Unmasking Marianismo: The Silent Pressure on Latinas

As we enter Hispanic and Latina/o/e Heritage Month, I find myself reflecting on the cultural concept of Marianismo and its impact on Latinas. While many are familiar with Machismo, discussions around Marianismo often remain on the sidelines, even though its repercussions are profound. It’s crucial to dive deep into the gender roles that persistently influence the Latina/o/e community, so let’s explore this less-discussed concept: Marianismo.

What is Marianismo?
Marianismo was first coined in 1973 by American scholar, Evelyn Stevens, in which she described it as a gender-based expectation for women throughout Latin America. However, this construct can be dated back to colonization. Through Roman Catholic beliefs, the Spanish praised a figure of what they believed to be the definition of a pure woman, The Virgin Mary, or La Virgen de Guadalupe. Today, Marianismo is a cultural concept deeply embedded in Latina/o/e culture. From a young age, girls and women are socialized to emulate La Virgen de Guadalupe. She embodies the ideal that girls and women should be virtuous, self-sacrificing, submissive, and uphold an unrealistic image of pureness. This messaging, whether subtle or explicit, reinforces powerlessness and imposes burdens based on gender identity.

What Marianismo Looks Like:
It is important to acknowledge that not all Latina/o/e households adopt Marianismo, however, there are many Latinas who are grappling silently with its rigorous expectations, and harboring guilt that this cultural belief often inflicts. It often means taboo around discussions of sexuality, an emphasis on preserving virginity until marriage, and witnessing the relentless self-sacrifice of women in the family. The harsh reality? Marianismo advocates perpetual self-neglect, urging women to prioritize others above themselves. it also cultivates a culture of self-silencing where women withhold their thoughts, opinions, and emotions which can be detrimental to the mental health of girls and women.

Though it might seem like a relic from our abuelitos’ or parents’ era, I have seen these patterns persist in contemporary relationships and often manifesting as generational trauma. While such behaviors have been normalized and may be subconsciously perpetuated even today, exploration of this topic can encourage Latinas to break the cycle. Some considerations I would share as a therapist in the Latina/o/e community are the following.

Steps Toward Healing and Understanding

  1. Education: knowledge is a great tool to bring forth change and we can empower the Latina/o/e community by illuminating both Machismo and Marianismo. Delve into their meanings and examine their influence over our gender identities. Unpacking our history, especially our colonial past, can be liberating.
  2. Self-awareness & Inquiry: I encourage self-reflection through questioning. These are deeply rooted concepts in our culture that we have been programmed to expect and accept as the only way of being. While many Latinas have been discouraged from questioning, it is essential that we create space where we can challenge inherited beliefs and evaluate the health of our relationships. These conversations can evoke strong emotions but can also pave the path for empowerment and healing.
  3. Redefining Roles: By distancing ourselves from predefined roles, we can rediscover facets of our identities that we have previously abandoned. It is crucial that we offer compassion and cultivate a judgment-free environment for ourselves as we explore desires and interests that haven’t always been welcomed in our roles and in our homes.
  4. Acceptance & Balance: Lastly, understanding that it’s perfectly acceptable if some aspects of Marianismo resonate with us. Engaging in this discourse doesn’t necessitate abandoning cherished traditions. Instead, it’s about initiating discussions and bringing awareness to the wider Latina/o/e community about the potential harm of these deeply entrenched beliefs.

Navigating gender roles and identities becomes intricately complex within the Latina/o/e cultural landscape. Yet, sidestepping these crucial conversations does a disservice to our community. It’s important to challenge cultural assumptions, engage in transformative discussions, and amplify the voices of Latinas silenced by tradition. In doing so, were not only supporting our Hermanas who have been harmed by Marianismo, but we uplift the Latina/o/e community by enacting positive cultural change.

Matt Lawson, MA, NCC, LPC

Matt Lawson, MA, NCC, LPC

Hi, I'm Matt, and I'm a counselor who helps people achieve optimal health. I currently offer counseling services here at Chicago Compass Counseling and specialize in eSports and video game addiction. If you're interested, you can read more about me on my about page.