The Cuban Social Sciences Journal Temas presented its e-book, Gender Studies 25 years in Temas, part of its digital collection Recuento (Inventory)

En la presentación del libro electrónico de Ediciones Temas.

Puede leer la versión en español si pincha aquí

Before summarizing my thoughts on this book, let me introduce you to the team who put it into CD form, specialists whom, we the readers, tend to ignore: Ana Molina was the edition's coordinator, Ronald Ramirez the editor and proofreader, Ernesto Niebla (2020 National Book Design winner) gave his cover design a 'retro' touch: Yadira Rodriguez was responsible for the interior design of the e book and Alejandro Villar was in charge of the lay-out.

I'll share with our readers what ideas came up as I read the book. In its 769 pages the work has 29 articles in the same order as they were published in Temas between 1995 and 2014. In my opinion, these were the hardest years of the Cuban socialist transition which began in 1961. Throughout this period the authors analyzed what was happening, mostly to Cuban women compared to men, in order to extract the specifics of what it has meant to be a woman and, of course, what made them different from Cuban men. At the end of the 90s, two articles appeared in Temas which included for the first time what they labeled “homosexuality” but it wasn't until 2014 that an article appeared giving a  scientific analysis of LGBTI people in Cuba, and more particularly, of “trans” persons.

Who wrote these 29 articles? I will try to give a summary description of them from my sociological point of view. 24 of the 25 were women, which is why from now on I will refer to them as female authors**. 22 of them are Cuban and 3 are from the United States; 19 of the Cubans live in Havana, two in Camaguey and one in Holguin. The articles are therefore permeated with a Havana-centric vision which needs to be corrected in future issues of the journal. 14 of the Cuban authors were born in the 1940s and 50s, 8 in the 1960s and one was born in the 1930s. This means that all of them grew up, and studied from primary school to university, obtained master's and doctoral degrees and higher level teaching and scientific positions after 1959. They worked simultaneously as university lecturers, researchers, writers, journalists, and in film.

When they researched the problems published in Temas they had personally experienced the transformations to the whole social fabric, and particularly to what it meant to be a woman, a man to be LGBTQ, transformations brought about by the Cuban Revolution. Luisa Campuzano would sum up these changes with the title to her article “Being Cuban Women and Not Dying in the Attempt”. I dare to paraphrase the rhetorical device Marta Yanez used to begin her article when she quoted Genesis “And then Lot's wife looked back from behind him and she became a pillar of salt” to attest to the fact that the authors of this book not only dared to look back but we also look at the present and the future without asking for permission ...and we have not turned into pillars of salt.

 The 29 articles show how highly qualified specialists in the social, human, psychological and economic sciences teach readers about how of Gender Studies in Cuba evolved between 1995 and 2014.

As interested readers go through the essays in the chronological order in which they appear, they will see that most of them put forward a dichotomous view of gender because they identify it with what it means to be a woman and a man. In this duality, these articles place emphasis on the female gender, and to this end, compare Cuban women with Cuban men in order to cast light on the specific characteristics of both. It is only in 1996, in an essay on how Afrocuban religions relate to men, women, gays and lesbians, that this dichotomy begins to “open up”, little by little, by including those whom today we call LGBTQ people. Two years later, in 1998, there is a second article which evaluates the Cuban construction of feminine, masculine and “homosexual” stereotypes. In 2004, the sole male author includes homosexuals in his research into masculinity in Cuba. Ten more years had to go by for a study to appear which summarizes the infinite and overlapping social factors which explain the reasons for homophobia in Cuba, both in our history and in the present. This essays starts by explaining LGBTQ in Cuba in order to concentrate on the programs to include transsexual persons in society with full rights. In 2014 another article appeared which studies the “face of gender” of the people who are employed in small private property in Cuba and  examines the specific ways in which women, men, lesbians and gays act in this sector.

What questions did the authors deal with?

They began by studying women in literature, in cinema, and in painting, with respect to what functions they perform in these works, underlining any differences which exist depending on whether the creators are women or men and trying to get an idea of how readers and viewers perceive these. The authors are the Cubans Luisa Campusano, Mirta Yáñez, Adelaida de Juan, Nara Araújo, and Mercedes Santos Moray. There are also essays about the specificities of female employment compared to male and glimpses of how these play out among LGBTQ persons. There is a US expert, Carollee Bengelsdorf, in addition to the Cubans María del Carmen Barcia, Yuliuva Hernández, Maribel Almaguer, Ana Lidia Torres, Dayma Echavarría, Dalia Virgilí and myself. Other texts are about sexuality, sexual diversity – always comparing women and men, concentrating mostly on the former-- and there is an article dedicated to masculinity. Three of the authors are Cuban, Natividad Guerrero, Julio César González Pagés and Mariela Castro, plus Susana Peña who is from the United States.

The Cubans Mayda Álvarez, Inalvis Rodríguez and Lourdes Fernández analyzed domestic programs and social policies aimed at developing Cuban women with full rights. Three attempted a gender approach and made an analytical survey of studies on women written in Cuba and the United States. These three authors are Carollee Bengelsdorf from the Unites States, and Cubans Inalvis Rodriguez and Marta Núñez.

The remaining topics were only dealt with by one author. The article about young women was written by María Isabel Dominguez, the one about woman in Afrocuban religions by María Margarita Castro and the authors of the essay about women in a rural areas were Maribel Almaguer and Ana Lidía Torres**. All the women I have mentioned are Cuban. The American anthropologist Helen Safa researched Caribbean families, specifically Cuban families.

I draw the attention of the editors of Temas to the subjects that were not included in these 29 essays and advise them to call on the authors to write about them in future issues: those related to a gender approach which goes beyond the woman/man dichotomy and incorporates specific characteristics researched in studies on LGBTQ persons; articles about racism and antiracism; those which investigate inequalities and poverty more thoroughly; research on gender and family violence; rural studies; more about the similar and different characteristic of each gender in the private and public sectors and finally, the sexist, racist, consumerist, almost pornographic images shown by Cuban media.

I should like to point out that all of the authors whose work appears in this digital anthology provided a critical analysis of the aspects of Cuba reality that they chose to study. . What were their intentions? To draw attention to the urgent need we have in our country to study women's evolution and their influence in gender relations so that we can understand each stage in the transition to socialism, concentrating mostly on the period from the 1990s up to today. All of these experts offered solutions so that all branches of science, not just the social sciences, could fill in the gaps in our knowledge. At the same time, they learnt from the history of each of the areas they studied in Cuba and also drew lessons from research that had been done in other countries on these subjects so as not to waste time repeating the errors that these had made. For example, Cuban historian Maria del Carmen Barcía threw light on a subject of which we knew nothing, that of the jobs women have done since the last century , such as stripping mature tobacco leaves; the rapid increase in the number of seamstresses as well as in the number of typists and stenographers from the beginning of the 20th century on.

These articles alert Cuban leaders about how imperative it is to incorporate a gender view of the decisions they take and of what they do in every sphere of the nation's life. Why do I state emphatically that this is a realistic possibility? Because the authors convince us with their arguments that there are no homogeneous female or gender realities, rather there are many, which makes it necessary to take racial, generational, regional, geographic, professional, educational and many other kinds of differences into account. Armed with this knowledge, decision makers and activists can act, experiment, and rectify their policies so that gender relations and all of Cuba can move forward.

The authors incorporate into their work something that would seem as clear as the nose on your face but which, in fact, is something that is minimized or is simply not known. There still persist in Cuba patriarchal ways of thinking and being which explain the continued existence of sexist prejudices about male superiority which subordinate women and show contempt for LGBTQ persons. This is how Natividad Guerrero and Maria Isabel Dominguez explain it in their essays on how sexual stereotypes are created from childhood on and how much they are at odds with the progress that has been made in Cuban life.

The strong presence of patriarchal ideology among Cuban women and men explains why female presence in various spheres of society does not mean that they are conscious of what it means to be a Cuban woman and much less of what it means to be immersed in the gender relations which still prevail in my country. This is acknowledged by those authors who write about female empowerment, for example, Mayda Álvarez.

Finally, this book's importance cannot be denied. One can reconstruct a bibliography of the state of gender studies in Cuba before 1959 and from that date until now using the citations and references of each article,. Included are articles written by Cubans who live in Cuba and abroad and some by experts from other countries.

When readers drink from its pages they will addition values that I could not recognize. Let it be so!


First published in Por Esto!, 16 February 2020

Translater: Janet Duckworth


**In Spanish one can differentiate between male and female authors by changing the declension of the noun 'autor'. Plural form of male author is 'autores' and of female authors 'autoras'. English cannot make this distinction so the women are referred to simply as 'authors'.

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