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

It's time to do away with marianismo and smash the patriarchy.

latinx woman Erickson Stock / Shutterstock

Growing up as a Latina in a very Latin household, the very first things I was ever taught were 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.

What is marianismo?

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

According to the APA Dictionary of Psychology, "in many Latin American or Hispanic cultures, [marianismo is] an idealized traditional feminine gender role characterized by submissiveness, selflessness, chastity, hyper femininity, and acceptance of machismo in males."


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 religions that venerated the Virgin Mary and made her a symbol of the “ideal woman” that all Latin American women should strive towards. However, according to the APA, "Although clearly derived from the traditional ideal of the Virgin Mary, marianismo is not to be confused with a specific religious practice of the Roman Catholic Church."


In marianismo, the ideal woman is supposed to be be:

  • Subordinate
  • Pure
  • A good wife
  • A good mother
  • Virtuous
  • Humble
  • Quiet and not speak her opinions
  • Devoutly spiritual

According to Evelyn Stevens, “the characteristics of this ideal are semi divine, 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, and 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 niños, or little boys whose foolishness must always be forgiven. And when it comes to sexual behavior, as Stevens writes, “‘Good’ women do not enjoy coitus; they endure it when the duties of matrimony call for it."


History & Origin of Marianismo

The term was first coined in 1973 by political scientist and author Evelyn Stevens in her essay "Marianismo: The Other Face of Machismo." The essay explained the term as a female version of machismo.

Though the term didn't exist until the 1970s, the concept has been around for centuries dating back to Colonization.

Back in the days when the Spanish arrived in Latin America, they brought with them Roman Catholic beliefs. This specific belief was manifested inside their bibles and in their art, praising a figure of what they believed to be the definition of a pure woman: the Virgin Mary.

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How does marianismo affect Latinas?

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

1. Marianismo encourages gender-based violence against women.

Women are conditioned to be passive and self-sacrificing, not empowered, within this notion, which can be extremely dangerous for them. It makes them prime targets for gender-based violence.

Femicide, or the murder of women because they are women, runs rampant throughout Latin America today. This notion just keeps the vicious cycle going since it doesn't allow women to fight or protect themselves.

2. Marianismo perpetuates LGBT+ erasure.

Marianismo perpetuates strict gender norms and expectations, which can create a hostile environment for individuals who do not conform to traditional gender and sexual identities.


LGBT+ individuals, especially those who are transgender or gender non-conforming, may face heightened stigma and discrimination due to their perceived deviation from societal gender roles. Marianismo is a heterosexist concept, invisibilizing the LGBTQ+ community.

3. Marianismo prevents women from receiving proper education.

The concept of marianismo 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.

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4. Marianismo correlates to high rates teen pregnancy and STDs.

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

According to a 2014 study, “Per 1,000 Hispanic teens aged 15 to 17 years old, the birth rate was 25.5% while the total birth rate per 1,000 teens across all ethnicities in the same age group was 14.1%.”

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.

And, 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."


5. Marianismo encourages sexism and shame.

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 is 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" showed 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 being submissive and “pure” creates a lot of pressure on young Latinas and produces a culture of shame when these young women do not meet the expectations. These notions are tied into a patriarchal culture and do nothing but continue the cycle of shame within the community.

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

As a sex educator and youth worker, I work very hard to challenge and destigmatize these notions all the time. 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, Chair of the Association of Latinx Students and Allies in Public Service, and writer whose work covers feminism, pop culture, and relationship topics.