Women in Cuba Can’t Take it Any More / Iván García

Photo: Taken from the report The inequities and female poverty in Cuba, published in IPS on December 16, 2016.

Ivan Garcia, 8 December 2017 — While the group of young people from a high school in La Víbora, south of Havana, were in a physical education class on a dirt track adjacent to the school, Andrés, 40, with a cardboard box on his legs, masturbated frantically sitting on the cement floor of the basketball court.

His relatives call him ’Andriaco the blanket’. He usually masturbates in cinemas and sports fields, using a large cardboard container that has an opening in the front to put his hand in and not attract attention.

Andrés is not demented or mentally retarded. Nor is he an exhibitionist like Manuel, a mulatto who likes to masturbate early in the morning or when night falls, in public, always showing his member. One afternoon in November, Manuel explained to Martí Noticias his way of operating.

“I have fixed places, like the medical school in El Cerro, in the back of the Covadonga, because the students don’t create problems. And some places where the chicks pass that are ’assimilators’.” In the slang of masturbators, shooters, jack-offs or jerk-offs, ’assimilators’ or ’comelonas’ are women who watch them while they masturbate and don’t shout at them or offend them.

Manuel has a wife and is the father of two children. “Every time I get an internal itch, I take out my dick and jack off in front of some girl. If they insult me, I get even more excited. There is an army of wankers throughout the island. If the police pick you up, they’ll give you a fine of 60 pesos. If you are a recidivist or you ’shoot’ in front of minors, they punish you with one year in prison on a farm. But I’ve never been imprisoned for masturbating on the street.”

Sheila, a psychologist, believes that the laws in Cuba are quite permissive with public masturbators and jamoneros or exhibitionists. “Likewise with sexual harassment and physical and verbal abuse of women. It is a tremendously macho society. Most street masturbators do not have any mental disorder. They need medical treatment, but their IQ is usually above average.”

The Havana psychologist believes that public masturbation and sexual harassment are crimes, because they invade the privacy of a woman without her consent. “And of course the abuse. In Cuba, the sanctions for physical aggressions against women are very soft. The laws condemn a government opponent or someone who kills a cow with a sentence of twenty years, however a man hits his wife or girlfriend, sometimes with injuries, and if they punish him, he serves only one year in jail. Even some policemen do not see it as a crime, but a matter between husband and wife. We Cubans should initiate a public awareness campaign to denounce sexual harassment and gender violence, among other phenomena that affect us.”

Recently, a crusade against sexual harassment began in the United States. The #MeToo Movement establishes a new threshold against the abuse of male power. More than thirty top executives and celebrities have fallen in the last two months, from artists like Kevin Spacey to the doctor for the women’s Olympic gymnastics team.

But in Cuba, masturbation on public streets, which is a form of sexual harassment, and beating wives and children is not an issue that the official media regularly address or encourage debate about among the population.

Adriana, a former basketball player, narrates personal experiences. “Already, as a young woman, it was common that the little girl that the coach had his eye on, he went to bed with her in exchange for selecting her for a provincial or national team. Touching your buttocks, breasts, undressing you with his eyes or masturbating in front of you, was so common that I came to think it was normal. In sports schools and in others with scholarship students, sexual harassment escalates to groping against your will. As far as I know, those behaviors are not reported and those affected are afraid to denounce it.”

Leyanis, 24, recently graduated in telecommunications engineering, says that “the things that women suffer in Cuba have become normal. We have to arm ourselves with a shield if we want to get ahead. We are legally forsaken. From the moment I get up I have to endure the invasion of other people,” and she details:

“At five in the morning, when I’m ironing my work uniform in my living room, a guy stands in the window and starts masturbating. Similarly, on the way to work, there’s another batch of pajusos. And at work, from your boss to your colleagues, they make rude innuendo or touch you, pretending that it was unintentional. And when you’re riding a bus, don’t even talk about it: you get hit with the whole package shamelessly. It is an intolerable, demeaning epidemic.”

Nidia, architect, believes, “that the harassment in Cuba is so normal that in a video that I saw, where several generals appear, one of them spanks a uniformed girl who passes by his side. If that is done by those who govern the country, what can be expected from the rest of the Cubans? Impunity is almost absolute.”

“If there is touching and harassment in military life, the situation is unbearable in more liberal sectors, such as the artistic, which has always had a bad reputation. Or in workplaces that have rooms and beds, such as hospitals and hotels where you work 24 hours,” says a retired food service employee who had to endure all kinds of pressure from her superiors to have sex during working hours.

Silvia, a pharmacist, thinks that “the authorities should do something, because at any moment you go out into the street and a man might club you and take you home, like in the Stone Age. When I’m on duty in the early morning at the pharmacy, they harass me on the phone, telling me all kinds of filth or they stop at the door, jacking off. I’ve called the police and they never come, they say they’re busy with more important issues.”

Although the state press has more or less addressed the issue of street masturbation and mistreatment of women, the issue of harassment remains taboo. “We have to organize and create a movement like in the United States and publicly denounce all that we are suffering,” says Adriana, the former basketball player harassed in her youth.

But it so happens that in Cuba, collective denunciations, however spontaneous and apolitical they may be, are always suspicious for a State that oversees and controls society with an iron fist. Creating a movement against sexual harassment, passing more severe laws that curb physical and psychological violence against females of any age and trying to eliminate or reduce public masturbation, is not among the priorities of the olive-green autocracy.

In a macho and predominantly masculine society, where its leaders see sexual harassment as fun, having a lover or girlfriends is a tradition, giving your partner a slap and spreading songs with vulgar and offensive texts towards women is normal, and leaves the Cuban women in a position of absolute helplessness.

As if it weren’t enough to have to endure daily rudeness, discrimination and violence, most of the women on the island come home from work to cook, clean, wash, iron and care for their children, while the husband watches television.

This is one of the ’achievements’ that the revolution has left us.