Honestly, I don’t care that much whether they congratulate me or not on March 8. For me, in fact, International Women’s Day has always been a rather unpleasant day. At least in Havana, the pricks usually use it as an excuse to harass us in the street. They say to you “congratulations, baby” on any street corner, and if you don’t thank them, as if their congratulations were a favor they are doing you, they proceed to offend you.
Then on Cuban television you have to put up with an endless string of cheesy stuff: bouquets of roses, messages with overelaborated typography, cloying songs. All combined with a good dose of revolutionary reaffirmation. Anyone would think that the only purpose of March 8 is to stoke the bonfire of official propaganda.
While in most parts of the world women take to streets to demonstrate, to remember that there are many of us everywhere who want to overthrow the patriarchy, in Cuba nothing happens and, if it does, it is behind closed doors. Not necessarily because Cuban feminist women prefer to meet and talk inside a house, a gallery, a research center or a non-governmental organization, but because we know that, if we take to the streets with a sign to defend our rights, we run the risk of ending up in jail.
I have taken part on several occasions in these indoor political activities, which want to be protests and can’t, because I agree that something is better than nothing, but they always leave me with an aftertaste of defeat. I can’t help but feel that we are hiding, that we are lowering our voices so as not to disturb that abusive macho man that is the State.
It is true that there are many ways to struggle, that it is possible, as well as necessary, to generate transformations through legal resources, educational programs, journalistic and scientific publications, artistic works, community workshops, media campaigns, institutional management or government policies. There is no one form of struggle superior to another; they all play a role and complement each other. However, I believe that public spaces are vital territories for the feminist cause.
If feminism has taught us that the personal is political, it has been precisely because understanding gender violence as a personal problem, which only concerns the victim and her victimizer and is unrelated to politics, is one of the fundamental mechanisms for its reproduction. All efforts to deactivate this mechanism aim to prove that the sexism that affect women’s lives is political.
The fact that women have less time for our professional development, or to entertain or take care of ourselves, because we have more domestic responsibilities than the men with whom we live, is political. That women are afraid to walk alone at night in a city is political. That we women put up with mistreatment from a man we love is political. That we women believe that we must always be sexually available to our boyfriends, husbands or lovers is political.
Exposing our personal universe, both what oppresses us and what we are proud of, in public spaces, is an essential part of politicizing the inequalities imposed by the patriarchal system. It is way to visualize all the daily problems we face, to challenge society, to raise awareness about the prejudices that limit our freedom.
I dream of being able to parade one day along the Malecón with my tits uncovered. Not because I want to show off my boobs, but because I want to naturalize wearing a t-shirt without a bra and be able to go to the grocery store to buy food without being harassed and feeling ashamed. Behind every feminist rebellion, which can sometimes be difficult to understand, there is always a deep history of domination.
The reasons why Cuban feminists do not take to the streets to demonstrate are very similar to the reasons why almost no social actors in Cuba take to the streets to demonstrate, and could be summarized in the lack of guarantees for the exercise of civil rights. In the last two years we have seen inspiring exceptions, such as the demonstrations of May 11, 2019, and November 27, 2020, but they are still exceptions.
Let me be clear, I do not intend to question any feminist. First, because I do not think it is healthy to judge ourselves, second, because the first one who has not gone out to demonstrate in Cuba is me, and third, because I understand that the security of a person —I am not talking about privileges, but security— cannot be subordinated to any cause. Besides, it is undeniable that the different feminist groups are doing a great job, despite the fact that most of them do not have guarantees to legally associate. There is much to be proud of.
However, I think it is important to ask ourselves what is or could be our relationship with public spaces in a country like Cuba. It saddens me enormously that on March 8, which is our most emblematic day, Cuban feminist women cannot take to the streets to demonstrate as millions of women around the world do. Suddenly I feel invisible. March 8 is supposed to be the day when we say to our country, to our rulers, to our women, to our girls: “Here we are”.
For how long are we going to keep commemorating our struggles and demanding our rights behind closed doors? It is true that what is important is not only what we do on March 8 but also the rest of the year, because it is of little use to stop or march today, if tomorrow we do not say no when someone tries to violate our rights. Feminism is not a dress that we put on and take off on special dates to take a picture and upload it to the Internet. But if we do not commemorate March 8, let it be because so we decided and not because to take to the streets to demonstrate might entail that we are accused of being mercenaries and imprisoned.
International Women’s Day should be a day to convene, to rally, to demand, to make visible, but, above all, to unite us. Nothing gives more strength to another woman who fights or resists than to meet another woman who goes through the same thing or who supports her. Public space matters, because looking into each other’s eyes, hugging and walking together matters, because being seen and acknowledge by society matters, because helping each other to paint our bodies with feminist symbols matters, because showing our tits in a march while shouting “it’s going to fall” matters.
We can discuss a thousand times whether it is right or not to be congratulated on March 8, but we need to also discuss what we can do with our March 8, because yes, it is our March 8. Or we need it to start to be.