We became engaged in this project in 1983 when the Women's Studies Committee at the University of Southern Maine asked Professor Padula, who had studied Cuba for some years, to give a brief presentation on Cuban women. Soon thereafter Lois Smith became a partner in the project. When our research indicated there was no comprehensive history of women in revolutionary Cuba, we naively decided to write one.
Each of us framed our own central question regarding the project. For social historian Padula the basic question was: How did three decades of socialist revolution change the lives of Cuban women? Social scientist and activist Smith asked: What lessons did the Cuban experience offer regarding the revolutionary model and sexual equality? Overall, we have both approached the question of women and the Cuban revolution as feminists interested in exploring the complex interplay between culture, on the one hand, and economic, political, and social institutions, on the other, in the determination and manifestation of gender roles and values in society. We have tried to view the progress of Cuban women in terms of the ambitious if ambiguous goal of "full sexual equality" set by Fidel Castro, the Communist party, the Federation of Cuban Women, and various leading officials.
The study of Cuban women is a problematic enterprise. Sources are scant. The standard prerevolutionary histories of Cuba hardly mention women beyond a cursory nod to one or two heroines of the wars for independence. Cuban social scientists and historians have resisted writing about the post-1959 period because it is simply too politically sensitive.