Accepted paper:

Negotiating wealth and desirability: changing expectations on men in Post-Soviet Havana


Heidi Harkonen (University of Helsinki)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines changes in the notions of desirability in Cuban gender relations in the post-Soviet period, focusing on the emerging role that wealth is playing in relation to men’s attractiveness in particular. Of special interest are the ways in which men draw on distinct notions of masculinity as a way to cope with women’s growing demands.

Paper long abstract:

In post-Soviet Havana, wealth has emerged as a new factor in terms of which women assess a man's desirability as a potential partner. Women expect men to provide material support, court them via costly outings and sport expensive outfits as a testimony of their material resources. Such changes in Cuban gender relations relate endemically to the larger transformations in Cuba's political and economic context in the post-Soviet period. The fall of the Eastern European and Soviet state socialisms seriously diminished the Cuban state's ability to provide social services to its population. Both the remittances generated via transnational kin ties, as well as the recent liberalistic changes in Cuba's labor politics have intensified the disparities of wealth that were less poignant in the Soviet period. Moreover, Cuba's dependence on tourism as a source of national income has brought about changes to the possibilities for social mobility available for Cubans via the promises of migration and affluence that relationships embraced with foreigners can offer. While these factors bring changes to the lives of all Cubans, this paper focuses on the gendered consequences of such large-scale transformations, experienced by Cubans as the increasing intertwining of wealth and desirability, especially when it comes to men's attractiveness. In trying to cope with such increasing demands from women, men draw on local notions of masculinity that include elements both of machismo as well as responsible manhood; thereby at times complying and at times resisting women's expectations on them.

panel W072
Masculinities in times of uncertainty and change