The Federation of Cuban Women Can’t Reinvent Itself / Yoani Sánchez

You turned six and were already waiting for your neck scarf, the slogan “Pioneers for communism, we will be like Che.” Later, you started high school and, automatically, without anyone asking you, joined the Federation of High School Students (FEEM). As you continued to grow up, you ironed your skirt and under your uniform blouse a pair of breast buds began to be noticeable. When you reached puberty you were already a member of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, and then you became a part of the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC). Tedious meetings, ladies watching if you got home late, tongues ready to betray any irreverent phrase that escaped your lips.

They taught you a dozen courses about the role of women in the Revolution, but no one came to stay the hand of your husband who beat you at home. You were just a number on the membership list and — more than once — you diverted money from your FMC dues to make it to the end of the month. It was hard for you to learn to separate the language of the communications you read in an animated voice, from the domestic phrases in which you showed your disgust. You developed several techniques to stifle your yawns in these assemblies where they demanded “more sacrifice, more commitment.” And suddenly, everything began to seem so useless, so detached from reality, so distant from the ridiculous allowance the father of your children gave you, from your boss who demanded “favors” if you wanted to keep your job. You realized that the real discourse of your days was what came out of the half-empty pot — like an open mouth — in the middle of your kitchen.

For the last five years you haven’t been a member of the FMC. What’s the use of an organization like this, you say now, after coming to understand that demands for the rights of women can’t be met through such a masculine officialdom. Last night you heard on TV that the FMC wants to “put a new spin” on their role in society, and afterwards you felt your womb, rubbed your arms, looked at the unpainted walls of your house and your life in national currency. And despite the difference between your bare face and the perfect makeup of those interviewed on prime time news, you feel more free. Because that report had a whiff of mothballs and you don’t, you are alive for the first time your forty years, “belonging” to no one.

17 December 2011