Teaching Culture: Marianismo (Part 2)

Given the description of marianismo in the last post, I am sure you can imagine some of the health repercussions that come from upholding this belief. Evelyn Stevens (1973) states regarding marianismo that

“no self-denial is too great for the Latin American woman… no limit can be divined to her vast store of patience for the men in her life” (whether that be her husband or her sons).

But how does this ideal of purity and martyrdom play out in the area of health and wellness? In this post, I will specifically present three general areas that are affected: sexual, physical and mental health. However, it should be kept in mind that there are many other more specific implications of marianismo on the health. It would be advantageous to encourage discussion among the students and for them to offer other possible implications. Next week, I will wrap up this “series” on machismo and marianismo by offering a few ideas of how to introduce Spanish for Healthcare students to these cultural aspects and better prepare them to work with patients who may adhere to them.

As mentioned in the last post, the woman are expected to be “innocent” and only engage in sex if overcome by seduction or married, and even so not to be overly zealous for sexual relations. For that reason, there tends to be less sexual education among Latinas and, because of this, less knowledge of their body, less control and comfort in sex and less comfort discussing topics related to sex. Even more so, it is often considered inappropriate for Latina women to talk about sex. Also, studies have demonstrated that more sexual control positively correlates with condom use, meaning that those with less control tend to not feel comfortable asking for their partner to use a condom. Also, other studies have shown that condom use among Mexican American women is associated with male dominance (the more dominant, the less likely a condom will be used). Oftentimes, women cite being embarrassed to buy condoms, a lack of knowledge of their use or a negative reaction from their partner when they suggested it. Exasperating this problem is the infidelity that sometimes goes along with machismo, which is also unprotected at times. This gap in sexual education and control gives rise to higher incidences of unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV. However, it should be noted that marianismo may play a role in decreasing the number of teen pregnancies since marianismo encourages sexual purity before marriage.

In terms of physical health, the woman who adheres to marianismo tends to care for herself last. She only tends to seek medical attention once everyone else in the family is taken care of, even if she is quite ill. This goes back to the sacrificial nature or marianismo that is reflected in the quote above. Also, this idea of martyrdom leads them to accept abuse or at least to be readily forgiving.

That leads us to the topic of mental health. Women within a marianista society tend to have high rates of depression and stress. There is a constant suppression of the woman´s own needs in order to meet those of others and constant giving without receiving.There is a pressure to be pure, moral and obedient. Also, there place is in the home so they are limited on what life goals or dreams they can reach for. Additionally, controlling husbands may move them from where their family lives or limit the number of friends they can have contact with, socially isolating them. The submissive, obedient, docile personality that goes with marianismo sometimes leads to a misdiagnosis of Dependent Personality Disorder. Therefore, prior to this diagnosis, the presence of marianismo should first be ruled out. In terms of other mental health or physical disorders, the woman tends to wait a long time before seeking help since she is “supposed to be” the long-suffering and enduring one in the family. This makes it difficult for her to ask for help. Finally, the requirement of docile, obedient and timid behavior along with  a strict role definition often gives rise to low self esteem.


Cianelli, Rosina; Lilian Ferrer, y Beverly J. McElmurry (2008): “HIV Prevention and low-income Chilean women: machismo, marianismo and HIV misconceptions” [en línea], Culture, Health and Sexuality 10(3): 297-306 <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2603075/>

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].

Delgado, Melvin (2006): Social Work with Latinos: A Cultural Assets Paradigm. Oxford University Press: New York.

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>.

Paniagua, Freddy A (2001): Diagnosis in a multicultural context: a casebook for mental health professionals. Sage Publications, Inc: California

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

Stevens, Evelyn (1973): Marianismo: The other face of machismo in Latin America, en A. Decastello (Ed.). Female and male in Latin America. University of Pittsburg Press: 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, Health, Teaching Spanish to Medical Professionals and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Teaching Culture: Marianismo (Part 2)

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

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