More and more of our community’s women are graduating from college, receiving advanced degrees, and pursuing professional roles in the fabric of society. In spite of this, as many in my line of work have noted (myself included), there still remains an unspoken, yet nonetheless pervasive force at play that often serves to produce guilt and shame over such achievements.
In the therapy room, most Latinas describe this guilt as coming directly from their own families, so they are often troubled by their perceived lack of support. Nowhere is this guilt more evident than amongst first-generation Latinas, and amongst those Latinas who immigrated to the United States at an early age.
While an academic discussion of this phenomenon dates back to the early 1970s, perhaps the most clinically relevant piece was authored in 1996 by two Latina psychotherapists: Dr. Carmen Inoa Vazquez, and Dr. Rosa Maria Gil. They described in great detail what is called “The Maria Paradox,” or the dichotomy that occurs amongst this subgroup of Latinas when the traditions and gender roles of their home country conflict with expectations of success in the U.S.
This dichotomy is driven by the deep influence of traditional gender norms guided by marianismo. They describe marianismo as a call for “…sacred duty, self-sacrifice, and chastity. About dispensing care and pleasure, not receiving them. About living in the shadows of the men (in your life), your children, and your family.” In short, the tenets of marianismo, while highly valued in many traditional Latino cultures, can serve as (at best) a psychological barrier to self-care and independence for Latinas who wish to obtain greater upward mobility in the U.S.
We see this manifest itself in many ways (and I’m sure many will relate to the following examples). I have worked with a frighteningly significant number of young Latinas who, out of familial pressures and even threats of withholding financial aid, will opt to stay close to home for college, rather than pursuing their dream school. I have also worked with a lot of Latinas who are shamed for exercising their sexual independence, even while they are well into their 20s. Additionally, I would bet that many women reading this have been pressured at some point or another to hurry up and “settle down” for purposes of starting a family.
Now, rather than calling for a complete abandonment of one’s culture, the authors argue that a healthy balance must be forged. But they also recognize, as do I, that this process of self-discovery and becoming comfortable with self-care can be quite difficult, particularly since one of the premises of marianismo is that problematic issues should be “kept within the family.” As a result, many Latinas will refrain from seeking appropriate psychotherapeutic treatment.
However, shame and guilt produce nothing but a reservoir of emptiness and isolation. So if you can relate to this phenomenon, it will be essential that you, when you are ready to do so, explore any implications this may have on your self-worth.