Machismo & Marianismo Causes Poor Mental Health, but how do they Differ?

Picture of a man and a woman crying

Scientists and mental health specialists have long since proven that a human's mental state is largely dependent on their environment and lifestyle, amongst other factors. Mental health in the Latinx community is still a highly stigmatized subject. Still, beyond that, some social constructs deeply rooted in the culture, such as Machismo and Marianismo, can be linked to the origins of poor mental health in members of the community. These factors also contribute to the shaming of help-seeking behaviors.

What is Machismo & Marianismo?

Machismo is a social construct that promotes exaggerated masculinity, or the traits that are often attributed to masculinity, such as dominance and aggression. Machismo is also an ideology that deems women as inferior to men and promotes the denial of women as subjects in diverse fields that are associated with power or independence in any way, from the ability to drive a car to being president of a country. It promotes the marginalization of women, and in doing so it also harms men themselves.

Machismo is often preceded by Marianismo, something that we don't hear about as often, but that certainly plays a role in the execution of Machismo as a belief system within society and, more specifically, Latinx culture. Marianismo is a twisted perception of the female gender as a one-dimensional being with specific characteristics often attributed to Feminity, such as self-sacrifice, sexual purity, taking care of others, morality, subordination, and self-silencing.

Connected with both Machismo beliefs and those of the Roman Catholic Church, Marianismo also promotes the idea that women are spiritually superior to men and should therefore be a pillar of strength in spirituality within the family. Furthermore, it leads to the belief that seeking help from a Mental Health professional goes against religion as there's difficulty secularizing human needs from religious convictions.

Political Scientist Evelyn P. Stevens wrote an essay on the subject. She points out that sometimes, women cling to this role and continue to teach Machismo ideals to their sons, daughters, grandchildren, etc. While this may be more of a generalized take, as Latina women have certainly evolved, we can't deny that we still see these behaviors in modern society.

How do they impact mental health?

So, how are Machismo and Marianismo directly related to poor mental health in the Latinx community? Both of these systems promote ideas that put a human being into a box or pedestal that's hard to get out of.

On the Machismo part, the idea that a man should be "stronger" both mentally and physically makes it hard to express emotions and, furthermore, accept the need for help and vocalize it. Marianismo, on the other hand, promotes the acceptance of toxic behaviors from the woman's side. When put side by side, it's as simple as a man that believes they can and should assert power over women either physically or emotionally, who will more often than not use that power to harm them. A woman with a Marianismo belief system will believe they need to accept this behavior, which will result in emotional manipulation, physical abuse, and anxiety, depression, or even suicide on both parts.

This study by the US National System of Health revealed that "specific components of Machismo and Marianismo were associated with higher levels of negative cognitions and emotions after adjusting for socio-demographic factors."

How does it affect a human through various developmental processes?

From the early stages of development, when their parents or caregivers teach a child different behaviors and beliefs, a child can be affected by Machismo and Marianismo, both from learned behaviors (seeing how the member of their family interact) and from directly being taught these ideologies. We often see this happen in our community when a boy is told, "don't cry, boys don't cry," or when a girl is told, "don't be too loud," "be a lady."

And as these children grow into teenagers and young adults, it turns into "it's normal for him to get angry and get into fights, boys will be boys" and "that skirt is too short, go change." These children turn into active members of society when they turn into adults, and they can either continue to perpetuate these ideologies or fight against them, regardless, the harmful impact on their mental health is made, and they must now actively try to better themselves by seeking professional help and breaking toxic cycles.

What can we do to take action?

We have to be aware and shine light on these issues, educating ourselves and then our families so that toxic generational cycles can be broken, and mental health can finally be destigmatized in the Latinx community. It is important to promote mental health so that our loved ones and other members of the community don't have to suffer in silence

Resources for help

This article created by Mental Health America, will navigate through various statistics, learning material, and resources to seek professional help. Here’s a few of the many you will find:

  • Therapy for Latinx: national mental health resource for the Latinx community; provides resources for Latinx community to heal, thrive, and become advocates for their own mental health.Therapist Directory

Book Recommendations

  • Latinx Therapy: breaking the stigma of mental health related to the Latinx community; learn self-help techniques, how to support self & others.
  • The Focus on You: self-care, mental health, and inspirational blog run by a Latina therapist.

If you or somebody you know is thinking about suicide or is in severe emotional distress please contact:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Both are free and confidential. You’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor in your area.

For more information, visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

You can also connect 24/7 to a crisis counselor by texting the Crisis Text or text HOME to 741741.

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