The Feminist “Tigers” in Dominican Merengue Típico

Sydney Hutchinson playing the drums with her students

Hutchinson playing the drums with her students

February 25, 2016

Ever heard of “merengue típico”? Most of us have not, yet 2013–14 American Fellow Sydney Hutchinson has made this traditional form of music and dance practiced in the Dominican Republic her current research study. Why this particular type? Because, she says, it’s “the only musical genre in the Caribbean in which women have been more noticeable as instrumentalists than as singers.”

In her forthcoming book, Tigers of a Different Stripe: The Performance of Gender in Dominican Music, which she was able to take a year off to write thanks to her AAUW funding, Hutchinson looks closely at understandings and expressions of masculinity and femininity evident in the performance of merengue típico. She hopes to dismantle the “tendency for people to think that only the global North has feminism and empowered women, and if it is seen somewhere else [it’s assumed] that the idea must have been derived from people in the United States or Europe. … I think [this] is a biased way of looking at things.”

As a potential solution to this misconception, one of her goals in her work is to promote models of empowered Dominican women. These women “have their own way of being feminist that works in that cultural context and it might not look like ours, but it can still be effective.”

A headshot of a woman standing outside smiling

2013–14 American Fellow Sydney Hutchinson

One example Hutchinson often sees in merengue típico starts with the classic male “tiguere,” figure, “the dandified but sexually aggressive ‘tiger’ who hustles his way through life.” In reaction to this archetype, an empowered female figure has risen up. Hutchinson explains, “As female accordionists try to make their way in the ‘man’s world’ of típico, they develop a feminine counterpart to this male role: They become assertive, respected ‘tigueras.’”

She continues, “Women performing [the role of the tiguera] has been accepted in Dominican society for quite some time.” And part of the reason she wrote her book was to address this societal reaction. She also looks in her studies at how masculinity and queer perspectives come into play, “to see how it works as a total system, rather than looking at gender as something that just affects women.”

A challenge Hutchinson has faced as a researcher and instructor (she’s an assistant professor of music history and cultures at Syracuse University) is engendering an appreciation in her students for various forms of musical performance, such as the merengue típico. “Many students are locked into their own world view and their own musical preferences [so much] that they find it hard to appreciate the other [forms] of music that I am exposing them to,” she says. Other students, she thinks, are unable to see that there may be other value to music beyond what’s marketable.


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