Forging Patriarch-Soldiers: Women and the Racial Inflections of Patriarchy in the Construction of Manly Honor in Cuba, 1895–98

Saturday, January 7, 2017: 3:30 PM
Plaza Ballroom A (Sheraton Denver Downtown)
Bonnie Lucero, University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley
During the Cuban War of Independence against Spain (1895-1989), insurgent men confronted a powerful paradox between their roles as patriarchs and their new duties as soldiers. On the battlefield, their manliness was measured by their bravery, self-abnegation and mercy toward the enemy, foregrounding military merit as a central pillar of new ideas of being a man and empowering black men to challenge their colonial racial subordination on the basis of their military achievements. However, these soldierly duties were but one aspect of insurgent men’s sense of themselves as men. The roles and responsibilities toward their families remained a core concern for many men, even as they abandoned their homes and left their families behind to fight for independence. Insurgent men’s familial relations, particularly the all-important roles of father and husband/partner tied insurgent visions of masculinity intimately to their relationships with women.

In light of the seemingly radical implications of meritocratic visions of military service, this paper examines the racially-distinctive outcomes of insurgent claims on patriarchy, focusing on examples of family economy, fatherhood, and extra-marital sex. I argue that the conflation of women’s sexual morality with whiteness substantially undercut the equalizing principles of military merit, rendering white men’s claims on patriarchy more successful in status negotiations than those of black men. While white men benefited from the social valuation of white womanhood, which rendered their claims on patriarchy more legitimate in the eyes of their compatriots, black men struggled to validate their status as soldier-patriarchs due in part to the devaluation of black femininity. By employing an intersectional feminist perspective, this study underscores the centrality of gendered power relations to the construction and perpetuation of racial hierarchy.

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