Gender over the Life Cycle

The progression of cáampal (baby), páal (child), and táankelem (teenager) are the same for both genders. Historical documents reveal that before Spanish arrival there were distinctive puberty ceremonies, that were different for boys and girls, marking their transition to adulthood. These have long since been lost. Today, a boy becomes a man, si'ib, and a girl becomes a woman, ko'olel, upon marriage, and receives the corresponding titles of Don and Doña. Adults who are never married remain social children and are even buried as children, with a headdress of flowers which marks a child's funeral.

Socialization of Boys and Girls

As young children, both boys and girls experience a certain freedom from social obligations, enjoying the time spent with family and learning daily behavior by merely watching and playing. Children are often perceived to be born with a destiny, and it is the responsibility of parents to help them find it. More and more, an increasing number of children, both boys and girls, between the ages of 7 and 15 are now attending school either inside their village or leaving home to attend school outside and closer to cities or larger towns. Perhaps the primary defining gender role in Maya children is the socialization into the division of labor (Restall, 1997, p. 43). From an early age, both girls and boys are taught a "sharp but mutually dependent division of labor which... promotes the solidarity of the family and the stability of the marriage" (Cominsky & Scrimshaw, 1982, p. 48). So at a very young age (4-7) males and females seem to be open and playful.

The boy is permitted and encouraged to accompany the father to the milpa as soon as he can walk distances, and early begins to help in carrying wood and then in the task of the cornfield. The separateness of the man's tasks from the woman's is reflected in the customs of the play, for from the earliest years boys play with boys and girls with girls. (Redfield & Villa Rojas, 1934/1962, p. 190)

Boys and girls can also often be seen playing together: "Much of the play is an imitation of the elders' activities: the boys play at lassoing bulls, the girls at making tortillas, for example . every boy has his rubber sling-shot, and it is also common to make small things (yuntun) of henequén fiber, with which small stones are hurled" (Redfield & Villa Rojas, 1934/1962, p. 191). Today, many boys still have rubber sling-shots. Attending school has changed the dynamics of child's play by introducing ball games and team play: "until the coming of the school, there were in villages no activities in which a victor was contrasted with a vanquished, or in which one child's superiority to another was formally measured" (Redfield & Villa Rojas, 1934/1962, p. 191).

The older children become, the more they are expected to help with household tasks. Boys and girls of 6 or 7 years of age carry their smaller brothers and sisters around and, at this age or even younger, the boys fetch firewood and the girls begin to carry water (Redfield & Villa Rojas, 1934/1962, p. 71).

From a young age, girls are encouraged to participate in the domestic sphere and are socialized from the beginning to what their family role should be as women. This includes caring for the house and for younger siblings. The economic role of the young girl is that of mother's helper, learning from an early age to make tortillas, "the most important and consuming of her responsibilities, the provision and preparing of tortillas" (Redfield & Villa Rojas, 1934/1962, p. 174). Men produce corn, and women transform it into food. Sometimes women are referred to as pak'ac, which is the act of making tortillas. The girl or young woman is also taught to care for the family's animals and the raised ka'an ce garden platforms, and to wash, care for, and make women's clothes.

Puberty and Adolescence

Once they reach adolescence, the men's world starts to separate from that of women. Even with strangers, adolescent women tend to be more shy and reserved, although shyness is very common with both genders. Children of both genders, especially teenagers, are expected to provide significant help with childcare. Even young men and teenage boys are frequently seen holding babies and caring for younger children, as well as doing anything that their elders need them to do. Typically they only have to be told once, and they tend to obey without question. A 12- or 13-year-old boy is generally making a separate milpa of his own (Redfield & Villa Rojas, 1934/1962, p. 71). Teenage girls are also typically very responsible in accepting a woman's work load. Whether it be tending the animals, caring for the house garden, caring for clothes and children, or cooking, a young woman essentially does all the work that grown women do.

Attainment of Adulthood

As mentioned earlier, marriage essentially signifies adulthood. Both men and women are socialized to be patient, responsible, and committed to important relationships. Both grow up developing their own signature laughter which identifies them socially as a public marker of a "true person." Laughter is perhaps the most significant way that gender differences are bridged in social interaction. It is a safe way to exchange "happiness inside," which is highly valued.

The Men. Maya men cannot be separated from their work. However, they are under increasing pressure, when young, to choose between school work and milpa work— to feed the family by trying to earn money or by planting the cornfield. Corn is said to give "strength to people's hearts." A man has to feed his family to have worth, either by agricultural or wage labor, with the latter being almost nonexistent in the thousands of villages where Mayas live. The staple crops are maize, beans, squash, and chile, with a wide assortment of other crops, usually in the center of the cornfield. Married women and children will also help weed and harvest. Maya men typically continue producing and working their cornfields until death. It is not uncommon to see men in their eighties and nineties still vigorously engaged in this demanding labor.

The Women. Most of a girl's training is in the domestic sphere as a preparation for marriage, which, depending on locality, can happen as early as 16 or as late as the mid-twenties. More recently, young women are employed by cooperatives, mainly participating in sewing and embroidery.

After marriage, the woman's status changes. As a wife she is now prepared to be a mother. Having children is valued emotionally, economically, and socially, as a woman gains prestige as a mother. In Maya culture, anything that is essential for life is described as saantoh, kili'ich, or "sacred," thereby giving women, as bearers of life, a sacred quality. Upon marrying, most young women are occupied by pregnancy, lactation, and caring for and feeding young children. As the woman matures and her family grows, she garners more respect and prestige. The elderly woman is respected for her age and wisdom, and, as a grandmother, the matriarch of the family and head of many familial decisions.

Middle Age and Old Age

Elders, grandparents, and great-grandparents are called nohoc maak, "great people" or "big people." A common saying even when one is becoming elder is tz'o'oka nohoc maaktal, "you are finished becoming an elder." This is not only a potential reference to physical age, but to social behavior, especially in terms of one's willingness to accept responsibility for others. Typically, elders are relied upon for all kinds of guidance, but the recent access that children have to school, television, and "outside culture" is widely seen as responsible for a rapid loss of respect for elders. A visible sadness is expressed by many elders, apparently caused by the discrepancy between how their culture prepared them to be elders, and how they increasingly see that young people are being socialized by Western culture to see their own elders as primitive and vestiges of the past.

Grandfather, tatic, and grandmother, cic, are still greatly respected, and are terms used even by young people to refer to any given elders in respectful ways. Again, the people of the Maya zone of central Quintana Roo tend to be more culturally conservative, and there is more adherence to the value of respecting one's elders, in how they are addressed, spoken to, and listened to, and how their needs are tended to by the family. Indeed, in Maya culture, one of the great values of having a family is that one has children to provide care when one becomes elderly. Elders who have not been so fortunate are invited into many people's homes as they walk down the street, to feed them or offer companionship and other help.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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