Thursday, March 29, 2012

Carrie Hamilton's "Sexual Revolutions in Cuba"

Carrie Hamilton is reader in history at the University of Roehampton, London.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Sexual Revolutions in Cuba: Passion, Politics, and Memory, and reported the following:
Oral history aims to convey the complexity and richness of collective histories through the stories of individuals. Page 99 of my book Sexual Revolutions in Cuba illustrates this. It opens in the middle of a long interview excerpt from Yohanka (a pseudonym), born in Santiago de Cuba in 1961, just two years after the Cuban revolutionary victory of 1959. I interviewed Yohanka in 2007 as part of the Cuban Voices Oral History project. She is one of several women featured in the chapter on female same-sex desire. But page 99 comes in an earlier chapter on heterosexuality. Here Yohanka’s talking about the friends of her twenty-something daughter:
At school they talked, they've always talked. Of course here, with the issue of sex - recently the propaganda has advanced more, the debates, and more when AIDS arrived. But before they also said, "Use a condom," so you didn't get pregnant. Because as soon as you have an abortion, your uterus starts to get lost, it deteriorates, that new little uterus. They're girls that are fourteen, fifteen years old, who don't even wait till twenty to have sex. They start really early.

And in your daughter's group, for example, does she have friends who got pregnant very young?

Oh! Quite a few friends of hers got pregnant. But when it came to her she and I had already spoken. That was like an agreement between her and me and there's no problem.[...]
Yohanka's words underscore the importance of family and generation as markers of people's perception of historical change. A main argument of Sexual Revolutions is that interviews help us map alternative histories that complicate chronological accounts based on ‘big events’.

The reference to early pregnancy echoes a preoccupation in the media and among sex education and medical professionals. In this, Cuba is part of an international trend in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Another central claim of the book is that the history of sexuality in revolutionary Cuba challenges the thesis of Cuban exceptionalism.

This discussion of a mother-daughter relationship ends with a reflection on change since Yohanka's own youth:
And you, being born in 1961, you were a teenager in the 1970s. Did they talk to you about those things, at school? About sex?

No, before in school they didn't--in my day they didn't talk about that. That's why you saw so many cases of pregnancies.
In fact, there is evidence that births to young mothers remained high in Cuba at the time of the interview. But Yohanka's reflection speaks another, equally important historical truth: the changes since 1959 have given her daughter a fundamentally different education about sex - both at school and at home - than that experienced by Yohanka in the 1970s. This confirms a final argument of Sexual Revolutions in Cuba: although the revolutionary victory of 1959 did not change sexual values overnight, the radical economic, social, and cultural reform it ushered in - including universal education and healthcare - paved the way for transformation in all areas. Cuba did not have a 'sexual revolution' in the Western sense. But the Revolution did initiate a series of 'sexual revolutions' in Cubans' lives.
Learn more about Sexual Revolutions in Cuba at the University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue