Cultural Construction of Gender

Two cultural concepts figure prominently in Mexican mestizo gender imagery: the macho man and the mother. Whereas the macho man is stereotyped as hard-drinking, promiscuous, easily angered, violent, and aggressive, the most important defining trait of the mother stereotype is her suffering on behalf of her children's well-being.

Being perceived as a macho does not only have negative connotations. Local practices reveal that being a macho can also mean being a responsible and respected father and provider of the family (Gutmann, 1996; Howell, 1999, p. 105; Melhuus, 1996, p. 243,1998, p. 360). Here, the gender roles of men and women are viewed as complementary, with the man working outside the home, being the main breadwinner and protector of the family, and the woman staying home and taking care of household and children. The opposite of this kind of macho is the mandilón (apron wearer), a female-dominated man (Gutmann, 1996, p. 221). Being publicly viewed as dominated and provided for by the wife is perceived as an insult by both men and women (Del Castillo, 1993). How influential the norm of male breadwinning on actual behavior can be is demonstrated in a study on working-class men and women from Mexico City (Del Castillo, 1993). Even if women de facto provide for the household and are the main breadwinner, both husband and wife pretend that this is not the case and continue to fulfill the normative gender roles in public.

Female gender roles are centralized around the Mexican concept of motherhood. When people are asked which persons are closest to them, the mother is mentioned far more frequently than any other role independent of the origin and sex of the informant (Finkler, 1994, p. 56; Pauli, 2000, p. 182). Also, many women from rural and urban regions and different social strata consider motherhood as their main gender role and source of identity (García & de Oliveira, 1997). This kind of female gender construction is strongly influenced by popular images of the Virgin (Franco, 1989; Martin, 1990; Melhuus, 1993, 1996, 1998). The Virgin of Guadalupe is not only one of the most prominent national symbols, she also serves as a female role model. She combines the two most valued female traits: being a virgin and being a suffering mother. Suffering is viewed as inherent in motherhood. Finkler's (1994, 1997) study of urban women's pains and sicknesses demonstrates that the ideology of the suffering mother pervades Mexican mestizo society and is actually reinforced by women's everyday life.

Women's virtues have to be guarded constantly and it is considered inappropriate for a woman to live alone (Del Castillo, 1993). Being married and under the guardianship of a husband or being unmarried and under the guardianship of a father or brothers can, in society's view, guarantee a woman's honor and virtue (Howell, 1999, p. 105; Melhuus, 1993, p. 244). Being viewed as a respectable woman means being a decent woman (Melhuus, 1998, p. 364). The opposite of a decent woman is a bad or loose woman, a mujer mala (Finkler, 1994, p. 57; Howell, 1999, p. 105, Melhuus, 1998, p. 364). Sexual connotations, like having no shame and being open, are inscribed in the concept of the bad woman (Melhuus, 1998, p. 364).

The strong dichotomization of the female gender concepts—decent and indecent women—can be understood in relation to the male gender concepts. Virility is one important aspect of being a macho. Being a respected husband and protector of an honorable wife and family is another. Taken together, in order to confirm his masculinity, a man needs honorable women (his mother, his sisters, his wife, and his daughters) and mujeres malas, "loose" women (Melhuus, 1996, p. 244).

Clothes, make-up, and hairstyle are important ways of visually marking gender difference. It is very common to pierce a girl baby's earlobes, but this is probably the only permanent body mark to express a person's sex (Prieur, 1998, p. 144). Further, social classes vary in their strength of highlighting a person's gender. Middle and upper classes tend to stress a more restrained and reserved femininity (Prieur, 1998, p. 150) whereas the working class has kept an ideal that Prieur (1998, p. 145) describes as "Marilyn Monroe" like. Big breasts and buttocks are viewed as beautiful, and clothes that emphasize these perceived advantages are favored. Light skin, a straight nose, and height are also viewed as beautiful and sexually attractive (Prieur, 1998, p. 145). To fulfill this visual stereotype, the effeminate homosexuals studied by Prieur (1998) manipulate their bodies through surgery, female hormone therapy, and oil injections.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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