Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews.
Cuban society is built on a profound patriarchal culture. This implies that, in direct correlation with the sex that accompanies us when we come into this world, there are predetermined roles, long before we even have true gender awareness.
According to these patterns, women are in charge of the home, of the children, they are the caregivers par excellence, the weakest and most sensitive; men, [by contrast, are] the providers, with total freedom to decide about their lives, [and are] strong and tough.
It is a kind of manual of what it means to be a man or a woman, of what is the “right way to be one”, accentuated by centuries of inequalities, and which, sadly, also moves discriminatory attitudes towards those who break the mold.
While it is true that this reality puts women at a disadvantage, even vulnerable to their male counterparts, it is also true that it tacitly pigeonholes men.
“Don’t kiss, don’t hug, don’t cry, don’t smile too much, leave your sister’s doll. You don’t have to do anything around the house, being unfaithful is not bad, when she bothers you a lot, just slap her”… These phrases are often part of their training, and although they are not always seen from that perspective, they also suffer pressures if they choose to be different.
Today we know that there are many ways of being a man, that this model can be broken, that there is a diversity of masculinities.
Our society needs men who are increasingly involved in raising their children, in household responsibilities, less violent, and, why not, more sensitive? Many important steps have been taken in this direction, but the new Families Code, which will be submitted to a referendum in September, proposes an innovative and profound approach.
EQUALITY IN THE FAMILY ENVIRONMENT: A NECESSARY STEP
From the very recognition of the rights of family members, there is a very clear direction: sharing responsibilities between women and men, putting them on an equal footing to move in the environment of family dynamics.
This is what the Code states: “Full equality between women and men, to the equal distribution of time allocated to domestic and care work among all members of the family, without overburdening any of them (…)”.
This is an important starting point for deconstructing the myth that collaborating with household chores or contributing to the care of the most vulnerable detracts from manhood. On the contrary, assuming an open perspective in relation to this issue will also allow them to be more functional, more independent and, at the same time, more considerate, more human.
However, this is not a perspective that should be understood only by men, but also by their mothers, wives, daughters, by society in general, so that there can be a real, visible change. It is also essential that this change is manifested from an early age, when learning is fixed for life and, generally, the differentiation of roles in relation to gender is produced.
THE RIGHT TO FORM A FAMILY
One of the essential aspects of the text of the new Code is precisely the recognition of the diversity of family structures that exist within Cuban society, in addition to the traditional one.
This is an element that has a direct impact on Cuban men, whether as fathers, husbands, grandfathers, uncles or sons, they play a determining role in the family environment.
Although it is not the most common case, it is valid to recognize that in today’s Cuba there are men who have taken on the raising of one or more children alone, who have become the caregivers of a close relative and this is their only family, or who have formed a homosexual couple.
Whether by choice or by circumstances of life, the truth is that they are also part of families that do not necessarily follow traditional patterns, but are nonetheless based on love and respect.
FATHER FROM THE BEGINNING
If we allude to the name of the UNICEF campaign that calls for fathers to be involved, in the same way as mothers, in the decision to have a baby, in its upbringing, in its education, with all the responsibility and emotional burden that this entails, it is precisely because much of this can be found in the Code.
“The protection of maternity and paternity and the promotion of their responsible development” is another of the rights promulgated in the text, which also clearly defines parental responsibility, which includes the set of powers, duties and rights that correspond to mothers and fathers for the fulfillment of their role.
However, the Code goes far beyond equating the role of the biological mother and father in the upbringing of their children; for, by identifying affection also as a vital element for the formation of parental bonds, it recognizes like-minded mothers and fathers.
There are many Cuban men who, upon joining a woman with children, make a loving adoption with them, even if it is not legal, and assume the responsibilities of fatherhood. There are even cases of those who start a relationship with a pregnant woman, and even knowing that the baby does not carry their blood, they give it their surnames.
The Code also establishes elements that favor the relationship of fathers with their children, even after the termination of the relationship with the mother. Establishing the so-called family communication regime, as well as the parental responsibility pacts related to shared custody and care -and in the case of unilateral custody, guaranteeing a harmonious relationship with the non-guardian, provide countless possibilities so that the bonds of love and closeness are not lost, nor can they be hindered.
UNLEARNING VIOLENCE FOR THE GOOD OF THE FAMILY
Unfortunately, within families, there are still manifestations of violence that hurt not only the direct victims but also family harmony in general, because, as the text points out, they are expressed on the basis of hierarchical inequality.
While it is true that it is not only men who are the perpetrators, it is also true that they are responsible for many of its expressions. The worst thing is that, since it is not only physical abuse, but also verbal, psychological, economic, sexual, moral, and other forms of abuse, it is not always recognized in time and, therefore, there is a lack of tools to deal with it.
However, it is also true that violence is often naturalized and certain behaviors are seen as “normal”. It is therefore imperative to promote among children, adolescents and men themselves, behaviors that appeal to dialogue, to respect that is earned and not imposed, to affection that is clearly more effective than hitting and shouting to educate, to the understanding that the most vulnerable are not inferior, nor are they to blame for their situation.
Violence is learned, and violent family spaces are ideal spaces to form violent people. Being a man does not imply, in any case, an iron fist so that fear wins over respect.
The issue of masculinities is sheltered in the Family Code from its diversity, and corroborates the idea that men and women can continue to build, also from the home, a path of equity and love for a common goal, the good of each and every Cuban family.