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

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

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

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

Synopsis

A handful of celebrated photographs show armed female Cuban insurgents alongside their compañeros 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.

Excerpt

On January 1, 1959, events in a small Caribbean nation captured international headlines. The ragtag revolutionary forces that had been engaged in a guerrilla war to oust a strongman named Fulgencio Batista had suddenly triumphed. The leader of these rebels was Fidel Castro, a man scarcely over thirty who promised to implement true democracy and social justice. Within four years, this unexpected revolution had embraced socialism and the Soviet Union, confronted and defeated a U.S.-backed invasion, stood at the brink of nuclear war, and seen some 10 percent of its population—including an enormous proportion of its professionals—decamp for exile. The fact that these massive changes took place on an island that was once best known as America’s sugar bowl, and which was fast becoming the vacation playground of the American middle class, was even more astounding.

Still, the revolution was most astonishing not for its radical redistribution of wealth and resources, its abolition of most forms of private property, or its successful confrontation with the empire at its very doorstep. Its deepest ambition went further: to completely reform the individual. Thus the Cuban Revolution promised nothing less than the reinvention of humankind. The revolutionary leadership envisioned the creation of a “new man,” one tirelessly dedicated to the collective rather than driven by individual selfinterest. Less explicitly stated, the revolution also intended to create new women, and here again its ambitions were immense: to transform society to such an extent that women would be liberated from oppression, exclusion, and prejudice. In less than a decade, the revolutionary leaders pronounced these enormous goals accomplished. As Fidel Castro announced triumphantly, women’s emancipation was a “revolution within the revolution.”

This book tells a different, more complicated story about that process. It asks how women themselves participated in the revolution, what impact their participation had, and how gender relations were challenged— or not—by one of the twentieth century’s most radical social experiments. Rather than viewing women as the passive beneficiaries of the revolution, mobilized and liberated by an enlightened leadership, this book argues . . .

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