Revolution within the Revolution: Women and Gender Politics in Cuba, 1952-1962 (Envisioning Cuba)

Revolution within the Revolution: Women and Gender Politics in Cuba, 1952-1962 (Envisioning Cuba)

Language: English

Pages: 310

ISBN: 1469625008

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


A handful of celebrated photographs show armed female Cuban insurgents alongside their companeros in Cuba's remote mountains during the revolutionary struggle. However, the story of women's part in the struggle's success has only now received comprehensive consideration in Michelle Chase's history of women and gender politics in revolutionary Cuba. Restoring to history women's participation in the all-important urban insurrection, and resisting Fidel Castro's triumphant claim that women's emancipation was handed to them as a "revolution within the revolution," Chase's work demonstrates that women's activism and leadership was critical at every stage of the revolutionary process.

Tracing changes in political attitudes alongside evolving gender ideologies in the years leading up to the revolution, Chase describes how insurrectionists mobilized familiar gendered notions, such as masculine honor and maternal sacrifice, in ways that strengthened the coalition against Fulgencio Batista. But, after 1959, the mobilization of women and the societal transformations that brought more women and young people into the political process opened the revolutionary platform to increasingly urgent demands for women's rights. In many cases, Chase shows, the revolutionary government was simply formalizing popular initiatives already in motion on the ground thanks to women with a more radical vision of their rights.

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characterize the revolutionary movement by the late 1950s. It also challenged the association of the physical space of the home with the domestic, the private, and the apolitical. “Passive resistance” described something like a general boycott and other consumer actions, and it also encompassed at least the threat of a general strike, including work stoppages lasting from a few minutes to an hour. This passive resistance could theoretically culminate in the shutting down of the whole city—what

of July member in the Havana underground, explained in an interview, “As we used to say, ‘A weapon is only worth as much as the man who wields it.’ ” That is, only a man’s bravery could compensate for the flagrant disparity in arms. Some men of action correspondingly disdained men they viewed as lacking the “virility” to use arms, characterizing any criticism of the use of political violence as “weakness” or “cowardice.” While the gendered division of insurrectionary labor between men and women

Twenty-Sixth of July Movement also went to great lengths to procure rebel army uniforms, for there was great symbolic importance in burying men in the uniform, even if they had never worn the uniform in combat. In other cases men were buried with the trappings of an alternative revolutionary masculinity. The mother of DR member Joe Westbrook, killed by Havana police in March 1957, noted in a letter that Joe “had a black suit in which his fi ancée would say of him, ‘You look like [José] Martí.’

reveals certain patterns. Women in the urban cells of the TwentySixth of July Movement and the Revolutionary Directorate faced different obstacles, played different roles, and had different experiences than their male counterparts. Sexuality influenced how their participation was viewed and regulated by both their parents and movement leaders. Their socially constructed role as caretakers led them to take on more pronounced public M at er na l ism a n d Mor a l Au t hor i t y | 99

clear that the largest plantations would inevitably be affected and that the countryside might be dominated by the state, not a class of new small farmers. In response, the fi rst orga nized political opposition formed, beginning with cattle ranchers in the eastern province of Camagüey. The agrarian reform also had unexpected results among smaller and medium-sized producers, as some lost their existing outlets to urban vendors, began to fear instability and possibly further nationalizations, or

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