Teaching Culture: Marianismo (Part 1)

Marianismo is a part of Latin American culture that is often ignored due to the major focus placed on machismo. However, only teaching on machismo is akin to just telling half of a story, leaving out important pieces that help to give a better understanding of the whole. Also, in the context of teaching Spanish to Medical Professionals, its omission misses the opportunity to enable students to meet some of the special needs of Latina women and families who hold to this belief. In this post, I will explain a bit about what marianismo is, and next week I will discuss the possible impacts of marianismo on health and well-being.

Like with machismo, to better understand marianismo it is best to first take a quick look at its history. The culture of marianismo began in Latin America at the time of the conquest. The Spaniards brought with them images of Mary that the natives were forced to pray to. From these images a sort of cult worship of the Mother Mary figure developed. Like in other conquered lands, the figure of Mary easily fit into the worship of “mother-gods” whose attributes, as explained by Pastor (2010), include being a symbol of domestication of the land (not only with agriculture but also with control over natural catastrophes), victory in war, healing for those who are sick and injured and especially fertility:

“La convicción de que el atributo femenino más importante es la fertilidad y de que las mujeres son la base de la producción y reproducción de la especie humana es evidente en las figurillas de las diosas-madre de muchas culturas de antigüedad […]” (259)

The human sacrifice of the young girls among indigenous tribes was important for ensuring the continued fertility of the tribe and good economy. These women were not sacrificed because they were lesser or insignificant but because they were considered a valued treasure. However, they were still dominated by the man. Even if the sacrifice was not literally made with one´s life, there were other sacrifices that the women were often expected to make to ensure the community´s survival: their freedom and their sexuality. Another parallel aspect to this indigenous religious culture of the “mother-gods” was that the woman was considered nature and the man had to subdue her and domesticate her in the same way he does with nature.

The idea of the Virgin Mary easy fit into this culture because, as Pastor (2010) asserts:

“La fascinación por María respondió a todas esas acciones en un clima en el cual una parte de los fieles indígenas deseaba y necesitaba llenar los huecos dejados por el abandono de sus propias tradiciones culturales. Lejos de ser una mujer de carne y hueso, para muchas comunidades María constituyó la representación del cosmos, el símbolo de la vida y la muerte terrenales, la intercesora para alcanzar la vida eterna, […] capaz de cohesionar a todos los hijos de la nación, sin distinción y con justicia, para protegerlos y salvarlos. Por otra parte, fue el recurso más preciado contra el miedo al mal, pues ante la amenaza y la enfermedad, el rezo a la Virgen fue una fuente de esperanza que alivió las tensiones. […] La difusión de María como donadora de vida, pureza riqueza, fertilidad y salvación de almas había constituido en España una de las estrategias más sobresalientes para combatir al paganismo y detener las herejías.” (272)

This, along with the Catholic views of morality (monogamy, procreation, condemnation of homosexuality, etc.), gave rise to marianismo and machismo, a double morality and belief system that would develop over the following centuries and even continue into modern times.

In their article on marianismo among Mexican-Americans, Jezzini, Guzman and Grayshield describe Marianismo as an encompassing “sacred duty to family, subordination to men, subservience, selflessness, self renouncement and self sacrifice, chastity before marriage, sexual passivity after marriage and erotic repression” (2010). Marianismo is the idea that woman are to be like the virgin Mary in purity, morality, obedience to men and suffering. Sexually, the innocence and purity of a woman is valued. She must wait for marriage to engage in sexual relations and, once married, is to remain monogamous. If she does have relations, it is because she succumbed to the man´s seduction. The man is seen as immorally inferior and unable to control his sexual hunger whereas the woman is at times considered almost asexual, without a sexual drive. If the woman allows herself to be seduced, she is viewed in one of two ways: either a poor victim who fell to the seductive ability of the man or as an immoral woman who dishonored herself and her family.

In terms of role, the women is the one who births and cares for the children and controls the domestic space. She is the one who makes the decisions regarding the home, but is limited to that. She is not to work outside the home or receive more education than what is mandatory. Other than what is home related, she is to be submissive to the man.

There is also a suffering nature to her role. Since she is superior spiritually and morally to the man, she must bear with his weakness, whether violence, sexual infidelity, control, etc.  Also, as the godly mother role, she must sacrifice herself for her children and her husband. There needs must always come before her own. There is often a sense where the woman views her sons as perfect and she will always be a protector and “fan” of them. This can, at times, lead to an egocentricism among the sons. The sons, in turn, view their mother as a saint or as an almost perfect model of femininity.

Before closing this post, I would like to note that I am welcome to any comments or critiques since marianismo is a subject that I am not as familiar with. Next week, I will discuss how marianismo impacts health and well-being.


D´Alonzo, Karen (2013): “The influence of marianismo beliefs on physical activity of immigrant Latinas” [en línea], Journal of Transcultural Nursing 23(2): 124-133, <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3310300/> [Consultado el 26 julio 2013].

Fuller, Norma (1995) “Acerca de la polaridad marianismo machismo”, [en línea], Lo femenino y lo masculino: Estudios sociales sobre las identidades de género en América Latina (ed: Arango, Gabriela; León, Magdalena y Viveros, María),  <http://www.academia.edu/243639/En_torno_a_la_polaridad_marianismo_machismo>

Jarrett, Keyona M (2009) The influences of acculturation, marianismo and ethnic identity on sexual activity among Latina adolescents. Dissertations Paper 93, <http://epublications.marquette.edu/dissertations_mu/93>

Jezzini, Andrea T., Cynthia E. Guzman, and Lisa Grayshield (2008): “Examining the gender role concept of marianismo and its relation to acculturation in Mexican-American college women” [en línea], Vistas, American Counseling Association <http://counselingoutfitters.com/vistas/vistas08/Jezzini.htm>.

Kemper, Robert V (2012): “Marianismo in Mexico: An Ethnographic Encounter”[en línesa]. México: From Conquest to Cancun. Southern Methodist University, <http://faculty.smu.edu/rkemper/anth_3311/anth_3311_Kemper_marianismo_in_mexico.htm> [Consultado el 26 julio 2013]

Pastor, Marialba (2010): “El Marianismo en México: Una mirada a su larga duración” [en línea]. Revista Cuicuilco 17 (48) págs. 257-277, <http://www.redalyc.org/articulo.oa?id=35117051013 ^> [Consultado el 26 julio 2013].

Sequeira, David (2009): The Machismo and Marianismo Tango. Dorrance Publishing Co.: Pittsburg.


About abennink

Spanish and English instructor, medical interpreter and health educator. My passion around healthcare, equality, languages and education motivates me to continually seek to develop my skills in each area while also designing ways to use each one to improve the others.
This entry was posted in Cultural Beliefs, Teaching Spanish to Medical Professionals and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Teaching Culture: Marianismo (Part 1)

  1. i found part 2 before this one so i came here to get the full story. I hadn’t thought about marianismo in the past- this is a new window for me. thank you.


    • abennink says:

      Good to hear from you Monica! It has not been until recently that I have had the opportunity to look at marianismo as well. It has been an interesting journey and hope to continue learning. Cheers, Ashley

  2. Pingback: Presenting machismo and marianismo in the classroom. A brief overview | Ayuda, doctor

  3. Pingback: Teaching culture: The negative side to Familismo | Ayuda, doctor

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