An Army of Educators: Gender, Revolution and the Cuban Literacy Campaign of 1961



The conventional scholarly narrative of gender in post-revolutionary Cuba is that the revolutionary government prevented the emergence of an expressly feminist movement by addressing women's basic needs and simultaneously eliminating autonomous space for female organising. Recent scholarship has increasingly considered women's participation in revolutions in order to understand women's roles in post-revolutionary societies. Looking beyond armed insurrection for instances of female participation in revolution, this article considers women's roles in the Cuban Literacy Campaign. An analysis of the testimonies of female former volunteer teachers and of the official rhetoric and content of the campaign suggests that the broader narrative of cooption, while certainly accurate overall, threatens to obscure instances in which women did challenge traditional gender norms in meaningful ways. This paper argues that the Cuban Literacy Campaign and the participation of women in that campaign significantly impacted Cuban patriarchal culture at a crucial moment of consolidation for the revolutionary regime. In other words, though the male-led revolution did not give women the space to organise against patriarchy, by actively participating in the revolution, women did help change the nature of Cuban patriarchy.