Friday, 15 November 2013

Evolving Gender Roles within Trinidadian Families

Desley Gardner
Latonya Smith
Introduction to Anthropology
Representation of Gender


Students from the University of the West Indies, St Augustine Campus were interviewed by students of the Mona Campus, on the evolving gender roles within Trinidadian families. The students shared their personal experiences on this topic as they have witnessed throughout their existence within the Trinidadian society.


The students have observed that from an early age their gender roles are defined. It is expected that females are enrolled into domesticated capacities such as Home Economics, where they are learned the expected traits of a homemaker and child rarer. On the other hand, the males are encouraged to enrol into the Industrial Arts so that they attain very “masculine” jobs and assume the role of the breadwinner. The family is quickly shaped from the onset of matriculation; women assume the role of the wife, second to their husbands who provide. Women thus, unknowingly surrender to society’s tunnel vision towards the family.
Consequently, families within Trinidad are normally patriarchal. The male is the ultimate breadwinner whilst the wife is the domesticated child bearer/rarer. In both Afro and Indo Trinidadian families the male is given the dominant role. Generally, in Indo-Trinidadian families extended families are more prominent, so the husband and his submissive wife normally co-habit with the male’s family. In contrast, the Afro-Trinidadian community normally consists of nuclear families headed by the male, but there is a higher number of visiting and common-law families.This type of family consists of matrifocal structure as well as non-residential fathers (absentee). Nonetheless the male is still looked to for financial support and superiority.
In the event females do have a job, their jobs are often feminine and seen as inferior to that of the male. The woman is seen as only belonging “in the kitchen” and not a dominating positions much less the world of work. It is observed that most secretarial jobs are given to women; CEOs tend to be men, meanwhile few women take on managerial positions. Women are associated with less physically strenuous jobs like office work, crafts, sewing, unlike males who are associated with jobs such as construction, and engineering that pay handsomely so that they can provide for their families. These roles which have been established by the education system are slowly changing within the Trinidadian society today.


As the Trinidadian society has grown and become more advanced and industrialized so too have the traditional values altered. Interestingly enough, within both Afro and Indo Trinidadian families’ gender roles have been increasingly changing. The roles of men and women have drastically changed with the increase in female education within the nation. Men are progressively being marginalized by these women who have penetrated the world of work. The conventional “homemakers” have left the home and have now replaced the males in the domain of work.
There has been a notable increase of women disregarding the expected domesticated role as they have established their own independence and have in turn become breadwinners. Within the population of students at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine Campus, there is an imbalance of females to males, with the females out numbering their male counterparts drastically. Women are thus changing their traditional gender roles through education. Attaining jobs as CEOs, Human Resource Managers and interestingly enough politicians, proving they can run the household and the country. Nevertheless, it has been hard to achieve the same level of respect that their male rivals receive, many women are still degraded and ridiculed by males who fail to adhere to their superior positions. In Afro-Trinidadian families there has been a rise in marriages and creation of nuclear families. These families however, are often headed by career oriented mothers who are supported by husbands who are more domesticated. Men and women have begun to share household responsibilities, both actively contributing to child rearing and home management. Simultaneously, Afro-Trinidadian families also have a greater number of single parent households which are also headed by females who play the role of both mother and father.
On the other hand, Indo-Trinidadian families have had a decrease in extended family forms due to the change in economic situations. Newlywed couples have sought their own space to alleviate the economic strain from themselves and in some cases their families. Within Indo-Trinidadian families women have also transformed from their house-trained roles.
No longer are the wives dependent on their husbands financially as they have achieved education and entered the working force. The house wife has thus become a phenomenon of the past. There has also been a rise in the intermarrying of Afro and Indo Trinidadians creating mixed families. The combination of cultures has also altered the specified gender roles, giving women a more authoritative role in the family.
Moreover, there has also been a birth of a new family structure due to the increase of same sex marriages. These marriages have no clearly defined male or female role and thus share the responsibilities that manage the family. The traditional gender roles are hard to define in such family structures. Nonetheless this family structure is still very small and upcoming so much has not been observed of their traits.


The Mona Campus researchers were intrigued by the data collected as it was rather reminiscent of the conditions at home. The Trinidadian society is traditional a patriarchal society, however due to industrialization and education, gender roles have altered and simultaneously affected the family. This has been a notable development that has also affected the Jamaican society, especially with relation to marginalization of males. Traditional Jamaican families are male dominated as well, leaving the woman to be that delicate balance that children need. Often, females are seen as only useful for baring offspring by their Jamaican patriarchs. Nonetheless, females have indeed been piercing their way through the world of work and shaping themselves as true forces to be wrecking with, no longer the homemaker. Women are no longer dependant on males; rather, one witnesses a certain level of equality amongst the genders.
Within both societies there has been an increase of females enrolled in schools of higher education, outnumbering the males at both Mona and St Augustine Campuses of the University of the West Indies. Women in Jamaica have also taken the initiative to provide for their families. Many families in Jamaica are headed by females, as single parent family structures and common law relationships are very dominant especially amongst middle and lower class families. Also some families depend on the father or male figure who are abroad to send remittances that ensure their wellness and survival. The father is absent physically but present financially.
Women have also made their mark in the working world and have even produced a female Prime Minister as in the Trinidadian society. It is critical to note how both societies have evolved so much so that a female has made significant strides in the political arena. Consequently some males in Jamaica have seemingly embraced the idea of being taken care by an independent woman, as they find it very attractive in a woman, but often times these men are not on the same academic level as the female. Males that are on the same level seem threatened on the other hand and this has made it hard for Jamaican females to find a mate that is their equivalent.
Moreover, unlike the Trinidadian society, there has not been a distinct rise in same sex marriages or families. It is not a growing or widely accepted proclivity. However, these families do exist but not on a noticeably large scale where the gender roles of the Jamaican society is affected.


The growing trends of the independent females who have done away with her prescribed gender roles have shown a drastic upsurge of male demotion. No longer are males seen as the dominant figure, breadwinner or protector of the family as women step to the plate as independent forces. Their male counterparts have notably struggled to accept the changing gender roles, whilst some encourage the female empowerment. The conventional family structures have thus altered; shared responsibilities within the household have banished the set gender roles and encouraged the impartiality between genders. However, the rise in gay families within one society has proved to be an even bigger threat to the traditional gender roles of yester year. Gender roles are an evolving phenomenon, as society begins to change what is considered “normal”. It leaves one with a lingering question: Who is the dominant sex?