Writing for the Public

Marianismo, what defines a woman?

My mother recently told me that her mother would not refer to any of her six daughters as “Hija” but rather just their names, during my grandmother’s last days she was taken care of by every single woman in our household, but not the men, as she would say they shouldn’t be bothered, with those sort of tasks. She even called my mother a whore, for leaving my brother and me for a month while she was visiting her. She didn’t believe in education when I was in elementary school she would tell me to pretend to be sick because there was nothing for me to learn at school. I wouldn’t call her a bad mother or grandmother, she was completely devoted to her family, I see her more as a victim of her time. She was married at 14 to my grandfather who was 19, she had twelve children in total six women and six men, I couldn’t tell you how many grandchildren she has I’d say thirty plus. As I keep emerging into my own womanhood I think about how different it is compared to hers and even my own mother. I’m not married and I don’t have any children, as I sit here writing this I think about how I would have wanted her to have my freedom, I would have wanted her to have a choice. But the reality is that she grew up in a different world than me. She believed in family and self-sacrifice, I just wish that she didn’t have to suffer at the hands of a controlling man for her children. 

Machismo is a well-known term, there’s another face to this social-cultural identity it’s marianismo. What is marianismo? My exact question Evelyn P Stevens was the first to use the term in her 1973 piece “Marianismo: The Other Face of Machismo”. In this essay, she defines marianismo as “the cult of female spiritual superiority which teaches that women are semi-divine, morally superior to and spiritually stronger than men.” Latin women are expected to be saint-like, such as mother Mary and selfless woman who accepted her fate, a pure woman. 

My mother and I had never heard of the term marianismo, we were aware of machismo culture because we live in it but not marianismo. I watched my mother’s eyes expand as she read the articles I was using as research. I could see that she wanted to continue reading, and who wouldn’t. Girlhood has always left me feeling inferior, small, and now I have to deal with womanhood, what does it take to be a woman in a Latino household, what type of woman am I supposed to be, are we just molded to be pure like Mary. 

Marianismo is still alive in Latin America today, when I first traveled to Ecuador I saw marianismo values in my household, I just never knew there was a word for it. I just thought about how it was. I knew that I wasn’t going to be “normal” there, I can only speak for what I saw, women are molded to be mature even at a young age their whether that was with drinking or having sex/marrying young I was 17 at the time and knew that I was different than my 14-year-old cousins who were already thrown into their womanhood. Latina mothers raise their daughters and sons differently, they baby their grown sons, while daughters are expected to already know how to take care of a house, cook, and take care of men/babies. My mother grew up taking care of her brother’s kids while he was out with other women, my grandma took her out of school in order to do this when she was 8. At 8 I was still holding my mom’s hand to cross the street, marianismo continues to fade in every generation but I still see a glimmer of it when it comes to me and my older brother. 

Women living in a marianismo culture or household, are trained and taught to be silent. These young girls are controlled not only by their fathers/brothers but by their mothers. Witnessing your own mother being constantly betrayed by the man you call your father, is absolutely devastating. However your mother has to stay in an abusive relationship, if she doesn’t she’ll be labeled a whore who isn’t a real woman, a woman who’s quick to give up on her marriage. I remember sitting down with my father’s mother as she called my mother names, I felt enraged that she couldn’t understand that her son was at fault. Loyalty is an amazing value to uphold in the marianismo culture, but at what point does loyalty become obvious manipulation. 

An article written by Mia Kosmicki entitled “Marianismo Identity, Self-Silencing, Depression, and Anxiety in Women from Santa MarĂ­a de Dota, Costa Rica” describes the mental impact this culture can have on young women. Kosmicki writes “Self-silencing refers to withholding parts of the self from expressions, such as opinions and emotions, to maintain a relationship (Jack, 1999). Self-silencing is theorized to be motivated by cultural imperatives which outline what it means to be a “good woman”. Women have to hide parts of themselves to please others, being a woman in this culture lets you know that there is no single moment where you can be selfish. Humans are selfish, there are moments that call for us to be selfish in our lives, in the end, you are the one permanent person in your life, it’s just you. What defines a good woman when you can’t live for yourself, that’s when you begin to live through your children.

My mother didn’t want to have a child at 21 she wanted to continue her education, she wanted her own career, she wanted to be her own person. Marriage was the next step, it was a way to get out to move forward it’s just what you did next as a young Latina in South America. My mother was always controlled, if it wasn’t my grandmother it was my father, she always reminds me to be independent, something that she couldn’t be until her 40s. She didn’t know how to travel alone, my dad would drop her off at work and pick her up. She only knew what my dad allowed her to know. 

Sandy Sufian, Ph.D. explores cultural identity in her portrait project, “Identity at the Intersection of Gender and Religion among Mexican-American Women in Chicago. She writes about the concept of “identity as performance” and the expectations that come with social roles that revolve around religion and gender. Sufian references “The Maria Paradox: How Latinas Can Merge Old World Traditions into New World Self-Esteem” writing “She should provide care and pleasure to others. Her reward for fulfilling this role is being protected, respected, and free from want and loneliness”. I wasn’t aware of this reward, I wonder if these women do receive their rewards and if they don’t what does that make them? Not a real woman. 

Marianismo puts women into a box where they only have two options: be a saint or be a whore, there is no in-between. Where does that leave us, what kind of woman should I be? I think I’ve already chosen.

1 Comment

  1. Carrie Hall

    Julia, here are your rough draft comments: http://somup.com/crewYIbCYV

    and here is a link to some info on comma splices:
    video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JNCHbJruutY
    Webpage: https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/fragments-and-run-ons/

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