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17 April 2013

La Sucia, La Marianisma and El Machismo

Recently I have learned a phrase for a a social phenomenon I have noticed and dealt with much of my life.  The term is Marianisma.  It was coined by Elsa Chaney in a paper that explained the cultural phenomenon in Latin America that uses a strict binary for classing women: whores or saints, good or bad, virtuous or evil. The Marianisma is a the good woman, virtuous and saintly, patient, forgiving, strong, pure, AND submissive. I have seen this many times in Belizean society, a judgement that comes from not only the Spanish speaking population but from all culture groups, which confirms to my mind that to be Latino/a is not a culture or race... it is a state of being, an umbrella term.

Why is this a Latin American term? This is tricky. I have seen this aspect of gender roles embraced by people who are not even Roman Catholic or another Marianism sect of Christianity.  But the term is derives from the Catholic belief that the Virgin Mary is both virgin and mother (which does not explain the fact that the Bible mentions Jesus' other brother and sister, but that is a different story). It teaches that women are are morally superior to men. That their role in society is to stay home, take care of the children, pray and take care of their drunken abusive men. That feminine strength is most evident in the long-suffering and passivity.

I see this in many sectors of society. People often estimate a woman once she is a wife, a mother, and is putting up with some major trial in her life (etc, her husband cheating on her, leaving) and she is expected to serve her family with unending loyalty and be tired. I know one woman, an evangelical woman who goes to church every evening with her eight small children. Her husband is rather ever around and her mother, a sickly elderly lady lives with her so she can take care of her. This woman is poor. She does not have a job (how can she with so many children and a sickly mother to care for?). She never goes anywhere expect to church. When I asked her how she does it she told me with a sigh "asi es la vida de una muejer" (such is the life of a muejer).

This particularly angers me, not because I don't think it is a right and an honor to take care of your family. I personally would love to be able to take care of a house full of children and my mother in her old age. I also think that a wife should honour and respect her husband. But what gets to me is the absents of mutuality this life style promotes. For a good woman to be a Marianisma there has to be a machismo, an aggressive, stubborn, trouble making male. I have noticed that these type of women enable the men in their lives to be abusive, misogynists,and embrace a form of hyper masculinity .  It seems to me that the true marianisma  is motherly towards her macho man, letting boys be boys.

Of course, in a binary world, if a woman is not a marianisma what is she? There is a folktale in Belize and other parts of Latin America that personifies a woman who is opposite of a marianisma. The figure is La Sucia, a folklore character that beguile young men with her hunting beauty, but then turns to a hideous death machine. Some tales claim that this hunting figure came about because once there was a beautiful woman who was lovely in every way possible. She and a nice young man fell in love and after a brief, pure courtships, they were about to marry. On the day of the wedding the priest discovered something shameful about her (some day she as not baptized, other claim that she was a bastard, others claim that she had a vivacious life before she met her truth love) and refused to officiate the wedding. The young lady was traumatized by the shame and fled the scene, and she continues to roam the riversides after dark in order to catch a good man and ruin him.

The word sucia literally means "dirty woman" or just plan "dirty". In Spanish the word can be applied to a thing (agua sucia, dirty water, or sewer water). You get the point? If a woman does not life up to the expectations to be good and sweet and pure, if a woman indulges in any thing, if she demands respect from men (especially her husband), and if she is in any way progressive, society labels her as Sucia, dirty.

Something that I have learned about life is that is complicated. There is no such thing as binary. It is not either or. Qualities do  get mixed up with vices.

The other weekend, I went on a trip with one of my class. We went across the border into Mexico. Now as much as going South of the border is synonymous for fun the US, in Belize going North of the border is even more so. Since Belize is a small country it is hard for college students to let loose for two reasons: things are expensive and anyone who will see you just might tell your mother. I personally love going into Mexico for shopping, hanging out on the beach with Beloved and well, indulging in some of the niceties of life. The beef is good and the beer is cheap.But since my personal philosophy is all things in moderation, I have never had a that quintessential college party trip.

Not that I did this time either. Of course I had a couple of beers with my classmates. We had fun and danced around the hotel rooms. We were a little bit Sucia. At midnight when  the younger classmates decided to go out to a club that they go to when they are in town ( I learned that I do not go to Mexico as often as many o them), I decided to stay in. By my estimation I had already over did it and I was tired. Being 27 and in college is just not the same as being 22. I was fine with it and I went to sleep.

My classmates proved to be a little more Sucia  than myself. They stayed out until 5 am. They are in college, young and free, all of that. When they returned, I already have about 5 hours of sleep and I was unusually well rested. Like a mother and a good Marianisma I put them to sleep. I made sure that they took their shoes off before falling into their respective beds. When one of the young men, so drunk that he could barely walk straight, wanted to go to the shop on the street to get some cigarettes, I offered to get them for him. Not that I want to promote smoking. I actually think it is a evil, unhealthy vice and that cigarettes should be illegal (but that is another story). Why was I compelled to get a pack for this young man? I don't rightly know. I excuse myself claiming that I did want him to leave the hotel and go on the street in his state, but maybe it is because I am just a good marianisma.

So readers, what do you think? Are there binary gender roles in your society? What does being a good man and a good woman mean to your society? How do you feel about them?

I am an educated woman. I want to work when I am finished with my Bachelors of Arts and I hope to go abroad someday to do my Masters degree. My house is not clean and my husband will have to make his own lunch at noon and  hang out the underwear I threw in the washing machine before I left for school today. My life's calling is not to stay home and have babies. I might stay home while I have babies, but that will not define me. I am a complicated woman. I love making cookies for my Beloved but then I make him wash the pan.

Life is pretty complicated, huh? But it sort is sweet.

Let me know your thoughts.

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