Gender over the Life Cycle

The first life stage is infancy (infancia) and babies are críos and crías or criaturas. As children begin to walk they are children (niños)—boys (niños) and girls (niñas). At the age of courtship, traditionally at 17, they are mozos (bachelors) and mozas (maidens). Adults, whether married or single, are men (hombres) and women (mujeres); if they marry they become casados and casadas, adult married householders. Old age (vejez) might correspond to widowhood (viudo, viuda) for either sex and often signals retirement, especially when married children have already assumed householder status.

Infancy is the least gendered stage of life. Even though the sexes of girl and boy babies may be made evident through the color and/or style of clothing and the piercing of girls' ears for earrings, their gender does not create great differences in their social environments. Babies and toddlers—críos—play together, may sleep together, and are cared for together.

The age at which children start school, about 5 or 6, sees niños and niñas clearly separated by dress and sometimes also in school (though coeducation is increasingly common at all grade levels). Children at this stage are increasingly shown different adult role models for behavior and appearance, and are treated as having gender-specific futures (though adult roles in modern Spain are increasingly less gender specific).

Traditionally in Spain, as in much of Europe, age 17 marks entry into bachelor- and maidenhood and is the age at which courtship may begin. Marriageable males (mozos) and females (mozas) have sharply separate social lives from the groups of niños and niñas of which they were formerly members. This social life binds each sex in separate activities, while defining various social contexts in which they should meet (festivals, dances, weekly or evening strolls) as marriageable young adults. Even after marriage, men and women who were mozos and mozas together usually retain close ties which become part of their social life as adults.

At marriage, the new couple departs the mozo/moza groups and joins the groups of casado/casada adults. Casado means "married" as well as "housed," reflecting the fact that in much of Spain a new couple establishes a new household. Casados become the masters of their own domestic economy as well as representatives of a household in the local political-economic sphere, responsible for whatever commitments and duties householders are assigned in a particular community.

The passage from babyhood to childhood is not marked by particular ceremony, but the passage of niños and niñas into mozo status can be marked by special observance of the individual's 17th birthday along with (in some local traditions) collective festivities by a group of mozos (or mozas, but the tradition is more common for males) receiving their new member. Similarly, at the time of a marriage, mozo and moza groups may bid formal good-byes to groom and bride, who are in turn formally received by the groups of householders (casados) to which they now belong. These events are more closely associated with village than with urban social life, but same-age and same-status associations of males and females are nonetheless universally important in Spanish social life.

Active householders do not necessarily retire and their entry into elder status is subtle and not always clearly defined, but as children marry, parents may begin to step aside both publicly and domestically. This depends, among other variables, upon the degree to which parents and their married children live in the same place and depend for their living upon the same resources or whether their economic lives are independent of each other, as is common in the middle or upper classes and outside the agrarian sphere. When parents control the property on which their children depend, a couple together or a widow or widower singly might retain control until they die, or they might hand control to the next generation as part of their own retirement.

A Spanish woman does not change her name at marriage. She passes her father's surname on to her children, for whom it becomes the second official apellido after that of their own father, the woman's husband. Women inherit property just as men do and carry it into marriage. At marriage, a woman historically—but no longer—relinquished control of her property to her husband. If she were widowed, she regained control over her own property and at least some of her husband's and did not necessarily relinquish this to their heirs until her own death. Traditionally, then, a woman's independence was most compromised by marriage. As property holders, both spinsters (solteras) and widows can wield considerable economic and political power in their families and communities. While married women once ceded certain formal powers to their husbands, their informal power could be great, and today their formal power is the same as men's. The household is the essential unit in the social structure and men and women manage their households jointly. Even in the past, to fulfill their household's obligations within a community, men or women might cross the traditional lines of the sexual division of labor in the domestic or public spheres when necessary. Such necessity—for example, for a woman to pull the plow when her husband is absent or disabled—burdens the poor more often than the well-to-do, who can hire helpers of either sex.

Socialization of Boys and Girls

Boys and girls are doted upon in early childhood and surrounded by adults and other children. Men and women are affectionate, playful, and permissive with them but generally do not conceal the pressures on them as adults and do not create a separate world for children. This occurs more among some of the bourgeoisie and elite who adopt models of intergenerational distance and hire such intermediaries as wet-nurses (in the past) or other servants, nannies, or tutors to serve their children's needs.

Boys and girls are dressed differently—in pants or dresses, respectively—as toddlers. There are complex class and contextual variations in when or whether small girls wear shorts or slacks, and in general these choices are fairly recent.

Small children are usually tended by female family members or kinswomen from outside the household, if not by servants. Fathers and other male adult household members have an affectionate presence but traditionally spend more time than women at work outside the home. As more women enter work places away from home, relatives may lend a hand, and day-care centers become options in some places. Spanish employers tend to be sensitive to employees' childcare problems and provide them some flexibility of schedule.

Children's experience of adults is extended by their parents' respective groups of friends (perhaps those who were mozos and mozas at the same time) as well as by kinsmen. Elderly uncles or grandfathers may be more present than fathers, and priests (as family members, friends, or purely in their line of duty) are important presences and counsellors to parents.

Preschool children are taught standards of proper behavior, dress, and grooming by all the people surrounding them. These also communicate, both directly and by example, the different male and female qualities. For example, little boys may be praised as "strong" and girls as "pretty," but many praiseworthy qualities are not gendered: intelligence, quickness to comprehend, humor, interactive skills, individuality. The cultural stress upon the individuality of any person's character paves the way for the changes in sex roles that separate modern Spain from Spain of times past, particularly where peasant economies governed the sexual division of labor more rigidly than is the case in most Spanish economies today, when more people are salaried and both married and single women are an important part of the work force.

Children enter school by age 6 if not earlier. Teachers then enter the ranks of adults socializing children. Coeducation is increasingly common today and socialization in school focuses on general social behavior. Same-sex groups are nonetheless important at any grade level, both in and out of school, and teachers of each sex become guides for gendered socialization. Of course, this is much intensified in same-sex schools. Probably the most central stress in general socialization is that on family values, which include the importance of reproduction, nurturance, productivity in support of family maintenance, and social position. Of course, these have gendered dimensions and are taught to children of both sexes along with general social comportment.

Puberty and Adolescence

Boys or girls approaching age 17 are often referred to as "almost mozos/mozas." At 17, the traditional age for beginning courtship, the associations of males' and females' same-sex groups with each other become explicitly focused on sexual attractiveness and potential reproductive sexuality. In addition, mozos and adult men, and mozas and adult women, in their families and communities become newly linked in what for the adults are friendly "tutorial" relationships as confidantes to their marriageable children, kinsmen, or friends. This involves close kinsmen of the same sex in particular, and older siblings who might already be married can be important. Sexuality may or may not be taught and discussed directly, but it is a subject of general attention. In addition, at this stage of life, same-sex peers are crucially important confidantes, critics, and sharers of information.

Attainment of Adulthood

Marriage normally creates an independent economic unit. A wedding is an obvious marker of adult status, but adult status is more generally defined by the beginning of economic independence and responsibility as well as sexual maturity and post-teen age. When an unmarried young adult, probably in his or her late teens or early twenties, finished with whichever level of schooling or professional training was sought, enters the economy as a worker—whether an artisan, secretary, teacher, farmer, lawyer, manual laborer, academic, or entertainer—he or she also usually becomes an independent economic unit. Such people, with their own domestic economies, are socially adults regardless of marital status and whether they coreside with kinsmen. These people's principal associations are with other adults. They become adult examples of life's variety for the children in their social circles.

Social and legal adulthood are not necessarily coincident. The age of legal majority—of civil and penal responsibility—has varied in the 20th century from age 21 for males and 25 for females to age 21 for both sexes to the current age of 18 for both sexes, which also now marks voting age for men and women. Men alone were traditionally subject to the military draft and entered the draft lottery at age 20 in a local group of same-age youths called la quinta, whose members might form a social subgroup of the mozos. Currently, young men are still subject to the draft but military service is entirely voluntary and is open to women as well.

Middle Age and Old Age

Men and women enter middle age and retirement in generally the same way and at the same period. Middle age can see people at the height of career development, community activity, and family management. As their children enter adulthood and they themselves become grandparents, and as they reach an age where retirement is financially possible, they may reduce their activity in many spheres. Within the family, grandparents and other older adults of both sexes are respected sources of guidance, love, and wisdom. If the elderly become infirm, their families are their first source of support and care, but social institutions also exist to shelter rich or poor old people.

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