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Marianismo comes from beliefs about Mary, mother of Jesus, providing a supposed ideal of true femininity.

Marianismo is an aspect of the female gender role in the machismo of Hispanic American folk culture. It is the veneration for feminine virtues like purity and "moral" strength (with "morality" defined by the Vatican). For example, it represents the "virgin" aspect of the dichotomy. Evelyn Stevens states:

[I]t teaches that women are semi divine, morally superior to and spiritually stronger than men."[1]

The ideas within marianismo include those of feminine passivity and sexual purity. There is power in marianismo that stems from the female ability to produce life.

This term derives from Catholic belief in Mary, mother of Jesus, as both a virgin and a mother. According to the New Testament, she was a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus. She was eventually given the title Theotokos "Mother of God" in Christianity and thus became a subject of veneration and admiration. From this is derived the idea that an ideal woman should be spiritually immaculate and eternally self-giving.

This ideal woman is emotional, kind, instinctive, whimsical, docile, compliant, vulnerable, and unassertive. She has a higher status in the community if she has children (especially male children) and is a caring mother. She is also pious and observant of religious law.

Origin of the term[edit]

"Marianismo" originally referred to the devotion to Mary (Spanish: María). The term was first used by political scientist Evelyn Stevens in her 1973 essay "Marianismo: The Other Face of Machismo". It was in direct response to the male word machismo and was meant to explain the phenomenon in Latin America in which women were either "saints or whores".[2] It is the supposed ideal of true femininity that women are supposed to live up to—i.e. being modest, virtuous, and sexually abstinent until marriage—and then being faithful and subordinate to their husbands. In essence, marianismo is the female counterpart to machismo, and as such, probably originated during the time of the Spanish colonization of the Americas.[3]

Evelyn Stevens' work[edit]

In her essay, Stevens argues that marianismo and machismo are complements, and that one cannot exist without the other. She also states in her argument that the characteristics of the ideal woman are the same throughout the culture when she claims that "popular acceptance of a stereotype of the ideal woman [is] ubiquitous in every social class. There is near universal agreement on what a 'real woman' is like and how she should act".[3] In marianismo, it is the bad woman who enjoys premarital sex, whereas the good woman only experiences it as a marriage requirement. Marianismo dictates the day-to-day lives of Latin American women. Stevens believes that marianismo will not disappear anytime soon because Latin American women still cling to the role.

Other literature[edit]

In their book The Maria Paradox: How Latinas Can Merge Old World Traditions with New World Self-esteem (1996, G. P. Putnam), Rosa Maria Gil and Carmen Inoa Vazquez credit Stevens with introducing the concept of marianismo, citing the "ground-breaking essay written by Evelyn P. Stevens in 1973". They also discuss use of the term by academicians such as Sally E. Romero, Julia M. Ramos-McKay, Lillian Comas-Diaz, and Luis Romero. In their book, Gil and Vazquez use it as applicable across a variety of Latino/a cultures.[2]

Critique of Stevens[edit]

Evelyn Stevens' essay was very significant to this area of study. However, since its publication, her argument has been debated by other researchers and critics. Although her argument addresses marianismo in Latin America at large, many of the sources she uses mainly focus on Mexican culture, thus severely limiting her frame of reference. Also, she is criticized for implying that, despite other differences among various socioeconomic classes, the ideal woman's characteristics are ultimately the same across social classes. Her critics claim Stevens ignores socioeconomic factors, saying "her description of women as altruistic, selfless, passive, [and] morally pure" is inadequate.[4] There have been some responses in the literature to the concept of marianismo that assert that its model of/for women's behavior is very class-based. In other words, the idea that men do all the hard work, while women remain idle, on a pedestal, is a life that rarely exists, particularly for the peasant, poor and working class women that make up the majority of Latin America women. As Gil and Vazquez remind us, "most of her [Stevens's] data came from middle class Mexican women".[2]

There are other criticisms of her work that accept her argument in part and others who reject the notion completely. Regardless, Stevens' work has raised issues that anthropologists and other researchers cannot ignore.

Feminist perspective[edit]

Some feminists criticize the concept of marianismo, suggesting that it simply legitimizes the social conditions of women in Latin America by making it seem valid and normal. They also note that marianismo is often presented as everything machismo is not; therefore femaleness is put into “the realm of passivity, chastity, and self-sacrifice”.[5] They argue marianismo suggests that if a woman has a job outside of the home, her virtues and her husband’s machismo are put into question. Women are simply an addition to the male ego; their only identity is found in being a virgin, wife, and mother.

In the media[edit]

Very few studies on the role of marianismo in the media have been conducted. However, in more recent years, researchers are beginning to explore this cultural phenomenon. Researchers Jorge Villegas, Jennifer Lemanski and Carlos Valdez conducted a study on the portrayal of women in Mexican television commercials. Often women are portrayed as either those who adhere to the feminine ideal, and those who do not. These women are then categorized as good women and bad women, respectively. These "good women" are seen as nurturing, family-oriented, soft-spoken, even-tempered and sexually naïve, whereas the "bad women" are often the sexual targets of men. Another dichotomy presented by this study is dependent women versus independent women. The researchers found that "dependent women tended to display characteristics perceived as positive in marianismo (helpful, rewarded by their family) whereas independent women were more sexualized".[6]

A similar study by Rocío Rivadeneyra examined the gender portrayals in telenovelas. Her research found that in comparison to their male counterparts, women were seen as spending more time with children and were either homemakers or unemployed.[7]

Both studies, however, noted that women and men were portrayed with equal frequency in the media.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Evelyn P. Stevens, "Marianismo: la otra cara del machismo en Latino-América"; in: Ann Pescatelo, Hembra y macho en Latino-América: Ensaios., Edición Diana, México 1977, p.123.
  2. ^ a b c Marianismo: Origin and Meaning Archived 2006-08-30 at the Wayback Machine.
  3. ^ a b Web Archive, Marianismo: Origin and Meaning
  4. ^ Montoya, Rosario, Lessie Jo Frazier, and Janise Hurtig (eds.). Gender's Place: Feminist Anthropologies Of Latin America. n.p.: New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.
  5. ^ De La Torre, Miguel A. Hispanic American Religious Cultures. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO, 2009.
  6. ^ Villegas, Jorge, Jennifer Lemanski, and Carlos Valdéz. "Marianismo And Machismo: The Portrayal Of Females In Mexican TV Commercials." Journal of International Consumer Marketing 22.4 (2010): 327-346.
  7. ^ Rivadeneyra, Rocío. "Gender And Race Portrayals On Spanish-Language Television." Sex Roles 65.3/4 (2011): 208-222.


  • Stevens Evelyn P.; 1973. :Marianismo:The Other Face of Machismo in Latin America; in: Pescatelo Ann; Female and Male in Latin America, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1973.
  • Villegas, Jorge, Jennifer Lemanski, and Carlos Valdéz. "Marianismo And Machismo: The Portrayal Of Females In Mexican TV Commercials." Journal of International Consumer Marketing 22.4 (2010): 327-346.
  • Rivadeneyra, Rocío. "Gender And Race Portrayals On Spanish-Language Television." Sex Roles 65.3/4 (2011): 208-222.
  • Montoya, Rosario, Lessie Jo Frazier, and Janise Hurtig. Gender's Place : Feminist Anthropologies Of Latin America / Edited By Rosario Montoya, Lessie Jo Frazier, And Janise Hurtig. n.p.: New York : Palgrave Macmillan, 2002., 2002.
  • De La Torre, Miguel A. Hispanic American Religious Cultures. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO, 2009.

External links[edit]