Why Feminism and Fidel Don't Mix

Article excerpt

Back in the 1970s when I was teaching political science at the University of Massachusetts, there were two ultra-left members in my department, both women. For them, Fidel Castro was the greatest revolutionary humanist after Lenin. They would blather on about Fidel at any opportunity with the kind of worshipful affection which in their adolescence they probably had once dedicated to Frank Sinatra.

As anybody who has ever been in academia knows (and if you haven't been, take my word for it), departmental meetings are more boring than replays of Bob Dole's campaign speeches. And it was at these weekly meetings that the two Fidel groupies would make their pitch for special courses, special seminars and intensive research on the new socialist Cuba so that students would learn about the wonderful achievements of Fidelismo.

There was no point in arguing about Cuba with my two colleagues, who were also dyed-in-the-wool feminists. After all, arguing would merely prolong the departmental meeting and cut into our lunch hour. Finally a day came when I could stand it no longer. One of the two women professors started talking about the marvels of the new socialist Cuba and how the Cuban people had benefitted from the communist revolution, I blurted out: "As feminists, how can you say that? Show me how Cuban women have benefitted from the revolution? Can you, as feminists, point to a single gain specifically by Cuban women? Can you give me the name of a single woman who sits on the Politburo, in the junta, or who holds any important office in Cuba?"

I don't remember their reaction but obviously as feminists and socialists, they couldn't have found any data-laden affirmative answers to my questions. No matter what the party propaganda may intone, socialist dictatorships are a principled enemy of feminism just as they are enemies of any private organization, like labor unions or church groups, which seek autonomy from party rule.

For example, the Soviet Union promulgated codes of family law which proclaimed total equality between men and women. But, as co-authors Heller and Nekrich wrote in "Utopia in Power," "legal equality in all fields . . . and the verbal assurances of free access for women to all jobs and professions, was not backed up by economic and social conditions guaranteeing real equality." Francine du Plessix Gray wrote a devastating report on the tribulations of Soviet women, in the New Yorker, February 19, 1990. Eastern Europe's satellized socialist dictatorships also ignored women's rights.

Somehow while the United States has been subjected to censorious examination by women political scientists and women's organizations, Cuba has escaped this kind of focused attack. It is rare to find in scholarly journals a documented critique about the treatment of one-half of the Cuban population. …