Gender over the Life Cycle

Commonly recognized stages in the life cycle include infancy and childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and old age. These stages are generally identical for men and women.

Socialization of Boys and Girls

Boys and girls are generally valued equally in Ukrainian society. Socialization as gendered subjects begins early. When babies are brought home from the maternity hospital (usually at 6-10 days of age), they are swaddled in a blanket that is wrapped in a colorful bow—blue for boys, and pink or red for girls (the color red traditionally represents beauty in Ukrainian and other Slav cultures). Caretakers usually include parents, maternal and paternal grandparents, aunts and uncles, older siblings, and sometimes other relatives and neighbors. In a typical family, the primary caretakers of children are the child's mother and grandmother(s).

Play is usually divided along gender lines. Boys are expected to display more aggressiveness than girls, and boys are often socialized to play with toy cars and other machines, and to take an interest in construction and mechanics. Boys often play "war" games, and soccer and fishing are typical pastimes for boys. Girls are usually expected to play with dolls, to enjoy dancing and music, and to engage in quiet play and work (drawing, reading, sewing, and embroidery). Hopscotch and jump rope are typical pastimes for girls. Girls often play "school" and take up the teacher role, and they engage in singing games. The roles of mother and wife are instilled in girls through playing "house," which is called "girls and mothers" in Ukraine. Girls are taught to cook and perform household chores at an early age.

These gender-role expectations continue in elementary school education, which begins at the age of 6 or 7 when children enter the first grade. Cultural expectations dictate that boys should excel in mathematics, science, and computer studies, while girls are expected to do better in the humanities, especially languages. Girls take classes in home economics, while boys study carpentry and other skills. In most public schools, classrooms are coeducational, but some private schools offer separate classes for boys and girls. Such classes often highlight the expected separate roles for girls and boys. Classes for girls emphasize nurturing skills, creativity, and the importance of human relationships, while classes for boys stress patriotism, morals, leadership skills, and self-confidence (Wanner, 1998).

Puberty and Adolescence

Adolescence is called iunist' in Ukrainian. There is continuity in socialization from childhood to adolescence. Domestic skills such as cooking, sewing, laundering, and ironing continue to be emphasized for adolescent girls, while boys usually learn skills relating to machinery, electric work, carpentry, and handyman skills. In rural settings, adolescents of both sexes participate in agriculture and farm labor. These tasks tend to be separated by gender, though practices vary among families and regions. Men and boys usually drive and maintain farm machinery, manage horses, and prepare firewood. Women and girls usually milk cows and goats. Both sexes take part in planting and harvesting. As adolescents grow older, they take on more and more responsibilities in the home and on the farm.

Attainment of Adulthood

Passage from adolescence to adulthood is marked by several major life events. For young men, the most important rite of passage is often mandatory military service, which is required for between 1 and 2 years in Ukraine. The average length of service is around 18 months, and it generally begins around 18 years of age. Upon completion of military service, adolescent boys are regarded as men, and they are perceived as eligible for marriage. Not all young men are obliged to serve in the military; some may be exempted due to health problems, educational commitments, and other reasons. Another rite symbolizing passage from adolescence to adulthood for both young men and women is the issue of a passport at age 16. For some this may signify adulthood. Ukrainian citizens may vote at age 18, also an important marker of maturity. Marriage is another event signifying the attainment of adult status for both sexes. The legal age for consent to marriage in Ukraine is 18 years for men, and 16 years for women. Young women living in rural villages tend to marry between the ages of 16 and 19, while young men in villages usually marry between 20 and 24 years of age. In cities, both men and women tend to marry in their early twenties. Most women and men believe that a woman must have children in order to realize herself. Thus, for women, having a child is often interpreted as a symbol of one's passage into adulthood.

Middle Age and Old Age

Middle age is not marked by any significant events or changes in status. Retirement from one's job and the resulting eligibility for a pension (social security) are often interpreted as the passage into old age. Retirement age is 55 for women and 60 for men. These rites are becoming increasing irrelevant, however, since many elect to work past retirement to make ends meet. In 1999, life expectancy in Ukraine was 73.5 years for women and 62.7 years for men (United Nations Development Programme 2001).

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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