[Marxism] "Free and Equal?" (Prologue to the Cuban edition)

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Fri Jul 7 19:20:35 MDT 2006


(Feminism hasn't been a part of the political vocabulary of the 
Cuban Revolution until relatively recently. Now it's entirely
normal for feminist literature and discourse to be part of the
discussion of women's issues here. In the current issue of the
young women's magazine MUCHACHA there's an article taking up the
sadly familiar concept, "I'm for women't equality, but I'm not 
a feminist." I hope to get a translation out to readers soon.
Here, a Chilean feminist now living in Spain writes to introduce
her ideas in a four hundred page anthology of her writings for a
Cuban edition. I found this book in the small mining town of Moa,
though I've seen it elsewhere. There's no such thing here as an
autonomous women's movement, just like there's no LGBT movement,
yet these ideas are very much part of current discussions here.)
=================================================================

Presentation to the Cuban Edition of the book
FREE & EQUAL?
by Judith Astelarra
Barcelona, May 2005

A CubaNews translation, edited by Walter Lippmann.

I was very happy at the proposal made by friends, with whom I have
collaborated in recent years, of publishing this book in Cuba. 
The first edition was made in Chile and, as I explain in the
introduction, the articles show the exchange between Latin American
feminism and the feminist movement in Spain to which I belonged for
many years. The book compiles articles pretending to show the
intellectual work of the feminist movement and also the context
originating it, that is, the feminist movement in the last decades of
last century. Feminism expressed itself in many dimensions:
commitment to a cause: that of women rights; the expression of warm
and affectionate interpersonal relations, because we always wanted
the subjective to have its space; the search for a personal identity:
that of being women not answering to fixed femininity stereotypes; an
attempt to contribute to a kind of social change where we would not
be subordinated; the search for new ways of relating to the men that
accompanied us individually and collectively.

The Latin American feminist movement, of difficult birth, was small
at first but grew rapidly because of the many women it convened. 
Its growth was not only in numbers. The themes it embraced also
multiplied and its areas of influence comprised from politics to
science, with new proposals for intellectual analysis and political
action. This growth produced, of course, the inevitable differences
according to the diverse social realities in the Latin American
countries and the ideological trends of feminism. These in time
became "different feminisms".

For a long time our Cuban friends did not take part in Latin American
feminism. I remember that during the 80's at meetings such as the
United Nations Women Decade I was one of the Latin American feminists
holding controversy with Cuban delegations.

In 1983 I went to Cuba for the fist time, in an official visit of the
Instituto de la Mujer de España [Spanish Women Association] as a
member of its Editorial Board. I only returned to Havana many years
later by the end of the 90's to take part in a sociology masters
degree collaboration project of my university, the Universidad
Autónoma de Barcelona, and the Sociology Department of the
Universidad de la Habana. The curriculum was similar to our program
in Barcelona and it included a subject on gender, so I was chosen to
teach the course. During preparation, as I remembered previous
debates, I had reservations on what topics and bibliography I should
include, but in the end I decided I would do the same as in my other
courses. I was really surprised when I started teaching, because the
reception from both students and faculty was very open. The
interaction with students was lively and dynamic. They showed great
interest on the concepts and ideas of gender theory.

In further trips I met female and male researchers who specialized on
the field and who approached their work from a feminist perspective.
I also learned about the educational and promotional tasks carried
out from FMC [Federacion de Mujeres Cubanas - Cuban Women
Association] centers. I received many invitations to take part in
conferences and meetings and, as much as my short trips allowed, 
I could share my experience with a great number of people. In this 
way I have made bonds of collaboration and friendship, full of an
affection and warmth that make me feel very comfortable every time 
I visit. I feel part of the special relationship between Cuba and
Spain. My extensive interaction with Latin America stems from my
double nationality: I was born in Argentina and spent my youth in
Chile, but I have spent most of my life in Barcelona, my adopted
city, the city I feel is my own. There is no doubt there are links
between the Latin American countries and Spain; I have experienced
them. But many times I have felt a much stronger closeness between
the people in Cuba and Spain than between the people in other Latin
American countries.

Today feminist ideas and proposals are present in Cuban academic and
political debates. In political terms the objective is to include in
the classic women-men equality agenda the new demands linked to
sexual and reproductive rights, the solution of the gender
public/private dichotomy and the total revision of gender hierarchy
and its social invisibility. In Academia the studies of women status
and gender relations are present in higher education teaching and
research centres. This means a revision of androcentric approaches to
science and new conceptualization and reformulation of theories which
ignored a gender specific social reality. As in other places, these
new ideas provoked debate and even rejection. It is about this debate
that I would like to put forward certain opinions. They are nothing
but opinions.

In the last decades, there has been a lot of historical research on
feminist movements and their challenges. What is striking is the
harshness of the rejection in Latin America from wide sectors,
particularly from men, but also from women. Studies of Cuban female
suffrage show the same. This phenomenon has been repeated in
contemporary feminism and has found similar problems. But the most
interesting thing is that the debate does not focus on feminist ideas
- which would be legitimate as it is legitimate to agree or disagree.
Instead, disqualification is used, by all means at hand, including
big distortions of feminist proposals, mockery and scorn. If one
could expect this from very conservative sectors, it was shocking to
see it coming from groups that consider themselves leftist or
progressive. Because it is imposible to have a true commitment to
equality and act this way.

Indeed, feminist ideas must be debated and approached from other
perspectives. This is valid for any ideological proposal and more so
for feminism because it comprises not only the political environment,
but also the cultural environment, personal relations, sexuality, the
organization of economy, and a long list of etceteras. In fact, there
are often important discrepancies among feminists, because the
movement is pluralistic. But, when instead of a debate the answer is
a rejection as described before, then one should wonder: Would those
people have intellectual solidity to support their attitude?

A different type of argument takes place when the ideas are
questioned because they originated in other societies. I was often
told that many of my views were European and therefore useless for
Latin America. I have heard the same argument every now and then in
Cuba. Sometimes these criticisms were addressed to some of my
articles describing Spanish or European processes, and therefore they
[the criticisms] were rendered incoherent because there is no way a
European process can be approached if it is not from a European
perspective. However, when such criticisms came from a Marxist left I
was amused and always replied, "Is it perhaps that Marx was born in
an indigenous community and nobody has found out? Is it maybe that
instead of writing his works in an England in the midst of a
capitalist revolution, he was mailing his writings from a place in
the Andes? Because for these people the European perspective of Marx
had never invalidated his intellectual thinking or his ideological
proposals.

It is certain that the territorial, social and historical context has
great impact on the emergence of ideas and determines their
implementation. But the context does not invalidate ideas. Ideas must
be examined in a context to determine their relevance for a given
environment. What counts is the intellectual honesty to declare
perspective. I am a great enthusiast of debates of ideas that spread
out of restrictive boundaries. I share with young people the taste
for Internet navigation and the discovery of different, interesting
and amazing things. I don't think this is incompatible with a sense
of belonging and having roots in a given place. Those who don't like
moving may remain in their territory, but can be acquainted with
other realities. Those who are travellers by nature can complement
their travels with more knowledge.

Finally this book stemmed from the dialogue on feminism with the
younger generation. The Chilean editor -whose words follow - was a
student in our doctorate program. Her opinion was decisive in the
selection of the articles. She also pushed me to tell my experiences
when she thought they were interesting.

For these young people many of the feminist demands are already
everyday realities they can enjoy. That is why in the countries where
the feminism of the 70's and 80's was best implemented people talk
about "post feminism". Feminism is not questioned, but it is believed
that its goals were achieved and there is no need to mobilize.
However, inequalities have not disappeared and in many cases they
just have different manifestations. But I believe that the
generations of women who follow our generation must inherit our
legacy without mortgages on what to do. In this sense I hope this
book can provide them with a little sample of the work we did these
twenty years. I would also like it to be of use to young women and
men who face today a different reality. A reality only they can
judge.

Judith Astelarra 
Barcelona, May 2005





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