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Impact of Machismo and Marianismo on Chilean Women Life

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Historically, across Latin America women have been consigned to traditional gender roles which present an idealised perception of the way a woman should act as well as dictating the way that they should behave. Within this idealised construction a woman is expected to be passive and submissive.

In 19th Century Latin America the ideologies of ‘machismo’ and ‘marianismo’ came to head, these ideological constructions have served as a model for gender relations across the continent. The two terms can be explained as heightened and exaggerated masculinity and femininity, with machismo depicting idealised masculine behaviour and marianismo depicting the feminine.

In this way women failed to hold positions of importance in certain sectors of society. Throughout the 1800s, as in the majority of Latin American nations, women in Chile were excluded from the political realm. Towards the 1800s, legislation was passed which gave women access to higher education, which in turn led to the emergence of female professionals. Yet women remained unable to vote as many men in Chile opposed female suffrage because women were seen as inherently connected to the Catholic Church and would consequently lean in favour of right-wing Conservative politicians.

Although Chilean women were not granted the right to vote in national elections until 1949, even before this, upper class women were active in municipal politics. The first female mayor of Santiago was appointed in the year 1939, 10 years before women obtained the right to vote. Mayor Graciela Contreras de Schnake was appointed by President Pedro Aguirre Cerda. Contreras was not only the first female mayor, but also the first Socialist to be appointed to the alcalde position. This appointment was subject to much discussion as the people of Chile, as well as others, were surprised that a socialist would hold the position of mayor. The fact that she was female undoubtedly caused further ructions across the Chilean political spectrum. Contreras was involved in multiple women’s organisations advocating for women’s rights; Acción de Mujeres Socialistas and the Movimiento pro Emancipación de la Mujer Chilena. It could be argued that by appointing a female as mayor set the tone for the years to follow and showed that women could be successful in the political sphere in spite of the preconceived ideas that people had. Throughout the 1930s as women fought for the right to vote, a number of organisations were established. Movimiento pro Emancipación de Mujeres de Chile, the Federación Chilena de Instituciones Femeninas and the Partido Femenino de Chile were all aimed at addressing suffrage and other feminine issues.

Women gained the vote in 1949 and slowly began to enter politics. As women moved into the upper echelons of the political arena. María Teresa del Canto became the first woman to hold the position of Minister of Education. Adriana Olguín de Baltra who was appointed by President Gabriel González Videla as Minister of State, in the field of Justice in 1952.

Although this seemed a step in the right direction for Chilean women, many of the women entering the political sphere at this time did so because their husbands were also involved in politics. Political positions remained closed for the rest of Chile’s women. While upper- and middle-class women voted, had access to education and sometimes the option to work professionally outside the home, poor women in Chile did not have access to these kinds of opportunities. Lower-class women tended to work poorly paid jobs outside the home, either in the informal economy, domestic service or manufacturing.

By the second half of the twentieth century, the vast majority of Chileans had access to basic education, but women still lagged slightly behind men in regard to literacy. Nationally the illiteracy rate was 26.2%. Within this statistic, women lagged behind men in literacy rates. In 1970 in Santiago and the surrounding area, 88,203 women were illiterate compared to 64,557 men. While certain political and educational opportunities were open to wealthy and middle class women, these opportunities still did not extend to all Chilean women, even by the second half of the nineteenth century. 

Machismo is based on a typical understanding of male behaviour and what it means to be ‘macho’. On the other hand, the female corollary is marianismo, where the ideal of womanhood is self-abnegating womanhood. In Latin American and Chilean cultures the gender construction suggests that the ideal woman emulates the Virgin Mary, she would be self-sacrificing, chaste, and subservient to men. Although women don’t seek to conform to these gender conceptions marianismo has influenced the way that women view themselves and their surroundings. It also sets parameters for ‘appropriate’ female behaviour.

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Impact of Machismo and Marianismo on Chilean Women Life. (2022, July 07). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 4, 2023, from
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