not be the market as exists under capitalism. The market under modern cooperative socialism would be conditioned and regulated by representative socialist government. Economic production would be given its guidelines by the Party and economic science. Feminine napkins would have to meet certain requirements laid down by representative government. In this case hopefully the women in the Party and government would lay down the guidelines. So, “yes” on the market, but “no” on the bringing back of the anarchistic, “capitalistic” market.

    Best wishes,
    Grady in the U.S.

  • Yordanka, just a brief afterthought. Some might think as first that by reintroducing the institutions of private property and the trading market, capitalism itself would be introduced. This is inaccurate. In real socialism, it’s not whether private property rights and the market exist, but who owns the private property–employees or the capitalists–and whether state power is in the hands of capitalists or the revolutionary party. In socialist Cuba, where state power is in the hands of a sincere revolutionary party of the people, a cooperative form of socialism theoretically could produce top quality products in all spheres, and in adequate supply. This could and would cure the problems of bureaucracy, employee alienation and low productivity throughout society.

  • Yordanka, I don’t know if it’s of any use for the present reform discussions/debates, but it might be interesting to contemplate how feminine napkins (and other products) might be produced in Cuba if Cuban socialism should become “cooperative.”

    In the first place, the institutions of private property and the trading market would be re-introduced.

    With state assistance, an employee-owned cooperative corporation would be set up. Employees would own voting, common stocks; the state would own non-voting, preferred stocks (in lieu of taxes). Employees would try to produce good quality napkins for the market.

    If the enterprise were successful and profits were to result, dividends would be paid quarterly both to employees and the state, based on stock owned. In theory, this would result in better feminine napkins in the stores, and plenty of them. Employees would have more income, and women would be better satisfied with products.

    Is this sort of reform worth considering?

  • Once again..A PULITZER, Grammy Emmy…… LOL… U GO WOMAN!!


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