Marianismo: Why I think it’s holding Latinas back

Nothing gets me more excited than talking about and dismantling social constructs that oppress groups of people. I don’t like small talk. Let’s not even pretend I’m good at it. Let’s just dive right into it shall we?

So for those of you that haven’t heard of the term before let me break down Marianismo to you right quick.
Marianismo is a gender role definition for women. Specifically Latina women where the epitome of the woman who embodies this trait is the Virgin Mary. Chastity, self-sacrifice, passiveness, always the care taker never the bread winner. It’s more than the Madonna/whore complex. It’s not just about sexual morality. It’s about putting everyone else specifically the male above all else. It’s introduced to us by religious beliefs and reinforced by cultural expectations. It compliments Machismo. The idea where men are taught to be aggressive, prideful, stoic of any other emotion and to express and fulfill their sexual desires whenever and with whoever they see fit (willing or not). 

Now you’re going to tell me how we live in the 21st century. Machismo doesn’t exist. Marianismo isn’t a thing. Hear me out.
My friend (shout out to Gisela) introduced me to the idea of Marianismo while she was studying for her masters. In the article she and her classmates published, it spelled out how to embody the virtues of Mariansmo (Link to the article is included at the bottom of the post).
Reading it I learned that there are ways to achieve the upper ranks of elite-ness that is Marianismo. There are actually 10 commandments. They are:
Do not forget your place
Do not put your needs first
You may not be single
You may not be self supporting
You may not be independent- minded
You may not discuss personal problems outside the home
Do not desire to be anything but a housewife
Do not forsake tradition
Do not use sex for pleasure
Never criticize your man
Never ask for help(1)
Remember how I said this is introduced through religion? Over half of Latinos in the U.S. identify as Catholic.(2) You may think this is something that is just created in academics minds as a phenomenon but the virtues of Marianismo start to be taught at a very young age within the church. Even outside of the church these virtues are subtly and not so subtly pushed onto women. When this is the message young Latinas are given about how to be good women you can see how we can start to have a problem.
It’s reinforced when the father talks more about the sacrifice than the professional accomplishments a women has had after she’s passed. It’s reinforced in sermons that talk about how it is wrong to be a single woman. It’s reinforced in regulating the female body while not having the same overbearing presence in men. It’s reinforced when we don’t have open conversations about sexuality but get angry when teenagers get pregnant. It’s reinforced when we have a culture of not seeking help for domestic abuse, sexual assault, or mental issues.
I have routinely attended Spanish Sunday mass since I can remember. One Sunday in particular I went to mass and was reminded that it is sinful to not get married. According to the father giving the sermon that day there are only two options. Be married to God or get married to a spouse. Anything else is wrong.
My little liberal heart starts raging.
Then again a few years later  I find out that any form of birth control besides the natural family planning method is also considered a sin. Even within marriage.
Liberal heart is on fire.
Are you starting to see who the idea of Marianismo benefits and who it oppresses? No? Not yet? Let me continue.
Divorce is something that is another sin in the eyes of the church. Actually if you’re not Catholic and didn’t know, if you were married by the church, you are considered an adulterer if you get a divorce because you NEVER are divorced from your spouse in the eyes of the church.
Not if the man was an alcoholic and spent every last penny.
Not if the man isolated his wife from the world
Not if the man beat his wife
Not if he was a murderer, con man, etc, etc, etc
Women were and are expected to endure the “hardships” of marriage and work on it. Or at least like commandment #6, not to talk about it and #10 not seek help.
I have seen women who are in horrible marriages and will not leave their men. I know Marianismo is not to blame for everything, but it plays a part.
I have seen women who DO finally take the courageous step to leave their husbands but never in a 100 years think about finding their own happiness. That sacrifice thing is at play.
I see young women settle for a life of depending on someone else. Their greatest ambition to find a man.
I don’t hate on love.
I’m just tired of enforcing these ideals on women.
The other day I read an article asking if Evangelicals, traditional Muslims, and traditional Jews think it is morally right to have a woman as president. Some of the individuals interviewed quoted biblical scripture for why they believe women shouldn’t have a place in leadership. That it is God’s will to only have men in places of power. 3
Obviously Marianismo is the term for the gender role phenomenon among Latina women, but it transcends Latinos. It’s religious rhetoric that keeps women in the home and men with all the social, financial and career mobility.
Men have routinely used religion as a reason for oppressing groups of people. Think back to how men justified slavery, or killing people who are gay, or keeping woman away from achieving equal social status as men.
When I graduated high school I decided I was going to attend Michigan State University. It was a whole hour and a half away from home. I had to live on campus for the first year per college rules. I remember a family member calling my mom trying to convince her to not let me leave that far and choose a college where I could stay home. Not so I would save money, not so that I wouldn’t be distracted and could study more. Because women leaving the home without being married was unheard of.
I remember hearing that sermon on Sunday and questioning every single career goal I had. What if I never found a mate who had the same career ambition and supported mine? Why did I have to give up my career so that I could settle to be a stay at home wife? Why was it wrong if I contributed to society, stayed away from vice and had a career but never married? WHY?
I have always been at odds with this idea of the ideal Latina woman. She doesn’t fit who I am and who I want to be. She doesn’t fit any one who desires anything else out of life.
And if we want to elevate women, see more Latina women in STEM, more Latina women owning businesses, more Latina women running for office, Latina doctors, Latina therapists, Latina everything then we have to address how these social constructs of what is the right way to be a woman and what is the wrong way how that inhibits progress.
There are many reasons behind what holds Latina women back from excelling. Racism, sexism, cultural pressure, inadequate access to proper birth control, lack of education, lack of support. There are layers upon layers. Marianismo is just one of them.
Some people feel it stronger than others. There are plenty of Latina women I know that have a great career, and lead great lives. I’m still not there. I feel guilt if I desire social mobility. I feel guilt about taking control of my reproductive system. I feel guilt about being a responsible flipping adult who brings in the bread because I’m not home all day with my son. I need to shatter that guilt. And I want to help shatter it for others who are too scared to follow a dream.
There are people who feel fulfilled being at home and raising children. It’s a great thing that that’s your calling. And it’s even greater that you’re able to do it. This isn’t a post about the evasive mommy wars. This is about how that never has and never will be my calling.
Shonda Rhimes talks about a hum she gets when she’s writing. I know that hum. I’ve felt it after I’ve ran 5 miles and feel like giving up but I go for the 6th and then my feet feel like wings.
I’ve felt it after I started a project from scratch and from my vision see it come to life.
I feel it every time the passion in my chest starts to burn.
I’ve known, I’ve always known that my place is doing something with that passion.
That first conversation with my friend felt like a relief. I finally understood why I felt so judged. It was more than the fact that I had a child out of marriage. It was that I always knew I wanted to be a mom but maybe not necessarily get married. It was that I felt fired up about women’s issues while my culture keeps wanting to keep it hushed. It was that once a woman falls off the path that leads to a perfect symbol of these virtues that there is no path back. No forgiveness. No redemption. That was not the God I was raised to believe in. It was that I never felt I was the ideal Latina woman. It was that I’ve always been Karina Lopez. I just have to stop fighting it.
To learn more:
1. Kiran M. Hussain, S. Gisela Leija, Florence Lewis & Bridget Sanchez (2015)
Unveiling Sexual Identity in the Face of Marianismo, Journal of Feminist Family Therapy, 27:2,
72-92, DOI:
10.1080/08952833.2
Photo via Visual hunt
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