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Isbel Diaz Torres: Pinar del Rio and Havana are my cities. I was born in one on March 1, 1976, and I’ve always lived in the other. I am a biologist and poet, though at times I’ve also been a musician, translator, teacher, computer geek, designer, photographer and editor. I’m very non-conformist and a defender of differences – perhaps due to always having been an ever-repressed “model child.” Nothing enthralls me more than the unknown, nature and art; these serve as my sources of mystery and development. A surprising activism has been born in me over the recent period. Though I’m not very sure how to channel it, I feel that it’s a worthy and legitimate energy. Let’s hope I have the discernment to manage it.

Rights in Cuba are Already Male Rights

April 23, 2014 | Print Print |

Isbel Diaz Torres

Violencia-Lizette-HAVANA TIMES – Fellow Havana Times blogger and friend Yenisel Rodriguez has just published a provocative piece criticizing the ways in which feminism, gender studies and research on masculinity issues have been developing in Cuba and the world. I would like to share my points of agreement and disagreement with his thesis here.

Before all else, I would like to say that I consider myself a feminist, having come to regard the female subject as a victim of long-standing and profound forms of discrimination (many of which persist to this day). Some forms of discrimination – thanks to the feminist struggle, which is not the exclusive domain of women – have been eradicated. I am thinking of the right to vote, to mention one (rather hackneyed) example.

As I, as a homosexual, also suffer forms of discrimination, I understand that the only coherent stance possible is to assume all discrimination against other people as an offense against me as well.

This does not mean that gender studies haven’t failed to establish themselves as a “universal” discourse, as Yenisel points out, or that they have managed to go beyond polarizing stances (skewed towards the feminine), or that it isn’t true they often stray from the search for a society where equality prevails.

I also think it’s true that the complexity of the relations between the feminine and masculine hasn’t been sufficiently explored by gender studies. Nor have the different postures through which individuals construct their sexualities, gender identities or roles – postures which are always colored by a socio-political situation – been sufficiently legitimated.

Efforts to reaffirm alternative masculinities should not involve the stigmatization of standard masculinity, for such an identity exists and, ultimately, is expressed by individuals with the same rights as everyone else. It should, however, point out the ways in which this masculinity reinforces the asymmetries that have existed between the genders historically, with a view to undermining these and constructing a system of gender relations that is increasingly liberating for individuals.

From this perspective, the feminist struggle strikes us (and actually is, from time to time) a struggle “against men” (I am referring to the standard posture). I know this is not the theoretical basis of feminism and that not all feminists assume such stances. But what Yenisel is pointing out is the effect that several decades of this struggle have had and ignoring it is, at best, missing an opportunity to refocus our efforts in this field.

The problem I see in Yenisel’s post – which correctly points out a number of the deficiencies that characterize gender studies – is that he reproduces the very polarization and self-aggrandizing he criticizes, particularly when he makes international demands in defense of male identity his own.

For instance, he proposes the use of the same kind of campaigns he criticized paragraphs above and would have Cuba establish an “obligatory medical or social service for women”, so as to make women “fully equal to men,” when the truly libertarian thing to do would be to eliminate such obligatory processes altogether.

Ultimately, if it’s equality we’re interested in, the fair thing to do would be to propose the establishment of compulsory military service for women (god forbid it!). The fact Yenisel didn’t even suggest this reveals that he reproduces the patronizing attitude so typical of the patriarchy we know and which is so difficult to eradicate in ourselves.

I should add the other demands strike me as fair and relevant. I can’t help smile when I read the demand calling for the “sexual serenity of men.” As for me, I assert my right to be seduced and provoked by any man or woman who wishes to do so, and, the more the charming they are…the better!

Though I say this somewhat tongue-in-cheek, I am well aware that many men who have violently raped women wield the argument that they were “provoked” and “seduced” by their beauty, the color of their lips, the shortness of their skirts, their naked feet, a look they gave them, etc.

While it is hypocritical to pretend not to be seducing someone when one is in fact doing this, this will never be a justification for forcing anyone to engage in sexual intercourse against their will.

I also believe it would be good for Yenisel to be more specific in some of his criticisms. What does he mean by a feminist activism “characterized by unanimity and voluntarism” exactly? Which Cuban pro-feminist organizations, other than the National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX), is he referring to in his comments?

In order to help us understand his stance fully, it would be good if he were to give us examples of some of those “dozens of spots and television programs that tolerate and encourage female violence against men and which ridicule male characters and engage in many other discriminatory practices.”

On principle, I would take the side of any individual who suffers discrimination, but such discrimination and violence must first be made public.

Lastly, in my opinion, the justified demand for the protection of male rights in Cuba should not entail a condemnation of feminism, but a critique of the ways in which certain feminist currents have followed misguided policies and demonized “men”, blind to the diversity of individuals that are behind such labels.

Not all women, homosexuals, black or poor people is an example of virtue merely because they are not on the empowered side of the social balance. A white, rich woman can discriminate against a poor black man, true, but one can find the most diverse combinations, and labels will never be able to exhaust all possibilities.

Now, we shouldn’t forget that rights, those that are established by legislations as much as those that emerge from social practices, stem from a power structure that is by rule white, male, heterosexual, intellectual and rich. That is my point of departure. Not all of us are at the starting line when the gun is fired.


What's your opinion?

  • John Goodrich

    Thanks for that lengthy and worthy response to some totally atavistic and macho nonsense . .

  • ac

    Well, is a matter of fairness, or in this case, the lack of. The social service in Cuba only applies to professionals and theoretically is three years for everyone. In practice it doesn’t work that way because men have mandatory military service (1 year for professionals, 2 years for everyone else) and it counts against the social service time.

    Since most men serve in the army at least a year before getting into the university, their social service is typically 2 years and 3 for the women, but this is “discriminatory” towards women, so in practice both men and women serve 2 years of social service (except those who get into the university by means of the so called order 18 that already served more then 3 years and don’t have social service at all).

    The bottom line is:
    -Non professional men have 2 year mandatory military service, no social service
    -Professional men have 1 year mandatory military service, 2 years of social service

    vs

    -Professional women have 2 year social service.

    Notice that in the case of Cuba, the so called “social service” means simply working in a designated place at minimum professional wage as a form of “apprenticeship”. The ONLY practical difference between someone in the social service vs everyone else is that the person in question cannot change jobs without the approval of the administration and has reduced wages,

    So, there is a blatant imbalance of the rights and duties in this issue between genders and no matter how you spin it, is not fair.

    Also, getting rid of the social service is not necessarily a good idea (but it could be in the case of Cuba); over here we have a huge problem with young people finding employment. Basically, virtually no one wants a greenhorn wet under the ears and without any experience whatsoever so they are forced to either work in so called “unpaid internships” or find a job well below their skill level.

    Compared to that, the “social service” thing is pretty good; just remove the clause requiring administration approval to change jobs and you have a pretty decent junior training program. Yes, reduced wages suck, but at least they are working and gaining experience in the same field they studied and reduced wages beats no wages at all.

  • Elizabeth Faraone

    “The pioneers of a warless world are the young men and women who refuse military service.” – Albert Einstein

    • ac

      Not when your choices are between said service (annoying and useless as it is) or a prison cell. Choosing prison is stupid and irrational, particularly in the case of Cuba where “military service” translates to “minimum training for reserve purposes” and is unlikely that they are going to be at war anytime soon.

      Also, a warless world is so far in the horizon that the option that comes in top of the heap requires some minor sacrifices, like human extinction. Ironic that you chose to quote precisely the person that made that particular scenario the most likely (not to mention that the quote itself was born precisely out of that fear)

    • John Goodrich

      There ARE wars that need fighting.
      Were the Cubans to have refused to defend their country at Playa Giron, they would have lost their revolution.
      Your Einstein quote would be far more apropos for the military personnel of the imperial U.S. than the defenders of the Cuban revolution.
      The Cubans have defended the Angolans and the Ethiopians with their military and those were WORTHY causes against racist and imperial forces
      The U.S. military far from doing good in the world , is enforcing the totalitarian capitalist model on the poor world where it does not work for the benefit of those countries.

  • George Munyan

    Perhaps the war needed is the liberation of Cuba.