Major: Political Science and Spanish
CIEE: Cuban Studies-University of Havana, Fall 2018.
The United States has faced issues with gender equality since the beginning of its existence, and at this very moment we are facing some fairly difficult challenges with women being viewed equally in our society. However, there are also a lot of areas in which we have made progress. Women are free to work outside the house and pursue the careers that they please, and are able to have lives independent of men. In Cuba, this is also true. But culturally, the U.S. and Cuba are very different regarding treatment of women.
Women here have many of the same rights that women have in the U.S. They are free to pursue a good education (in fact, a lot of my classes have more women than men), have a career, and equal access to most things. However, the culture here is still very machista.
So, what exactly does this mean? Well, to put it simply, men still possess a lot of superiority over women. This is also true in the U.S. in some respects, as men are more often in positions of power, but here it often transcends pretty dramatically into the home and the streets.
As a woman, I get an insane amount of catcalls. Here, they are called “piropos”. I did an experiment the other day when I walked 6 miles to Habana Vieja, and I received about one piropo every 30 seconds. I have not once walked anywhere and not received one. Some of them are less aggressive, and simply yell “oye” (sort of translates to “hey” or “listen”), and tell me “que linda” (“how beautiful”). But some of them are much more aggressive, and grotesque. Additionally, many of them will say it English when I don’t respond, or just yell it louder. Rarely, but still, they will try to grab me. I have even been followed for periods of time. Now, it’s usually not as bad if I am in a group, especially if there are men in the group. This again shows the inequality, as men often claim “ownership” over women, and won’t bother you if they see you as another man’s “property.” If I am alone, I wear sunglasses and keep my headphones in, and they usually aren’t as bad since they know I am not listening or making eye contact (and I never walk alone at night).
All this being said, I do feel very safe here. Even though the catcalling is very annoying and unwanted, I have never felt that someone was going to hurt me. There are police everywhere, and Cuba is an extremely safe place. I feel safer here than I do most places in the U.S., even with the catcalling.
Other less aggressive forms of machismo behavior are things you may consider “chivalrous” behavior. Holding open doors, holding your hand when getting out of cars, walking you home, etc. But the issue I have with a lot of these things is how insistent the men are about it. They make it very difficult to say no. So, when this behavior begins to make women uncomfortable, makes them feel objectified, or lesser than a man in any respect…I do not see that as positive behavior. Personally, it makes me feel like they think I am less capable, need to be protected, or cannot possibly take care of myself.
I also do not want to claim that this does not exist in the U.S., because it does. I still get catcalls in the U.S., and there are still many men that will never view me as equal to them. Here, it just is a lot more frequent in my day-to-day life, and is a part of the culture that I have had to get used to.
And let me be clear – I do not speak for all women. I have spoken to some women here who don’t feel the same way that I do. They view the catcalling as more of a compliment, and would actually be offended if a man didn’t hold the door for them, hold their hand as they get out of a car, etc. But for me, it’s something that makes me uncomfortable, and has taken a lot of getting used to. Some days are harder than others, and at times it is very mentally draining.
This topic also transcends to the topic of gay marriage/parental rights here. The Cuban constitution is currently being revised, and is possibly going to include the right for gay couples to be married. A lot of people are in support of this here, but there is also a large group that is opposed. However, people are more opposed to gay couples having children than them being able to get married. But when I was talking to my Cuban friends about this, they told me that it is much more likely that a couple consisting of two men would be harassed and shamed for being gay, than a couple consisting of two women. Additionally, if a lesbian couple were to have a child, this child would be much less likely to be harassed as well. While this may seem like a good thing as a woman, to me it just shows how unequally women are viewed.
All in all, I still love Cuba. There are still so many strong and fiercely independent women here. I’m just trying to temporarily adapt to this new normal, and am curious to see if the machismo culture here will continue to evolve in the upcoming years.