Machismo, Feminism & LGBT Rights in Cuba

Originally Posted on SGP

            Today, the issue of patriarchy remains as a cultural phenomenon in Cuba. The problem with patriarchal culture is that qualities such as “sensitivity, sentimentalism, humanism, pacifism, and the willingness to negotiate” are more likely to be rejected (Padula 230). On the contrary, machismo qualities such as hardness, never yielding, virility and so forth are encouraged among the population. For example, sociologist Nelson Valdes recalled that Cuban boys played a game in which a ball is thrown as hard as possible at another player (Interview with Valdes, Havana, June 1994; Padula 230). The ability to inflict pain and to resist showing pain has become entrenched within Cuban nationalism.

            Regarding feminism in Cuba, it seems that the women’s movement in Cuba has more to do with the needs of workers than with feminist ideas. Reynaldo Gonzalez claims that “In Cuba feminism is a sort of education of the female masses for work, but we have not had the theorizing that comes with this kind of work…The woman’s revolution in Cuba didn’t have any theorizing…” (13; qtd. in Padula 232). It was not until 1991 that the first public feminist critique of patriarchy was published: “Declaration of Principle” by poet Maria Elena Cruz Varela. From this, we can ascertain that the development and universalization of feminism in Cuba remains backward compared to other parts of the world.

            Needleless to say, the main reason that caused the stagnation of feminist ideology is the patriarchal gender culture that has long been embedded in Cuba. Citing Cuban poet Severo Sandy’s view, Ileana Fuentes states that Cuba’s patriarchal gender culture “comes not only from Spain or Torquemada—repressive and fascinated by humiliation and death—but also from fanatical Islam and from black African cultures rigidly structured in a hierarchy of chiefs and subchiefs, of little kings and big operators…” (19; Padula 230). Thus, the problem of gender inequality in Cuba remains a complex issue to solve due to its deep connection with Euro-American masculine impacts, religious influence, the African hierarchal system and so forth.

            One of the results of Cuban’s patriarchal culture is the expansion of homophobic culture. This intolerance of homosexuals was significant in the Cuban Revolution. Supposedly, this intolerance derived from Cuban President Gustavo Machado (1925-1933) who referred to the masculine organ as the key to governing. Decades later, Fidel Castro (El Caballo) continued this tradition as we can find that Castro’s revolution represented the victory of machismo. In a 1965 interview, Castro made clear that he would never consider “a homosexual” as “a true Revolutionary” or “a true Communist militant” (Lockwood 124). This exaggerated homophobic behavior resulted in the infamous system of the UMAP work camps in the 1960s, where gays were imprisoned and forced by using “scientific” methods to conform to accepted Hispanic heterosexual behavioral norms: “Verbal and physical mistreatment, shaved heads, work from dawn to dusk, hammocks, dirt floors, scarce food…” (Montaner 1981: 144; qtd. in Hirschfeld 216).

            Opposed to this, Alberto Orlandini in El amor, el sexo y los celos states that homophobia is completely “unscientific” as it comes from an education in which children are told that homosexuals are “despicable, perverse, ridiculous, and marginal citizens” (135). Furthermore, Alberto sees machismo as the “sexual ideology that concentrates all power and ability in men” (156). The macho model is, as Alberto argues, “vigorous, hard, aggressive, autonomous, rational, practical, mature, and polygamous” (156). On the contrary, women are regarded as “passive, tender, incapable of resolving problems, dependent, emotional, romantic, childlike and monogamous, and not really interested in sex” (Alberto 156).

            Interestingly, Marvin Lerner finds that Fidel Castro’s patriarchal revolution was paradoxically attempting to improve women’s condition, as the revolution focused on “the universalization of health care and education, social equality, the social mobility provided to ordinary people” (qtd. in Padula 231). However, the cult of machismo was so strong that it repressed any other kind of trend such as feminism. It was not until 2010 that Castro expressed a change of heart toward his discrimination against and the persecution of homosexuals in an interview with Mexican Newspaper La Jornada,

“If anyone is responsible, it’s me…We had so many and such terrible problems, problems of life or death. In those moments, I was not able to deal with that matter [of homosexuals]. I found myself immersed, principally, in the Crisis of October, in the war, in policy questions.” (The Globe and Mail 2010)

Perhaps Castro’s taking responsibility for his injustice will stimulate human rights activism and the feminist movement in Cuba, which would make the country a better place where everyone holds an equal right in society.


“Fidel Castro takes blame for 1960s gay persecution.” The Globe and Mail. 31 August 2010. Web. 15 March 2017.

Hirschfeld, Katherine. Health, politics, and revolution in Cuba since 1898. New Brunswick and London: Transaction Publishers, 2006. Print.

Lockwood, Lee (1967). Castro’s Cuba, Cuba’s Fidel, Revised Edition. USA: Westview Press, 1990. Print.

Orlandini, Alberto. EL AMOR, EL SEXO Y LOS CELOS. Santiago de Cuba: Oriente, 1993. Print.

Padula, Alfred. “Gender, Sexuality, and Revolution in Cuba.” Latin American Research Review, 31.2 (1996): 226-235.



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