The Gender Constructs of Marianismo and Machismo and the Roles of La Malinche and the Virgen de Guadalupe (Part I)

One of the topics we cover in Intro to Latin American Studies is Gender in Latin America.  Of course, this is a huge topic, upon which many research studies, books, thesis papers and projects have been based.  To break down the subject matter a little, we usually address four concepts and, around them, fit in discussion and further research. I was going to write one post on this but it ended up far too long! These two parts should be easier to digest.

Articles in this series on Gender Constructs in Latin America: Marianismo and Machismo, La Virgen de Guadalupe, La Malinche, and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz.

Bear in mind this is not even the full tip of the proverbial iceberg.  It’s an introduction meant to whet inquisitive appetites and spark class discussion.

For today we’ll consider, define and compare Machismo and Marianismo.

What is Machismo?

Machismo’ is a Spanish term most closely linked to the word ‘macho’ used in English but which retains its Spanish meaning.


  • Used to describe a tough guy
  • From the Spanish word macho which means male animal
  • From the Latin word masculus which means male/ manly/ masculine/ virile

There are some English definitions/ translations of the word machismo as well.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as: Male behaviour that is strong and forceful, and shows very traditional ideas about how men and women should behave.

The Urban Dictionary gives a similar but clearly negative definition: Having an unusually high or exaggerated sense of masculinity. Including an attitude that aggression, strength, sexual prowess, power and control is the measure of someone’s manliness. Also, a machismo man feels having these traits entitles him to respect and obedience from men and women around him.

Screen Shot 2018-06-21 at 11.35.34 AM
It’s all in the meaning of a word

It may come as a surprise, but there are also some positive associations with the concept of machismo:

  • Caring for the family’s well-being, as the person primarily responsible for the family.
  • Chivalrous
  • Nurturing
  • Protector of those who are weaker
  • Good role model, particularly for younger males

The light side of machismo is personified in the caballero who is a true protector in every sense of the word. El caballero protects his wife and family from all dangers.  He offers the best seat at the movies to his dama, stands up to give a woman his seat on the subway and helps with the heavy household chores. While he is still afflicted by machismo, el caballero personifies the sensitive side of a man who deifies rather than denigrates his wife.

-The Maria Paradox: How Latinas can merge old world traditions with new world self-esteem by Rosa Maria Gill and Carmen Inoa Vazquez

Let’s also look at some of the negative connotations associated with the concept of Machismo:

  • The superiority of men, allowing them to dominate women in any way that they deem appropriate.
  • Sexual power and physical strength, usually harnessed against someone weaker.
  • Aggressiveness toward other men (especially if they are perceived to be less manly) and women.
  • Expectation of female submissiveness.
Screen Shot 2018-06-21 at 11.40.25 AM
Expectation of hyper-virility

What is Marianismo?

A less familiar term is marianismo, which bears relation to the word Marian which is, in turn, linked to the Virgin Mary.

According to the Oxford Living Dictionary, marianismo is: A pattern of behaviour that is regarded as conforming to a traditional or archetypal female role; female submissiveness.

Origin of Marianismo: Used to refer to devotion to the Virgin Mary (Virgen María). The term was first used by political scientist Evelyn P. Stevens in her 1973 essay “Marianismo: The Other Face of Machismo“.

It was created in direct response to the male word machismo. 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.  A Latina should strive to be the perfect marianista.

Screen Shot 2018-06-21 at 1.08.13 PM

The fundamentals of marianismo:

  • Ultimate example of femininity
  • Direct connection to Catholicism, derived from the Virgin Mary.
  • Other extreme la Malinche (overt sexuality and all that is ‘bad’ about femininity).
  • Women destined to be submissive as they embrace the virtue of humility.
  • A woman’s value increases when she becomes a wife and a mother. As then she can fully demonstrate the virtues of loyalty and selflessness in the traditional role of women.
  • Women are expected to cope with expected male infidelity; and remain as the dedicated and self-sacrificing mother and wife.

Marianismo defines the ideal role of woman. And what an ambitious role it is, taking as its model of perfection the Virgin Mary herself. Marianismo is about sacred duty, self-sacrifice, and chastity. About dispensing care and pleasure, not receiving them.  About living in the shadows, of your men: father, boyfriend, husband, son. Aside from bearing children, the marianista, has much in common with una monja de convento, a cloistered nun.

-The Maria Paradox: How Latinas can merge old world traditions with new world self-esteem by Rosa Maria Gill and Carmen Inoa Vazquez

While striving to achieve some of these virtues is commendable, the chastising and shaming of women who do not conform to those ideals is condemnable.  For many modern Latinx, marianismo is an invisible yoke restraining resourceful, bright and ambitious persons, who feel trapped between old world traditions and new world realities.

Screen Shot 2018-06-21 at 12.53.20 PM

These carefully mined attitudes and constraints placed upon gender influenced how Latinx society was (and to some extent still is) shaped:

  • Man: public sphere. Woman: private sphere.
  • Woman’s dependency on her husband because she does not provide financially for the household.
  • The male feels as though he is not obligated to contribute anything other than money.
  • Great pressure on the female to live up to being pure and morally superior in every aspect of her life.
  • While machismo, on the other hand, allows a man to do any and everything to exert his masculinity.
Screen Shot 2018-06-21 at 1.02.07 PM

Women are seen to be ‘better’ than men in one way as women can exert self-control and have the ability to remain pure and pious.  Men, however, are seen to be weaker as they simply cannot control themselves.  This expectation placed on women and exoneration of men, by the same construct ultimately leads to injustice and conflict.

Screen Shot 2018-06-21 at 1.10.20 PM
We are different but equal

Parts II and III will discuss La Virgen de Guadalupe and La Malinche: the saint and the whore – figures widely discussed in academic gender literature.  How have these concepts limited the perceptions of women’s identity?

Some more reading material:

There is so much more to be said about the constructs of Marianismo and Machismo.  Anthropologists, psychologists and sociologists have studied them from several perspectives. Although, Evelyn P Stevens’ work was criticized as being too confined to middle-class Mexican women of her time, there are other researchers who have applied and studied these concepts across a broader Latinx cross-section.

Rosa Maria Gill and Carmen Inoa Vazquez wrote about how the ‘messages from the Latina’s culture’ clash with the demands of today in their book The Maria Paradox: How Latinas Can Merge Old World Traditions with New World Self-esteem.

Priscilla Blossom and Damary Bonilla-Rodriguez have written thought-provoking articles on Modern Marianismo.

If you enjoyed this post please LIKE or SHARE.  To learn more about Spanish Language, Latin American history and culture, FOLLOW Over The Andes today via WordPress or Facebook or subscribe to my mailing list.


  1. Diana Tyler (Eccentric Muse) June 26, 2018 at 3:14 pm

    This was an interesting post. Thanks for taking the time to write it up.

    1. K D June 26, 2018 at 10:01 pm

      I can then use parts in class later on 😉

      1. Diana Tyler (Eccentric Muse) June 27, 2018 at 2:42 pm

        Most certainly!

  2. Gabriela June 28, 2018 at 3:05 am

    Loved the post! I hadn’t heard of marianismo before. I wonder if this model is still as popular today in Latin America, when few people expect chastity and virtue in the West.

    1. K D June 29, 2018 at 11:51 am

      I think it depends a lot of location. I some segments of society yes. It’s still very much a part of daily living. In most though, I think it’s just another one of those constructs that some people (male or female) choose to take on more than others.

    2. K D June 29, 2018 at 11:52 am

      I was intrigued the first time I came across ‘marianismo’. It’s a very interesting topic.

  3. Pingback: The Gender Constructs of Marianismo and Machismo and the Roles of La Malinche and the Virgen de Guadalupe (Part II) - Over The Andes

  4. Pingback: The Gender Constructs of Marianismo and Machismo and the Roles of La Malinche and the Virgen de Guadalupe (Part III) - Over The Andes

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *