Talking about masculinity: In the name of the son (and of the daughter)

Paternal irresponsibility is no an isolated problem, nor does it solely involve masculinity and the harmful consequences of the prevailing patriarchal culture.

Jorge Luis Baños-IPS/

In legal discourse, paternity was reduced to inheritance.

“In our country, the family is evolving, but it continues to be the ‘primary recourse and last refuge’ for most of its members.”1

The confession

When I typed the last period (it should have been an ellipsis) of my book, En el nombre del hijo (In the name of the father2) , in 2007, I was sure of what I would call the urgent need to speak out in Cuban society about paternal (ir)responsibility; however, I was far from imagining what was to come.

The booklet of just 159 pages that would later be exquisitely bound — by the Félix Varela Centre’s publishing house, Publicaciones Acuario — had competed with other valuable originals to win an honourable mention from the Elena Gil Iberian-American Prize (won by El átomo en las manos del diablo, by Carlos Pazos). Above all, it was the spark for quite a bit of commotion.

Every book makes its own way, no matter how hard its writer tries to throw it into in the ring, with more or less possibilities of being published. I — who later would have in my hands as editor the prize-winning original and learned of its indisputable merits — received an avalanche of surprises stemming from recognition for and the publication of this “minor” text.

Impelled by the need to address the subject of paternal (ir)responsibility in the only way possible, as the communicator that I am, I chose the path that I considered most effective, being a non-specialist, to transmit that message. I used life stories, including my own, and analyses of groups of laws such as Cuba’s Family Code (1975) and its (1976) Constitution.

The key to this booklet becoming a small phenomenon did not lie in the author’s skill or the book’s literary values. The crux of the matter was the subject, and its pertinence.

It was as if a silent, anonymous multitude had been waiting for somebody to say the first word. And this is a fact that goes beyond the writer; it is out of her hands and is dominated by external and perhaps ungovernable forces.

When I set out to write about paternal (ir)responsibility, I knew that I was calling for a debate that had been silenced — or, to be more exact, postponed — for too long, and that it was an effort worth undertaking. Subsequently, there were the wonderful presentations, the first of them at Havana’s Convention Centre, among people who are involved in the social sciences. I was speaking to experts “based on sentiment and common sense,” with the invaluable help of my profession as a journalist.

The most revealing thing happened when prestigious Cuban figures from the fields of psychology (social and clinical) and sociology used my little contribution as a launching pad. And as if that weren’t enough, I received messages of gratitude and support from strangers of different ages, genders, and occupations, as if I were not just an author but the person in Cuba called upon to undertake a crusade for a responsible acceptance of paternity by many men — perhaps too many men.

To round it all off, experts and “ordinary people” from a number of Latin American countries informed me that in their contexts, with some differences, the situation was the same. “We have a parenting problem,” said one masculinity scholar from Mexico City, whom I did not and do not know personally. “I, as a psychologist who works with children and teachers at a school in Talca, can tell you that the problems are more or less the same here and there: loads of women heads of household and absent men,” a Chilean told me.

What are we talking about? What should we continue talking about?

It is a known fact, proven in life and with statistics, that in the world in general, and in Cuba as part of the world, most men are not conscientious about their role as a father, as one of the direct and terrible consequences of the predominant patriarchal society and the dictates of a “should-be” rooted in their supposed gender superiority and its inseparable companion, inequality.

Mother is mother…and father?

Throughout human development, the biological and patriarchal perspective has never questioned the idea that “mother is mother”; the concept of paternity, in contrast, has changed over time in different civilisations and historic periods.

Unlike women, men have never been defined by their paternity or ability to be a father, but by their work and status as producer and citizen. The father figure was uncertain, with paternity being less evident than maternity. Nevertheless, children historically have belonged to the presumed father.

The transmission of genes was never enough to identify a father. In legal discourse, paternity was reduced to inheritance. Today, the concept includes a function of authority, care, protection, and naming (the father’s name or surname is passed on); an economic function that includes the ceding of property; and a social, cultural, and educational function of handing over wisdom, teaching moral values, and providing emotional support.

Throughout the historic ages, western and eastern societies have been patriarchal. Paternity always depended on the will of the father, on the consent (or not) of the male, until the appearance of paternity tests using DNA studies. Even so, in many cases it continues to depend on the father’s will, such as in the case of sperm donation, where the recognised father is the partner of the inseminated woman, not the donor.

If we look back, we would have to thank the French Revolution, which was also a step forward with regard to the role of fathers, even though a long road still remained. With class differences theoretically abolished and equality proclaimed, things began to appear like paediatrics, the first feminist movements, and a certain notion of maternal and paternal sentiment or love, while the physical punishment of children diminished as it was replaced by other types of violence, such as being locked up in dark places or forbidding food.

After the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens, the father went on to be (should have been) a figure subject to the law and to respect the rights acquired. Marriage was no longer an indissoluble pact, guaranteed by a divine presence, and became a mutually agreed-upon contract between a man and a woman. The idea came up for the first time that their offspring had the right to a family, whether or not they were born in wedlock.

Nevertheless, in the empowered patriarchal society, changes have been taking place. In the 20th century, beginning in the 1960s, the so-called sexual revolution led to laws that were still insufficient, but more equitable. The model of “natural” filiation appeared, identifying the father, for the first time, with the progenitor. The “natural” children out of wedlock began to have the same rights as “legitimate” children. The procreating couple became a parental couple. A new reproductive paradigm had emerged. The parental couple replaced the matrimonial couple. The procreative sexual act became a new reference that structured filiation and took the place formerly occupied by marriage.

Likewise, the idea arose that girls and boys needed a close bond with their fathers for better personality development. The still-young science of psychology began to advise fathers on better ways to educate their children.

In the 1970s, fathers lost their exclusive custody and began sharing it with mothers. Paternal authority was fragmented. In many nations, the State assumed the father’s former functions. Not only did it oversee training and schooling outside the home, but it was also able to take away a boy or girl from the father due to abuse or prostitution. Male and female educators, pedagogues, educational psychologists, psychologists, paediatricians, social workers, sociologists, anthropologists, psychiatrists and judges multiplied in society.

Another product of the 1970s was the concept of the single-parent family. Corporal punishment by fathers was abolished in Western countries (which does not mean that it is not present, just like by mothers, along with psychological violence) — prevailing in Islamic countries — and the debate began on validating single-parenthood and the right of homosexuals and lesbians to adopt girls and boys (a discussion that is still ongoing in many countries).

In 1989 the United Nations approved the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which went into effect on Sept. 2, 1990, giving children legitimate rights, and moreover regulating the actions of mothers and fathers.

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) defines paternity today as the relationship that men establish with their daughters and sons within the framework of a complex practice, in which social and cultural factors have an influence, and which moreover change during the life cycle, both of the father and of his children. It is a cultural, social and subjective phenomenon that relates males with their sons and daughters and their role as fathers in different contexts, beyond any type of conjugal arrangement.

Much more has occurred and should continue occurring within families for the good of humanity. Today the concept of masculinity is gaining force; this is due in no small measure to the battles waged by feminists throughout history.

The Cuban scientific and social context

Those who engage in social science require, as one of their main tools with respect to the family issue, the results of the most recent census, because they are held 10 years apart, and much movement takes place in the meantime. But given that it is a matter of going ahead, looking at the future, and seeing the other side of the coin researchers tend to issue remarks, warnings and projections for the medium and long terms.

One important study from 2003, “La familia cubana: realidades y proyección social” (The Cuban family: realities and social projection), summed up the historical process of the basic nucleus in our society, revealed important information about the present (here and now), and anticipated future scenarios.

The years between 2003 — the date of the aforementioned study, which is not the only one, obviously — and 2013 seem to constitute (the way I see it) a unit of time involving important actions in favour of Cuban women and men, backed by non-sexist and intelligent ideas.

If we look back, we can see without effort that quantitative progress gave way — as was presumable and desirable — to qualitative progress.

The wagons that were being pulled, in principle, by the feminist train, now join those carrying reflections and active steps for masculinity, insertion, and the acceptance of all types of differences, including gender, sexual orientation, race…. Artists and writers are uniting; projects are being created; and inclusive language is being incorporated, although still not completely, in political discourse.

With optimism, it may be expected that the 2013-2023 decade will bring more than a few achievements and new starting points to the national situation. Realistically, we cannot let ourselves be vanquished by complacency; it will be necessary to continue working with ideas and actions.

I identify, quickly, the most important evolutionary periods of the Cuban family since 1959: the prodigious decade of the 1960s — prodigious in a sense that goes far beyond music, of course — with its breaking of chains, and of enjoying a freedom never before possessed by Cuban men and women; the 1970s, a decade of “institutionalisation,” as politicians called it quite rightly, with the debate and approval of the Family Code and the Constitution; the 1980s, with progress in the study of and practical solutions for a diverse array of family problems, with the creation of women’s studies departments, the Women and Family Orientation Centres, and the Centre for the Study of Women, with the sponsorship of the Federation of Cuban Women.

It was in the 1980s that the first compilation and bibliographical analysis was done regarding the basic nucleus on the island: “Analysis of research on the Cuban family, 1970-1987.” Subsequently, between 1988 and 1994 “The Cuban family; Changes, Present Situation, and Challenges” was published. Both studies were conducted by specialists with the CIPS.

According to the CIPS, the basic issues were: family/school relationship and family education; the woman in the family; sexuality and the family; relationships between partners; parent-children relationships; health and family; family lifestyle; sociodemographic research on the family; types of families; evaluation of sociocultural and economic influences on the family; Cuban families’ strategies for dealing with the current social/structural adjustment; free time and recreation; social prevention; family values; and family characteristics of Cuban emigrants.

This study was followed by another, in 1989: “Characterisation of the lifestyle of blue and white collar workers’ families and compliance with their function of raising adolescents and young people,” which is considered one of the most important and profound carried out in the country with respect to the family. Its authors are Inés Reca and Mayda Álvarez (CIPS); Sonia Catasús, of the Centre for Demographic Studies (CEDEM); and Patricia Arés, of the University of Havana’s Faculty of Psychology.

Today there are countless reports of studies, numerous articles, and the organisation of quite a few scientific meetings.

Women, yes, and men? As well!

By the cusp of the 21st century, Cuban women represented 43 percent of the economy’s state/civilian labour population; 65 percent of technical personnel; 84 percent of administrative personnel; 52 percent of service personnel; and 51 percent of those working at scientific research centres. And as if that weren’t enough, they also made up 62 percent of university students, and 67 percent of high school students4.

It is on these foundations of sustained growth that quite a few initiatives have been able to emerge and multiply (those wagons of the feminist train, to continue with the metaphor). As they tend to do during major crises, these initiatives flowered in the 1990s during the “Special Period,” which had an impact on all aspects of Cuban life. Strong plants whose roots have gone deeper in the past decade.

It was during that recent past and the here and now that established programmes gained ground and others emerged: the National Centre for Sex Education (CENESEX); the women’s studies group attached to the University of Havana’s Sociology Department; the master’s degree in gender studies offered through the Women’s Studies Department; the gender-related projects of nongovernmental organisations such as the Félix Varela Centre; the Masculinities Network (which was first national, then Latin American, and now includes Africa); the Palomas Project; and Tod@s Contracorriente, as well as others.

Material problems continue to change, some less than others, such as the scarcity of housing and limitations on home repairs and maintenance, which new government measures will make it possible to reduce; and difficulties with electric power, which are now much less present.

Those still pending solutions include the vital question of food; collective transport; the acquisition of goods such as property and clothing; wages according to the magnitude of the work performed; and a single currency system.

These are not all of the problems faced by Cuban women and men, but they are the most exhausting, and they will have and must have solutions, probably more rapidly than transformations on the subjective level.

A prominent place is held by difficulties in communication between men and women and their partners, parents and children, and the nuclear or consensual family as a unit; problems of cohabitation; barriers to communication with older adults and unresolved intergenerational conflicts; the transmission and formation of values; incongruence of educational methods; the lack of preparation among youth for having intimate relationships; and child-raising and family life in general.

It also must be learned that divorce, or separation in the case of consensual union, cannot degenerate into disarticulation and neglect of children or parental affection toward them.

It is urgently necessary for the family to begin to transform inadequate and unjust sexist norms, which requires “educational concepts that help to break with the traditionalist view of these roles without creating false egalitarianism or unfair juxtapositions of masculine and feminine, but moreover, this socialising approach must occur in a social context of greater economic development that assures social support services for domestic labour and solutions to the most pressing material problems.”5

Reformulating the role of school

Beyond all of the studies that are being done and that can continue to be done, it is time for Cuba to implement a comprehensive programme to aim for education that can holistically (universally) transmit to the new generations the essential values of equality, inclusion and individual responsibility.

There is not a single moment in the lives of Cuban students, at any level of learning, where issues like the aforementioned — essential principles for people — are addressed as part of their curriculum.

Why is it that in Cuba, where education is completely subsidised by the State, which guarantees the right to free education and makes a ninth-grade education mandatory, it is impossible to introduce a course of study, or adapt one if it already exists, to address the historic evolution of feminine and masculine roles, the family, current laws, and problems created by violence, exclusion, and inequality…?

Undertaking a task of that magnitude requires not only time but also heavy investment, and its results cannot be measured in dollars and cents, but in the health of the social fabric.

While the first social interaction with this area occurs in the home and people almost always tend to function according to how they were raised, school must contribute to forging better men and women.

The fact that the country’s top authorities have not assumed a restructuring of education programmes in line with what they should be today and that only certain sources of knowledge, and therefore agents of change, such as sex education, are taken into account, fragments, excludes and retards the process as a whole.

Moreover, there are four problems that can be identified a priori:

1. The diverse results of investigation and recommendations backed by scientific knowledge are not carried out; they do not go any further. In most cases they are shelved or circulate only among specialists in a long and vicious cycle;
2. A comprehensive view of the most important needs for transformation cannot be part of the mass media’s editorial policy because no comprehensive view exists;
3. School is left behind in the role of shaping awareness and concrete needs for change in society;
4. Families do not receive, with the power necessary, the organic, positive message about growth that is recommended on the theoretical level (a very high level, by the way) by different specialties

A challenge for Cuba’s sciences and politics

The notable wealth of psychological and sociological studies conducted in Cuba includes information and analyses that are far superior to the attempt to provoke a debate that my little book wanted and wants to be.

It is as unfortunate as it is possible to rectify the fact that most social scientists who are called upon to reveal problems and propose solutions do not dominate communication to the masses through the written word. This is a problem that once again places us before education authorities at the highest level.

It’s not enough to create a large and well-educated corps of social scientists capable of rendering rigorous and impeccable research reports; they also must be given the tools needed for the art of communicating beyond the academic sphere6, even when writing is not among their best aptitudes.

It would seem that the apparently simple texts that should have circulated in our midst free of technical terms were incompatible with an academia whose greatest challenge is precisely to surmount obstacles and open the way for proposing changes.

It is very difficult to understand why Cuba’s social scientists cannot publish the results of their studies beyond their research report and exchange among specialists, and even less so, why their recommendations do not sustain the political will for change. It must be because the absurd is inexplicable.

It is a crime, and not just against culture, that the socialisation of these studies of paramount importance remain in the select but limited space of academia; that they are not published in every type of media, especially the mass media, and in language that is comprehensible to everybody.

What is common is for scholars to stew in their own sauce. Only the lucky, the very lucky, who manage to publish books that in the end have a very short reach, because they tend to be the report on such-and-such a study or the summary of a thesis for a master’s degree or doctorate that is very unlikely to attract non-specialist readers — and what irony! — precisely those who are agents of change.

A centre for research on hemoderivatives has channels for patenting, producing, marketing, and distributing its medical products in a complex, competitive market full of transnational corporations. And a centre for psychological or sociological research? Where will it send its findings, and who will decide on the destiny or implementation of these solutions, and their generalisation?7

The product of the social sciences has no price; it is not exported; and it does not increase liquidity, in hard currency or Cuban pesos, to inject into the national economy. It is another type of income, a contribution that has a direct influence on whether or not the social fabric is healthy. It is a contribution of another type that, as a spiritual asset, seemingly — and what is worse — can become invisible, but whose effects come to light in the worst way: what is postponed, what remains unsolved, and what becomes worse.

Cuba’s research centres do not produce material wealth; however, they are consumers of the national budget. Investment has been made in training high-level human capital; different institutions have been created, and there is regional and even global recognition of individual and corporate knowledge.

Ideally, families should function harmoniously, schools would be called upon to reinforce that conduct, and scholars would continue identifying problems and suggesting new guidelines, assumed by political will, that the media would publicise coherently. It’s a fairy tale. Life is something else. Life is rich, complex, and many-sided. On that moving train, structural transformations must be introduced starting with the family — the nucleus of society — and up through society as a whole, and involving education at all levels.

Cuba, which is advanced on so many valuable and important questions, has not been able to climb out of the mire, the trap, of its patriarchal culture to be able to implement practical, in-depth solutions to these and other social problems. These are complex situations that require attention and that will consume an unknown amount of time to produce their first fruits.

The ideal of better women and men needs a different scenario to be fulfilled. The intelligence, coordination and resources for achieving this exist. But there must be a guiding force that decides on and channels scientific responses for their application.

An unhealthy and apparently endemic farm culture does not just flourish only in the national economy and in palpable incoherencies in other areas, where urgent and necessary matters do not always hold their rightful place as priorities, because that depends on certain subjectivities, powers and capabilities for influence.

It is a contradiction that Cuba’s public health authorities work to increase the number of live births, a significant achievement; that these First World-like statistics receive prioritised attention in the national media; that the issue is an important part of reports to the National Assembly; and that, at the same time, the context in which these babies will grow up, for better or worse, under the protection of their (impacted) families, (not very influential) schools and (fragmented) society is ignored.

The only explanation possible, as I see it, for the glaring asymmetry between the level of education of those born after 1959 and education in its most profound sense, is the absence of an integral programme for systemic action8.

I am talking about a necessary and urgent step farther. It is imperative that the damaged Cuban social fabric be rewoven; still today, it is suffering deeply from the effects of the 1990s crisis, which were not just economic.

The country has a body of competent social scientists who are the fruit of its project9; and it has the tools: research centres with their wealth of important research findings about the most diverse, complex and pressing problems of the national context.

The political will for openings — still timid, but present in Cuba — needs to be extended, necessarily, to other spheres of so-called civil society, a civil society that is dependent for absolutely everything on the decisions of the State10 (and Party).

About three decades after it was passed, the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba has gone out of date in a good sense. Its chapter on the family and each one of its articles were out of sync with real life a long time ago. The perspective from the 1970s is, in today’s context, narrow, tendentious and inappropriately sexist, to the detriment of gender equality and equality between paternal and maternal roles, and therefore, to the security, care and affection most necessary for children and the family11 (nuclear, consensual or of any other kind).

It will be up to policymakers, enlightened analysts and civil society as a whole to rebuild, first of all, family relations, and to encourage, in accordance with the new times, the promotion of more appropriate forms of conduct, individual responsibility, equality, inclusion, and respect for diversity, which are an integral part of social justice, as well.

A responsible assumption of paternity cannot be viewed as an isolated problem that pertains solely to masculinity. It isn’t. As long as we have partial views and actions in the upper echelons, progress will be slow, segmented and superficial.


1- Mareelén Díaz Tenorio, Alberta Durán Gondar and Ernesto Chávez Negrín: “La familia cubana: realidades y proyección social” (“The Cuban family: realities and social projection”) Havana, Centre for Psychological and Sociological Research (CIPS), March 2003.

2- I chose an apparently exclusive title for the book to remind people about the Catholic precept of the ancient, long-established patriarchal genesis, precisely which this was to call into question.


3- En el nombre del hijo has been proposed for a reprint this year by the Cuban Book Institute, as part of a special financing plan for certain books from different publishing houses. National Parliament member Mariela Castro, director of the National Centre for Sex Education (CENESEX) has also expressed her desire to deliver a copy to every member of the National Assembly.


 4-  Statistical Yearbook, National Office of Statistics (ONE), Havana, 1999.

5- Mareelén Díaz Tenorio et al: “La familia cubana…”, op. cit.

6- This is not a hasty conclusion. Over more than a decade, I have published a variety of social science texts on the most diverse issues.


7- I have deliberately used the word “científico/as” instead of the erroneously and commonly used “cientistas” [to describe male and female social scientists], because the second term does not belong to the world of hard, pure science. However, they are academics, and academics can and do produce — in accordance with their respective specialties, from physics to the theory of complexity — studies, contributions, master’s degrees and doctorates as valid in one sphere as they are in another. “Cientista” is an asexual term that deals with the gender question, but makes a marked difference with respect to scientific production between certain branches of knowledge and others.


8-  I use the word “integral” because it is an appropriate term, even though it has lost its real meaning in the Cuban context due to excessive and indiscriminate use.


9-  We cannot say that sociology was established, with a profusion of institutions and large numbers of scholars in Cuba before 1959; instead, there were isolated investigators, some of them with enormous stature, such as Don Fernando Ortiz, Jorge Mañach or Cintio Vitier.


10- Civil society is everything that has to do with society and that is not of the State. In Cuba’s case, the border between the State and civil society is vague. Almost everything that has to do with life in the country, from school uniforms to imports, involves state projections and decisions. Therefore, a representative and democratically elected Parliament is not civil society.


11- Chapter IV of the Constitution says in its Article 35: “The State protects the family, maternity and matrimony.” It is obvious that its essence is patriarchal and that its approach is outdated. The father is left out; it may be deduced that he is strong and does not need protection, right? Consensual unions don’t count.



Normas para comentar:

  • Los comentarios deben estar relacionados con el tema propuesto en el artículo.
  • Los comentarios deben basarse en el respeto a los criterios.
  • No se admitirán ofensas, frases vulgares ni palabras obscenas.
  • Nos reservamos el derecho de no publicar los comentarios que incumplan con las normas de este sitio.