Cultural Construction of Gender

While West Indians' premigration access to American films and television and their correspondence with previously migrated relatives has influenced their gender conceptions, Caribbean notions of gender do continue to play a role following migration. One such carry-over is the notion of the "respectable female." Colonial influences created constructions of domesticity embodied in the colonial female (Miller, 1992, p. 171). This notion of ideal femininity was predicated on social stratification, adherence to religion and church-sanctioned family structures, and, above all else, women's primary involvement in maintaining the domestic realm (Miller, 1992, p. 172). Masculinity, in turn, was embodied in the oppositional notion of "reputation," whereby men define themselves around exclusively male activities and the peer rivalries and pressures surrounding drinking and street culture (Miller, 1992, p. 172). In this dichotomy, men are almost completely uninvolved in domesticity.

West Indians' conceptions of ideal femininity differ from what is presented in mainstream American films and on television. For example, immigrants from lower- and working-class backgrounds conceptualize the ideal female body type as more full-figured than the American cultural ideal. In addition to cultural conceptions of ideal body types, gender is also culturally constructed through styles of dress and self-presentation. West Indian immigrant adolescents often determine that their notions of how men and women should appear and act are at odds with their parents' more Caribbean ideals.

West Indian females value the styling and maintenance of feminine hairstyles as symbols of beauty. Hairstyles vary from African-influenced braids, Caribbean-influenced dreadlocks, and naturals (hair that is not chemically treated), to relaxed (or straightened) hair depending on one's gender, class background, and personal preference. While it is socially acceptable for men to wear their hair in braids, men most often wear closely cropped haircuts. West Indians of both genders often dress in the fashions of their American counterparts. However, immigrants utilize fashion to make statements about their ethnic identities. Both men and women wear clothing and accessories (such as keychains and bandannas) displaying the flags of their homelands in order to assert distinctly West Indian identities. Additionally, women sometimes wear thick bangles and other jewelry made from Caribbean gold which act as ethnic markers.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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