Violence Against Women / Yoani Sanchez #Cuba

Julieta Venegas’s voice echoes in the large room of the National Theater. She scales the heights, she dives into the soul. I am in a seat, in the dark, when the first notes sound. My eyes fixed on the stage. I have traversed the La Timba neighborhood from my house to get here, with dogs barking at me from the corners, and women in raggedy clothes watching out the windows. I have come to this place with my doubts, by progesterone, my fingernails so short they would be those on the hands of a teenager, dressed in my lack of femininity, my hair that resists the comb, my motherhood, my fierceness. I am I, with these ovaries that mark my biological clock and a son who any day now will make me a grandmother… I’d better prepare myself for the speed of life.

So I try to capture the rhythm of Venegas’ songs, repeating a refrain and snapping my fingers to mark the beat. The fight against domestic violence that she has taken up touches me closely, although I’ve never experienced family or matrimonial abuse first hand. But I know well the sullen, bruised, crestfallen faces that I see at every turn. In the elevator, in line for the bus, in this city where, despite its size, you bump into the same people again and again. I look at her eyes, which no longer meet mine out of shame and fear that her abuser will discover her call for help. But every inch of her skin, every scrap of her clothes say “Save me! Get me out of this situation!” I see the young girl in a tight dress, whose pimp follows her every step. A big woman with breasts grown larger from multiple births whose husband throws the plate from the table at her while shouting, “And is this all there is to eat?!” The secretary who makes up her face in front of the mirror thinking that if she pleases her boss at the end of the month she will get a bag with two pounds of chicken and some soap. The ballerina who converts a grimace into a gesture of pleasure after a kiss from some decrepit high mucketymuck, who promises her a better life.

And I look, between the end of one song by Julieta Venegas and the beginning of another, at the president of the University Students Federation (FEU) from the Economics Faculty. The same person who, last Saturday, in the Manuel Sanguily amphitheater at the University of Havana welcomed potential new students. To convince them to enroll in his specialty this boy said, “We have a lot of activities, Caribbean sports games, parties at the FEU beach club, and of course… the activities against the Ladies in White.” And I have been there in that auditorium, feeling an incredible sadness for this young man for whom going to insult women, preventing them from leaving their homes, screaming every kind of insult at them, is almost an entertainment. Two days later I found myself in the overstuffed seat at the National Theater confirming how the official discourse itself can incite and condone barbarism, inviting a talented artist to denounce domestic violence and – at the same time – crushing the song of freedom of so many women.