Fidel Castro and the M-26-7 successfully seized power of Cuba’s government in 1959, after years of fighting. The M-26-7’s nationalist movement was able to knock the corrupt leader, Fulgencio Batista, out of power, and in 1961 Castro deemed the revolution to be officially of a Marxist nature. Throughout his 40-year stay as president, Castro has not allowed his revolution to stall, but rather he has allowed it to progress and adapt as he has seen fit. In relation with Castro’s revolution in Cuba has been another revolution, that of the Cuban women. Castro himself described the changes in women’s public and private lives as "a revolution within a revolution". In a true system of equality, as in the one Castro holds as his ideal, equality reaches all people across all lines whether they are lines of race, class, or gender.
Throughout Castro’s campaign, starting in 1953 with the failed Moncada attack, Castro has used historic referenciality to appeal to the Cuban population. Castro’s most often mentioned historical figure is no other than the national hero, José Martí. While Martí’s view on women is suspect to debate, his opinion on equality is very clear. Martí once said, "Respect for the freedom and ideas of others, of even the most wretched being, is my fanaticism. When I die, or if I am killed, it will be because of that." The crux of this prophetic quote was borrowed by Castro on a broader level when he attained power and based his entire social structure on equality.
Women in pre-revolutionary Cuba
Gender differences were enormous in Cuba before the Cuban revolution. The prototypical woman of the old republic according to a leading journalist of the revolution, Mirta Rodríguez Calderón, was Yina the prostitute. A poor woman from the country, Yina was forced to sell her body and was not respected by the community. The other extreme of women in pre-revolutionary Cuba were the ladies of the country club. These extravagant women were revered by their generation, and according to the Cuban foreign minister in 1958, Andrés Vargas Gómez, "She was a sacred creature and it was her right to have precedence in all things." While the number of professional women in Cuba grew throughout the first half of the twentieth century (lawyers, doctors, businesswomen, journalists, teachers, and musicians), the huge discrepancy between them and the average Cuban woman was not shrinking. The view of women as pura o putas existed, and equality was a long way away. According to Lois M. Smith and Alfred Padula, the long-term deficit of women in times of slavery played a significant role in the construction of sexual relations in Cuba (p 9). During slavery in Cuba, there were very few slave women, and white women only represented ten percent of the Cuban population.
Beginning in the 1920’s, relations improved somewhat for women in Cuba. With the political arrival of Ramón Grau San Martín, women’s rights furthered, and women’s suffrage was achieved in 1934. Grau...