14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 2 July 2019 – He watches her pass by and whistles as she walks away, on the bus he sticks to a young woman until he is so close she feels his sweat on her skin and, when he gets home, his wife has dinner on the table and doesn’t start eating until he takes his first bite. At night, even though she doesn’t want to, he will “fulfill his manly role.” These situations are so common and repeated that many have come to believe that this must define normal, a woman’s lot.
This entire web of pressure, abuse and violence is coming to light as a result of the personal scream of a singer who decided to tell what she lived through. The public denunciation made by Dianelys Alfonso, known as La Diosa de Cuba (The Cuban Goddess), against the musician José Luis Cortés, El Tosco (The Rough One), for alleged verbal, physical and sexual abuse has opened a Pandora’s box of incalculable scope. We can delineate when it all began, but not how far the catharsis will go.
Cuban society is pierced from one side to the other by machismo. A harassment and exploitation that is so commonplace that many do not see it, or do not want to see it. It begins very early, sinking its roots so deeply into everyday life that sometimes it is difficult to separate how far feminine will goes and at what point masculine imposition begins, how much more determinate is machismo, than is the free will of a human being.
From the men who still brandish the teasing compliment or supposed street flattery as a way to respond to the physical attractiveness of a woman, passing through the administrator who believes that by organizing a party with gifts for March 8 – International Women’s Day – he has paid his share of respect towards “the beautiful gender,” right up to the official spokesman who accuses a dissident of moral laxity or of being a prostitute just because she utters a criticism.
Millions of women on this island are trapped between the role of “flowers of adornment,” and that of domestic slaves or of pieces to be used and discarded. Not only are they condemned to perform most of the domestic chores, but from the time they are small they are trained to please, complacently serve and assent to masculinity. Departing one centimeter from that mold can lead from insults to aggressions.
They are the ones who do the most of the cooking, take care of the children, go to school meetings, do the tasks related to the care of the elderly, financially support the children of the husband who took off or who does not pay support, attend the sick, and work in the most thankless places in hospitals, schools, soup kitchens or asylums.
They are also mistreated. A violence that has many faces, some of them so apparently “benign” such as to pushing them to always look “beautiful, well-groomed and attractive.” Something that forces them to straighten their hair, paint their nails, shave their legs, constantly fuss with their hairstyle, wear make up, dress sexy and be willing to compliment and conquer, grateful that men pass by, look, praise or touch.
But coercion can also be much stronger. It is the boyfriend who says “if I see you with another man, you know what’s going to happen to you”; the husband who prevents her from wearing tight pants; the neighbor who insinuates that if she is very lonely he can accompany her and be at her side so that no other man dares to bother her; the boss at work who lets fall that she has a promising future ahead and “all the attributes” to achieve it.
There is also physical violence. Like that suffered by the woman who conceals her black eye under sunglasses; another who endures beatings because she has nowhere to go in the absence of shelters to house battered women; or the woman who has been protecting herself for years from the slaps of a husband who comes home drunk but she has to put up with it because – after all – she migrated from the east and it would be illegal in Havana if he were the kick her out of the house.
The actress who has to undress on stage to achieve a role, the singer who only has sexual relations with the bandleader so she can aspire to a permanent position in front of the microphone, the professional who must accept the idiotic flirting of her company’s director to be chosen to go on a trip, get a promotion, or simply have the chance to keep her job.
And the social and institutional violence of the police who, when she comes to file a complaint, repeat “no one should intervene between a husband and wife”; the lawyer who refuses to take her case because the defendant is a powerful man and she is “a perfect unknown”; the friends of the abuser who are on his side and throw tons of mud on the credibility of the victim; the official figures that hide the femicides; and government spokesmen who strut in international forums insisting that on this island there is no real problem of gender violence.
Now, all that reality begins to find a speaker from the MeToo movement, which has been slow to reach this island, but in other places on the planet has already made visible a problem shared by many women. A movement that has given strength to other women to bring several abusers before the courts, and to dissuade other men from continuing to commit their excesses. A movement that has raised awareness about the situation of gender-based harassment in this country.
What role has the official Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) played in all of this? So far none, because the largest and only formal female organization allowed in the country does not act if it does not receive guidance from Power ahead of time. Feminism, like social, environmental or LGBTI activism, has never been looked on kindly by the Cuban government, which considers all these “isms” to be forms inherited from bourgeois mentality and capitalist countries.
For the FMC, women are soldiers, impeccable workers and players that underpin the ideology, but defending them from male abuse would, in many ways, be confronting the Government itself. In the end, harassment against females is not only carried out at the domestic or social level, but it is disseminated and validated by the State itself.
The “hair on the chest” Power that dominates Cuba resorts to sophisticated threats against women who oppose it. They publicly question women’s morality, accuse them, when they engage in active dissent, of not acting on their own impulses but under the management of some man, allude to their lack of femininity and, in the final indignity, reveal their most intimate details, exactly those that they taught her in school and the family to hide, keep silent about, keep in the shadows.
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