Cultural Construction of Gender

Male and female are the basic gender categories for the Aymara, who see the two genders in an ideal balance referred to as the chachawarmi, the man-woman, a cooperative household unit that is the base of Aymara culture. The formation of a household by a same-gender pair is not evident in the countryside, and homosexuality is denied or not referred to directly. A woman who prefers not to marry a man might stay with her parents, or she might adopt children and form an independent household. A man who does not marry a woman would only have the option of remaining with his parents or leaving the village.

Gender identity is expressed by clothing and hairstyle throughout life. A baby's apparel may indicate gender by the shape of the cap if the family is wealthy enough to make such a distinction. Boys ideally wear the typical Andean chullo, a knitted cap with ear flaps, while a girl's knitted cap is more conical with a soft floppy edge and brighter colors. Other baby clothes are quite unisex, with swaddling rags and open diaper skirts for all toddlers. Beyond infancy, headgear always differs by gender, with feminine and masculine styles of brimmed hat added as the children become marriageable adolescents. (Men simply put their brimmed hats over their knitted caps.) Perhaps the best-known Aymara woman's hat is the bowler worn by the women of the Titicaca basin, but styles vary by region.

Boys and men wear trousers which may be homespun and short for daily work or purchased and tailored for a more formal or urban look. Ponchos or European-style coats may be worn. When men carry burden cloths, they are slung over one shoulder. Men's colors are mostly the muted earth tones of undyed wool or the gray or black of manufactured clothing. Boys sport very wild tangled mops until the first haircut, after which their hair is always kept short.

Girls and women wear the pullera, the distinctive full skirt of the Andean woman, and wool sweaters or blouses. An adult woman's costume is completed with a shawl and burden shawl tied around both shoulders for carrying everything from babies to potatoes. Everyday wear may be plain undyed natural wool, but dress-up clothes are bright and colorful. As soon as it is long enough, a little girl's hair is captured into the two braids that all traditional adult women wear. Adult women tie their waist length braids together across their backs with a wool tassel and are very proud of their long hair as a statement of their femininity. Except for girls' school uniforms, any deviation from the pullera and long braids indicates that a girl or woman is hoping to take on a less indigenous identity.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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