Last night, we met up with some friends to see a Cuban band at a local bar. Partly it was to commemorate the huge changes going on in a country very near and dear to my heart, but mostly just to have a break from what has been an insanely difficult and busy month for both of us.

The band was awesome, and the salsa-dancing crowd formidably good. Needless to say I didn’t let my oh so uncoordinated feet anywhere near that dance floor, but contented myself instead by swaying to the beat on a stool close to the side of the stage. And, within minutes of starting their set, at least two members of the band had taken a decided interest in said swaying.

Now, being noticed by a Cuban man is an entirely different experience than being checked out by an American dude. Five years have passed since I went to Cuba, and I had forgotten just how brazen their stares can be. But oh, are they brazen. I mean, there I was, sitting with my husband’s hand on my leg, wedding ring prominently displayed, and still they continued to turn and stare.

At first this disconcerted me, until I remembered that the Cubans in general seemed to have a much healthier attitude towards sexuality than we do. Yes, they stare, and yes, they are forward, but they never intend any disrespect. They are just being honest in their appreciation, nothing more. It’s more like appreciating a work of art than anything, and really, why wouldn’t you express your sentiments over a lovely piece of ass, I mean sculpture?

More than anything, I think any comparison with our own society only reflects poorly on our attitudes towards sex. In Cuba, I quickly became accustomed to hearing regular expressions of masculine approval. Once I realized that these men were just voicing their approval of women’s beauty in general, I felt way more comfortable with the whole concept. Other women might not agree, but I for one have always been extremely direct, and appreciate directness in return. I always tease my husband that when we met, he pursued me with all the subtlety of a herd of rhinoceros. And hey, it worked, right?

But here, when men check you out it’s almost surreptitious, like their appreciation for your beauty is something to be ashamed of. Soon, you start to feel like maybe your beauty is something to be ashamed of, too, and the whole dynamic goes from being a simple matter of appreciation to something slightly darker.

The Cuban women, on the other hand, work it more than any I’ve ever met. No matter what they look like, they have no qualms about sporting the hottest little spandex outfits, the highest heels, the tightest jeans. (I could never figure out why the Cuban men would even look twice at me, since I was always wearing travel-wrinkled clothes, a sheen of sweat on my skin, and a completely bewildered expression on my face. I think it must have been the novelty of my blue eyes.)

Comparing the attitudes of our two societies, I can’t help but feel like the Cubans have it a little more figured out when it comes to sexuality. It’s kind of like underage drinking — if you’re open and honest about it, people will eventually figure the whole alcohol thing out for themselves. But if you make it something hush-hush and forbidden, people are sure to have an unhealthy attitude about drinking from the get-go.

So last night, I took a page from the Cubanas’ play book, and acknowledged these mens’ attention while at the same time politely deflecting it. They got to look, I got a little ego boost, and my husband’s pride remained unchallenged — and all with good music, good beer, and great company to boot. How very Cubano!

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