AT THE OUTSET of the Cuban revolution, machismo was deeply ingrained in the fabric of Cuban society. Gender roles were clearly identified and sharply differentiated. Men were expected to be strong, dominant, and sexually compulsive. Women were expected to be vulnerable and chaste. Because of this, many women were forced to lead domesticated lives within patriarchal family structures, finding fulfillment as wives, and mothers and at best living in the reflected glory of their menfolk's social status.
The family was typically the most important institution in prerevolutionary Cuba. It was an extraordinarily strong one 1 with an influence reinforced by the weakness--indeed absence, in the case of most of rural Cuba--of other institutions, such as churches and schools, and of indigenous communal organizations that could play a major role in the inculcation of cultural values. The economic precariousness of many Cubans, in a society where more than a quarter of the population was frequently out of work and where there was no social security, ensured that the family would become the indispensable safety net for most