Marianismo and Latina Mental Health
When thinking of Mother Mary we envision a selfless mother who watches her son be murdered, while still holding on to hope with dignity. Mary is revered and respected, especially by the Latinx community because she is what is expected of our wives and mothers. Constant sacrifice, asking nothing in return, taking maltreatment/even abuse at times with “composure.” An unshakeable woman, who is leveled by life over and over again, just to take even more. All this while wearing a smile, an expectation of warmth, submission, a virgin, beautiful, maternal, and grateful for what little she has.
This impossible expectation is called Marianismo. First coined by Evelyn Stevens in 1973, it is defined as an idealized traditional feminine gender role characterized by submissiveness, selflessness, purity, hyper-femininity, and acceptance of machismo in males. Prevalent in many Latin American or Hispanic cultures (APA Dictionary of Psychology, n.d.).
Statistics show that Latina women in the US are twice as likely to experience depression than their male counterparts and are at higher risk for depression than White and African American women (Shattell et al., 2008). Studies even show that the longer a Latina stays in the United States the likelihood of developing depression increases (Lorenzo-Blanco & Cortina, 2013). According to the National Women’s Law Center Latinas earn $0.57 for every dollar a White man earns (National Women’s Law Center, 2022). The National Latin@ Network reports that 1 in 3 Latinas will experience intimate partner violence in their lifetime and 1 out of every 12 Latinas will have experienced IPV in the last year (Get Help - Abuse in the Latinx Community - the Hotline, 2023). All of this coupled with the isolation and trauma that can occur during and after immigration leaves our Latinas with very little support and understanding.
How does Marianismo show up in our homes and daily dialogue? These ideals are learned and pushed onto our girls from an early age; telling our daughters that they must learn how to cook to find a husband, that they must be clean or no man will want them. Celebrating baby showers more than graduations, forcing sisters to pick up after their fathers and brothers while the men in the family sit and relax. When we ask girls if they have a boyfriend instead of how their grades are. Constantly harping on the importance of preparing our daughters for marriage and motherhood but never focusing on teaching our sons to be good husbands and fathers. All of this creates an environment where our girls are silenced and taught to expect domination by men; while being told that this is the ideal. This is what you have to aspire to. We are preparing you for your ultimate goal in life: a mother and wife with no thoughts or needs, just give, give, give. All of these are generalizations and are not perpetuated by every Latinx family but it is in our prevailing culture nonetheless.
It is no wonder that our Latina women are not doing well and are also the least likely to reach out for mental health help. According to NAMI California, only 33% of Latinos reach out for help in comparison to the rest of Americans at 43% (Mental Health Challenges and Support: Latinx Communities - NAMI California, 2020). Part of that is due to a lack of resources, not understanding the warning signs of mental illness, and the stigma and fear of being labeled as “locas” or crazy when we do reach out for help.
We must speak up in our homes and communities. When we see something wrong, say something. We must raise our sons to support women, not exploit them. Our women deserve rest and compassion. Our men need consequences and education. They need to be held accountable and allowed to grow. Our men can break these cycles to create deeper healthier relationships with the women in their lives.
Many of these issues are multifaceted; they have to do with racism, immigration policy, sexism, poverty, and a lack of resources. But what we can do is attempt to change the tone and messaging in our homes and communities. Intergenerational trauma does not need to be repeated. Real healing and change can happen when Latinas have access to culturally competent mental health care along with family and community support.
APA Dictionary of Psychology. (n.d.). https://dictionary.apa.org/marianismo
Get Help - Abuse in the Latinx Community - The Hotline. (2023, February 28). The Hotline. https://www.thehotline.org/resources/abuse-in-the-latinx-community/
Lorenzo-Blanco, E. I., & Cortina, L. M. (2013). Latino/a Depression and Smoking: An Analysis Through the Lenses of Culture, Gender, and Ethnicity. American Journal of Community Psychology, 51(3–4), 332–346. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10464-012-9553-3Shattell, M., Smith, K., Quinlan-Colwell, A., & Villalba, J. M. (2008). Factors Contributing to Depression in Latinas of Mexican Origin Residing in the United States: Implications for Nurses. Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association, 14(3), 193–204. https://doi.org/10.1177/1078390308319034
Mental Health Challenges and Support: Latinx Communities - NAMI California. (2020, October 22). NAMI California. https://namica.org/mental-health-challenges-in-latino-communities/National Women’s
Law Center. (2022, December 1). Latinas Lose Nearly $1.2 Million to the Sexist and Racist Wage Gap - National Women's Law Center. https://nwlc.org/resource/equal-pay-for-latinas/