Gender roles in Mesoamerica

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Gender roles in Mesoamerica are established from birth.[citation needed] Mesoamerica or Meso-America (Spanish: Mesoamérica) is a region and culture area in the Americas, extending approximately from central Mexico to Honduras and Nicaragua, within which a number of pre-Columbian societies flourished before the Spanish colonization of the Americas in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Boys, for example, are given toys to play with that establish their future masculine roles while the girls get toys that relate to grinding and other activities women are expected to perform. Gender roles that many Mexican societies try to establish from birth. At birth, newborn boys are given a machete by their fathers, and girls receive a metate and malacate (the stone instrument used to grind maize and the spinning whorl) from their mothers, representing their future economic roles.[1] The stereotype that women play a minimal role in the family is far from accurate. Although women's roles in agriculture have been underestimated, if it were not for the contributions of women in agriculture, the family would not survive.[1]


Women also hold a variety of roles within the family. These range from harvesting the grains and preparing the food for the family, to taking care of the domesticated animals. When examining the role women play in planting and harvesting, one notices that this area still holds some stereotypes with how the women aid their husbands. In some societies women are responsible for sowing and harvesting the crops but are restricted from ploughing. The roles shared between men and women in agriculture in Santa Rosa, Yucatán. Although women are allocated such tasks as sowing, with all its association with fertility, they are rigidly excluded from ploughing.[2] The significance of not allowing women to plough is related to human reproduction. The common belief is that women should not be able to plough because it invades on the male’s role in human reproduction. Thus, men are able to carry out all stages of the agriculture cycle, including the planting of the seed, while women—even in their role as head of the household—are sanctioned to rely upon men for particular tasks.[2] The reasoning behind limiting women’s roles with production of the crops is directly related to reproduction. Women rely on men for some tasks when planting crops, just as women need the assistance of the men in reproduction.

Aside from producing food, another important task that women carry out is food preparation, which demands the most attention because the women must sit by the hearth for long periods of time. In the role women have in the preparation of maize, after the grains have been harvested, the next step is to process them so the family can consume them. Apart from childbearing and childrearing, one of the women’s foremost duties was the processing of dried corn into maize flour. After being boiled with lime, softened maize kernels were ground with a tubular hand stone on a flat grinding stone (metate) into maize dough.[3] Once the dough is formed, a variety of food items can be made. Here the metate plays an important role in the processing of maize, the staple crop of the culture.

The last major role women hold in a society relates to animals. Many households have corrals for their domestic animals, and this is another area that women are responsible for. When discussing the roles women play with domestic animals the corral is very important to the women of the household and is another area where they spend a great deal of their time. Here she spent a good part of her time, taking care of the animals…caring for the chickens, cleaning the dovecote, feeding the mule, rabbits…here in the corral one eats from one’s work.[4]

Women play an important role in the survival of their families because the family survives from the work they perform in the corral.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Chassen-Lopez, Francie R.; Heather Fowler-Salamini; Mary Kay Vaughan (1994). Cheaper Than Machines Women of the Mexican Countryside. The University of Arizona Press. pp. 27–30. 
  2. ^ a b Sage, Colin; Janet Henshall Momsen; Vivian Kinnaird (1993). Deconstructing the Household Different Places, Different Voices. Routledge. pp. 243–46. 
  3. ^ Stone, Andrea J.; Bella Vivante (1999). Women in Ancient Mesoamerica Women’s Role in Ancient Civilizations. Greenwood Press. pp. 293–300. 
  4. ^ Goldsmith, Raquel Rubio; Heather Fowler-Salamini; Mary Kay Vaughan (1994). Seasons, Seeds and Souls Women of the Mexican Countryside. The University of Arizona Press. pp. 140–45. 


Rosenbaum, Brenda; Christine Eber (2007). "Women and gender in Mesoamerica". In Robert M. Carmack; Janine Gasco; Gary H. Gossen (eds.). The Legacy of Mesoamerica: History and Culture of a Native American Civilization. Exploring Cultures series (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/PrenticeHall. ISBN 978-0-13-049292-0. OCLC 71833382. 
Tway, Maria B. (2004). "Gender, Context, and Figurine Use: Ceramic Images from the Formative Period San Andres Site, Tabasco, Mexico" (unpublished Master's thesis). Tallahassee: Dept. of Anthropology, Florida State University. Retrieved 2009-08-21.