Gender over the Life Cycle

In an idealized form, it is possible to divide the female life cycle into four stages: childhood (niñez), adolescence (estar señorita), married life (la vida de casada), and old age/widowhood (LeVine, 1993). There is no publicly marked transformation from childhood to adolescence, but during the second stage a ritual is performed to express a girl's entry into the adult world. On her 15 th birthday a fiesta may be given for a girl, who is called a quinceanera, to mark that she is now an adult and has reached marriageable age. The beginning of married life may be expressed through a public wedding ceremony and fiesta. However, many women start their conjugal life without such a ceremony and live for years in what is called an union libre, or consensual union. Old age and sometimes widowhood again lack a public ritual and are more gradual processes. Ideally, the children start to provide for their aged parents, reversing the former support flow. An idealized version of the male life cycle varies only slightly from this schema. The second stage of the male life cycle lacks the public ritual, the fiesta de quinceanos, which marks a girl's entry into adulthood.

Socialization of Boys and Girls

Both boys and girls are gender socialized early. In rural settings, girls are taught household tasks, such as the preparation of tortillas, as early 4 or 5 years of age. It is common for young girls to take care of small children. These tasks also prepare girls to become capable of running a household on their own (Howell, 1999, p. 104). Boys often accompany their fathers in their daily activities and learn how to work in the field. In general, girls and boys are dressed and treated according to normative gender roles early in life. Girls are dressed in light colors, are scolded if they play in the dirt, and have their earlobes pierced as babies. Boys are allowed to be noisy and get dirty (Prieur, 1998, p. 119).

Differences between boys and girls are expressed in everyday practices. Whereas beauty is stressed when talking about a baby girl, a baby boy is referred to in terms of physical strength, intelligence, and even reproductive capacity (Gutmann, 1996, p. 105). Also, it is common to address boys and girls as little mothers and fathers (mamacitas and papacitos). At least on an elementary level, girls and boys are given the same educational opportunities (Finkler, 1994, p. 64; Gutmann, 1996, p. 163; LeVine, 1993, p. 22). Boys and girls rarely spend their leisure time together. It is common for men to play sports on Sundays, especially soccer and baseball. On these occasions, fathers take their sons but not their daughters. Daughters often stay with their mothers and other female kin like female cousins. In general, freedom of movement is far more restricted for girls than for boys, and it is considered normal for girls to be chaperoned and for male kin to guard them. There are several secular and religious rituals and fiestas during childhood. Probably the most prominent Catholic ritual is baptism. A very popular secular fiesta is the celebration of a child's third birthday. These rituals and fiestas are celebrated irrespective of gender.

Gender preferences vary in urban and rural settings (LeVine, 1993, p. 178). In rural areas, a preference for sons is common. Sons, and given the diffusion of ultimogeniture, most often the youngest son (Robichaux, 1997), are expected to take care of the parents in old age. However, this picture changes for the urban population, and daughters gain in importance. In the urban working-class context, there is often no property to be inherited and the dyad between son and father may become more superficial (Lomnitz, 1977, p. 123). But the mother-daughter dyad remains strong after the daughter's marriage and it is not uncommon for a daughter's family to reside with the daughter's mother or nearby (Del Castillo, 1993; LeVine, 1993, p. 179).

Women are mainly responsible for children's socialization (e.g., Marroni de Velázquez, 1994). Sometimes the mother exchanges help with other women, mainly kin or fictive kin, comadres. Although most child care is still done by women, mainly by the mother of a child, important variations have emerged. First, Gutmann (1996, ch. 3) demonstrates the increasing importance of the father. Secondly, working mothers are increasingly using paid childcare, such as nannies or day-care centers (Howell, 1999).

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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