News and Facts about Cuba

CUBA: Machismo Not O.K. – But Not Yet K.O.’d

CUBA: Machismo Not O.K. – But Not Yet K.O.'d
By Dalia Acosta

HAVANA, Dec 4 (IPS) – Gradually, more men in Cuba are declining to take
on traditional masculine behaviour patterns, and women who oppose the
machismo and sexism that still predominates are opening up ways of
changing gender relations, beyond the effects of official measures taken
to promote equality over the last 50 years.

The debate about masculinity in this Caribbean island nation is
beginning to grow in academic circles, the media and society in general,
prompted by challenges to machismo, the rise of "metrosexuality" and the
greater visibility of sexual orientations other than the heterosexual norm.

"Male and female gender constructions have gone through many of the same
changes as Cuban society in the past 15 years," Julio César González
Pagés, the coordinator of the Ibero-American Masculinity Network, told
IPS. The country has experienced the longest economic crisis in its
history over the last decade and a half.

González attributes these changes to economic factors, because some
working women now earn more than their partners, and to the effect of
"public policies promoting greater equality between the sexes. This has
caused traditional concepts to be re-examined, not only at
level, but within families themselves," he said.

Since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, the authorities have
encouraged women's participation in traditionally male-dominated
spheres, particularly in the world of work, which has caused a relative
shift in power away from men, and a slow but steady decline in machista
or sexist dogmas.

The Global Gender Gap Report 2007, published by the World Economic
Forum, indicates that 62 percent of the country's technical and
professional workers are women, although they remain a minority in
parliament and the cabinet, where they hold 36 percent and 16 percent of
the seats, respectively.

Nevertheless the report ranks Cuba as the 22nd country out of 128 in
terms of gender equity, putting it in first place within the Latin
American and Caribbean region.

Experts regard the new attitudes towards paternity among some young
fathers, who share responsibility for bringing up their children with
the same loving care that was previously associated only with mothers,
as one of the most telling expressions of the breakdown of the
conventional model of masculinity.

However, in many Cuban homes the economic crisis of the early 1990s
reinforced the model of male dominance, with men being assigned the role
of breadwinner and women being relegated to unpaid domestic duties and
the care of children, the elderly and the disabled.

The norm is for boys to be educated in the belief that they must be
strong, daring, and successful at their studies, work and sports. They
should hide their feelings, treat women as trophies, and avoid any
traits construed as feminine.

"Boys don't cry," and "behave like a man!" mothers and fathers tell
their sons over and over from an early age. "How many girlfriends do you
have?" people ask boys, an early initiation into a race where the man
who takes the most women to bed is the winner.

An article by González in the Cuban magazine "Temas" says that the ethos
created by the revolution "has fought against expressions of machismo in
relation to women, but has maintained those related to men themselves,
which means the predominant values of masculinity have not changed."

Sexism or male supremacy, said the university professor, continue to be
represented "by white, urban, heterosexual men." This is the reality,
which contradicts "laws, decrees and legal instruments against
discrimination and exclusion on the basis of social, racial and gender
barriers," but reflects the complexity and durability of gender identity

Homosexual masculinity has been the target of some of the worst
discrimination by those maintaining the machista mindset, which labels
men who choose to have sex with other men as effeminate and perverted.

González was one of the organisers of the University Forum on
Masculinity and the Culture of Peace, held at the Cerro municipal
university in Havana on Nov. 21 and 22, which was attended by community
leaders, professors, intellectuals and students.

The research projects and final year undergraduate thesis plans
presented and discussed at the meeting addressed topics seldom debated
openly in the family or the community, such as gender ,
, race issues, pornography, and legislation on sexual
diversity, all of which were analysed from the point of view of
masculinity and femininity.

"If discussions like those held in this university forum are reproduced
in the media and the educational system in general, academia could be
integrated into the debate taking place in society as a whole," González

González, who teaches the subject of masculinity and a culture of peace
for the Master's degree course on gender issues at the University of
Havana, acknowledges that "the academic study of masculinity at Cuban
universities is a very recent phenomenon, and it is still a small
discipline," although some students have chosen to focus on the subject
for their theses.

In fact, a gender equity group at the de Oriente, in the
city of Santiago de Cuba, 850 kilometres east of the Cuban capital, and
another group focusing on sociocultural studies at the Universidad Marta
Abreu, in the central province of Villa Clara, are also making efforts
to stimulate research on masculinity.

The forum included a presentation on sexual for men who have sex
with other men (MSM) by the National Centre for Prevention of Sexually
Transmitted Infections-/, and a debate on metrosexuality, in
which one of the participants was Cuban fashion designer Raúl Castillo.

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