In this thesis I have presented and treated struggles for recognition and meaning among persons with disabilities and their families in a community on the Mexican south-pacific coast. For people with disabilities, their disability often becomes an imperative status, and they are classified as ‘disabled’, a label itself of recent historic origin. In this paper I have shown how much agency and creativity, strength and courage it takes for a disabled person to gain recognition with a variety of statuses, as a man, woman, husband, daughter, mother and father.
I have focused on employed life strategies which give people social recognition as women and men. For many of the persons presented gender categories, which by others might be conceived of as constraining, seem to be cherished and esteemed. Such categories seem to be experienced as somewhat liberating or even empowering, in contrast to the label disabled.
Embracing typically gendered ways of action seem to be secure paths for achieving social recognition, though the contents and interpretations of these ways vary a great deal historically and situationally.
I discuss the etic/ideological pair machismo and marianismo, which I argue are relevant for the configurations of gender which we find in my fieldwork area. As Melhuus (1992), I find a mentality and practices dependent on the ideals outlined by Stevens (1973) as marianismo, to be pervasive among many of my female friends and informants, although they do not belong to the same socio-economic class as Steven’s sources did. Women are active agents, although many employ culturally pre-shaped modes of action and behaviour, primarily connected to the role of mother, the status which most entirely seems to determine women’s futures and options.
In analysis I have been looking at practices of risk-taking and suffering, which I see as epitomes of machismo and marianismo respectively. Suffering, though an aspect of both men and women’s lives, seemed to be employed as a verbal strategy primarily by women.One can see more disabled men than women in Mexico, as in many other parts of the world. This is partially a problem of representation, but what I primarily wanted to point at, was the fact that more men than women end up injured or disabled as victims of accidents and social violence. I see this phenomenon as a manifestation of cultural models of male action, which seem to highlight variations of risk-taking as a manhood test.
As Melhuus and others have pointed out; men are here traditionally valued in terms of masculinity, as much or less of a man, while women are evaluated morally, as either good or bad. These cultural stereotypical evaluations of women and men seem to be highly relevant for people in my field settings, though alternatives to hyper-masculinity and –femininity/motherhood do exist and develop.
The rehabilitation centre Palapa Papaya, where I undertook fieldwork is one place where alternative gender relations are welcomed and played out. The centre also represents a level playing field where processes of recognition are enabled.
As an institution Palapa Papaya is a multiple field, in which actual content and policies are changing. One aspect that remains is nonetheless the centre’s role as catalyst for change, in individuals’ lives, and increasingly in practices and attitudes of collective or cultural character.