What Is Marianismo — And Why It's Deeply Harmful To Latina Women

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What is Marianismo and Why It's Harmful to Latina Women
Self

Growing up as a Latina in a very Latin household, the very first things I was ever taught was to be religious and worship the Virgin Mary, and to most of all: act like the Virgin Mary and not have sex until marriage. I was supposed to be a “good girl” that didn’t talk back to my parents or have sex because sex meant moral impurity. As a Latina, I was expected to not even talk about sex or learn about it. 

While this sentiment may hold true for a lot of women, Latin culture, in particular, has this idea that you must strive to be the “ideal woman”, which is to be like the Virgin Mary. 

This is called Marianismo, the traditional gender role of women in Latin America where cultural expectations require them to be sexually “pure” and submissive to their husbands.

This term was created in response to machismo, which is the traditional gender role of men requiring them to exhibit masculine pride. Marianismo is the other side of machismo, or in other words, men are expected to act one way, while women are expected to act the opposite way at the same time. 

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Marianismo is a social construct that stems from Christianity and Catholicism, which venerated the Virgin Mary and made the Virgin Mary a symbol of the “ideal woman” that all Latin American women should strive towards

According to Evelyn Stevens, author of Marianismo: The Other Face of Machismo in Latin America, “...the characteristics of this ideal are semidivinity, moral superiority, and spiritual strength." This means that Latina women are put on a pedestal and revered as people who have unlimited spiritual strength and patience who are still submissive and forgiving to the men in their lives, regardless of what the men in their lives put them through. 

Marianismo also says women must be patient with the men in their lives because men are como ninos, or like little boys whose foolishness must always be forgiven. And when it comes to sexual behavior, as Steven writes, “‘Good’ women do not enjoy coitus; they endure it when the duties of matrimony call for it."

The struggles of growing up as a Latina can be seen in the TV show Jane the Virgin, which is the story of a young Latina who is a Catholic and told that she must wait until marriage to have sex by her grandma. Jane’s grandmother Alba, who is a devout Catholic, taught Jane the importance of being “pure” by giving her the example of the white flower. 

Alba says, “Look at the flower in your hand Jane. Notice how perfect it is. How pure. Now crumple it. Good. Now try to make it look new again. That’s right. You can never go back and that’s what happens when you lose your virginity!”

Jane the Virgin shows the struggle of a young Latina trying to live up to her religious Grandmother’s expectations while carving her own story and independence. This is Marianismo in real-time. 

The expectations of Latinas being submissive and being “pure” create a lot of pressure on young Latinas and produce a culture of shame when young Latinas do not meet these expectations. 

The culture of Marianismo is 100% problematic as you can imagine.

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First, not every Latinx household is Christian or Catholic; the Latinx community holds a diverse set of beliefs across the community. Second, marianismo is heterosexist, invisibilizing the LGBTQ+ community. 

However, the culture of marianismo is still a real experience for some young Latinas. 

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It especially hurts young Latinas who are in need of information that will help them to make smart and healthy decisions for themselves. The lack of education and guidance young Latinas face hurts them in the long run as they do not have a trusted adult they can go to for all of their questions about healthy relationships and safety.  

Lack of education and resources can result in high rates of teen pregnancy and high HIV transmission rates within the community.

According to a CDC Vital signs study, “Per 1,000 Hispanic teens aged 15 to 17 years old, the birth rate was 25.5 percent while the total birth rate per 1,000 teens across all ethnicities in the same age group was 14.1 percent”.

In New York, “Latinas have a birth rate of 35.8 births per 1,000 teens, more than twice the overall state rate of 17.7 births” according to the NY Department of Health

Lastly, according to the CDC, “In 2018, adult and adolescent Hispanics/Latinos made up 27% of the 37,968 new HIV diagnoses in the United States (US) and dependent areas."

Marianismo is a very harmful construct that still persists in young Latinas’ lives today. 

These notions are tied into patriarchal culture and do nothing but continue the cycle of shame within the community. As a sex educator and youth worker, I work very hard to challenge and destigmatize these notions all the time. 

I believe that in order to achieve liberation from the patriarchy, we must allow ourselves and our communities to carve out our own stories and achieve independence from our deep, patriarchal, and colonized history. 

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Angelique Beluso is a sex educator and writer who covers feminism, pop culture and relationship topics. Follow her on Instagram @ArtistNamedAngelique.