What Is 'Marianismo'?

The traditional woman's role in LatinX culture

person holding a rose

Verywell / Alison Czinkota

What Does the Term 'Marianismo' Mean? 

Marianismo

In many Latin American or Hispanic cultures, 'marianismo' culture encapsulates an idealized traditional feminine gender role characterized by submissiveness, selflessness, chastity, hyper-femininity, and the acceptance of machismo in males.

History of Marianismo 

Although a definition of 'Marianismo' did not arise until the 1970s, the construct can be dated back to Colonization. When the Spanish arrived in what is now Latin America, they brought along with them their Roman Catholic beliefs, and inside their bibles and in their art, they praised a figure of what they believed to be the definition of a pure woman—The Virgin Mary.

The Virgin Mary

Mary, chosen to be the mother of Jesus Christ, according to Roman Catholicism, is believed to have given the ultimate sacrifice. She fully committed herself to the Catholic God and even bore his son. She was a woman of great dedication to her spirituality and became a deeply loving mother. This figure of Catholic history is where Marianismo comes from. 

She, Mary, is the great expectation for women in Marianismo. They will be pure, virginal, loving, and dedicated to lives outside their own. Often, to their own expense

What 'Marianismo' Looks Like: Traits of the Ideal Latina

Marianismo, a term that was first coined by Evelyn Stevens in 1973, describes a gender-based expectation for women throughout Latin America.

Expected Traits of the Ideal Latina

The ideal Latina should be:

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

Three Main Concepts of Marianismo

Marianismo can be framed through three main concepts: 

  1. Familismo: A woman should be a good mother or possess the qualities of becoming a good mother. She must care for the kids and her husband above all else.
  2. Respeto: A woman should not be sexual and should remain a virgin until she is to have children. Even when she becomes sexually active, she should not crave sex or have sexual desires. Sex is reserved for male pleasure and making babies only.
  3. Simpatica: A woman should be self-sacrificing. She should not engage in conflict and if a conflict arises, she should remain quiet and not voice her opinion.

The Health Impact of Marianismo

Marianismo has an overall negative mental health impact on women. Not only is Marianismo tied to higher rates of anxiety and depression, but it also cultivates a culture of self-silencing where women withhold their thoughts, opinions, and emotions, with this being perceived as better for the family.

Self-Silencing Leads to Poorer Physical Health

According to Karen Jakubowski, a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Pittsburgh, the impact of self-silencing is not restricted to just one's mental health.

A study of women (who were between the ages of 40 and 60 and self-silenced), found that they felt like they could not express themselves in intimate relationships and had a 14% higher chance of showing plaque in their carotid artery. Plaque like this could lead to cardiovascular problems, including heart attacks and strokes.

Self-silencing, a virtue of Marianismo, is not only detrimental to the mental health of women but to their physical health as well.

How Marianismo Relates to Machismo 

Marianismo has a dyadic relationship with Machismo which is the social construction of masculinity across Latin American and Spanish cultures.

In LatinX Culture, a Person's Ability to Embody These Roles Determines Their Worth

Marianismo and Machismo are symbiotic. In other words, men are taught to be powerful figures in society and in their homes. In addition, their worth is ascribed to how well they play into this gender role. Women, on the other hand, are taught that their worth is determined by how well they play into their own Marianismo gender role.

Machismo cannot exist without Marianismo, with Machismo formulating attitudes regarding how women should perform. The virtues of women under Machismo parallel the definition of women who ascribe to Marianismo.

Marianismo and Violence

Marianismo is inherently and inarguably sexist. It contributes to the gender gap across Latin American countries and societies.

Gender-Based Violence

Women are conditioned to be passive and self-sacrificing–not empowered. Consequently, they are more likely to be targets of gender-based violence. Femicide, or the murder of women because they are women, runs rampant throughout Latin America.

Emergency Information

If you or a loved one are a victim of any form of violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for confidential assistance from trained advocates.

If you are in immediate danger, please call 911.

Latinas Are Fighting Back Against Marianismo Culture

Women raised in Marianismo culture are fighting back. For instance, in Argentina, women speak out against gender-based violence with a protest movement called #NiUnaMenos (“Not One Women Less”).

Mexico has followed suit, with its #UnDiaSinNosotras (“A Day Without Us”) campaign. During this protest, women walked out from their schools and jobs for 24 hours to show what society would be missing if women were not there.

To be a woman in the streets fighting for her rights, loud and empowered, is to signal to a patriarchal society that Marianismo is no longer the determinant of a woman’s worth across Latin America or Latin American societies.

A Word From Verywell

While Marianismo has been embedded into LatinX culture, many people are pushing back against it as it's become evident how detrimental it is to women's mental and physical health. You have the right to speak up for yourself, express your feelings, and explore your sexuality. Women do not have to be defined solely in relation to children and the men in their lives.

If you've been affected by Marianismo culture, please reach out for help from a mental health professional or lean on your support system. It's best to find a therapist who has a deep understanding of LatinX culture.

LatinX Therapy has an extensive directory of LatinX therapists that speak both English and Spanish and are of varying genders, races, and nationalities. Therapeutic rapport is a must for successful treatment, so take your time and find someone you connect with.

Crisis Support

If you or a loved one are struggling with a mental health crisis, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. APA Dictionary of Psychology. Marianismo.

  2. University of Pittsburgh Press. Marianismo : the other face of machismo in Latin America.

  3. UNED Research Journal. Marianismo Identity, Self-Silencing, Depression and Anxiety in Women from Santa María de Dota, Costa Rica.

  4. Jakubowski KP, Barinas-Mitchell E, Chang YF, Maki PM, Matthews KA, Thurston RC. The Cardiovascular Cost of Silence: Relationships Between Self-silencing and Carotid Atherosclerosis in Midlife WomenAnn Behav Med. 2022;56(3):282-290. doi:10.1093/abm/kaab046

  5. Garcia, Emma. Blending the Gender Binary: The Machismo-Marianismo Dyad as a Coping Mechanism. Honors Projects. 2021.

  6. Center for Strategic and International Studies. Femicides in Mexico: Impunity and Protests.

By Ixa Sotelo
Ixa is an Austin, Texas-based writer and contributor for Verywell Mind, where she explores the intersections of Latinx culture, spirituality, non-monogamy, mental health, and queer identity.