Women in Mexico

Social and gender roles in Mexico are similar to other countries in Latin America and Southern European countries like Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece. Over the centuries, families have been strictly patriarchal and traditional. Generally, society is very family-oriented, with family ties remaining strong from generation to generation. In such cultures it is usual not only to know the names of your uncles, aunts, second and third cousins but they may also be an important part of your life. Research from the mid-20th century showed that mothers were considered the most important person in the lives of 90% of those surveyed.

However, this does not necessarily mean that they are treated as equals. In traditional Mexican families the father is the ultimate authority and his decisions or desires are not questioned. The mother, on the other hand, is expected to sacrifice her time and efforts for the family. There is a strong preference for baby boys over baby girls. As a girl grows up, she is taught to obey her male relatives, even younger brothers. Each girl is expected to help her mother with the chores from a very early age. Boys however are not expected to help with housework.

During courtship, a woman is idealized and worshiped, receiving presents, flowers and love letters full of complements. Shortly after marriage though, roles change and it is the woman who has to please her husband. Marriage is a hard test for the Mexican woman as she has to devote herself to making her husband happy — the house should be neat and tidy; his clothes washed and ironed; the meal warm and delicious; the children well-behaved and his wife obedient and loving.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) reported that in 2005 43 percent of families with women at the head were below the poverty line. Female professionals earn about a half of what their male colleagues do and 40 percent of the women have no income of their own. Traditionally, women are not allowed to work or to have any other source of income. Even in urban areas women usually work in the service sector, where payment is relatively low. In rural regions hardly any women work — they are entirely dependent on their husbands or fathers, financially and emotionally.

Violence is a major problem for Mexican women. According to statistics from human rights group Amnesty International, one in four women has been abused by her partner, in the majority of cases more than once. Figures may well be much higher because women do not always report the violence and even if they do, the authorities are uncooperative. They either refuse to accept the complaint, or do not start an investigation. There is a dominant attitude of machismo — if a man does not patronize his wife or demonstrate his superiority, he is seen as a ‘lesser' man by other male members of society. From an early age, boys believe that they will grow up to manage their wives as they please, as it is will be generally percieved the man always knows best.

The problem is not in the lack of legislative protection and prevention. In Mexico, there are laws that specifically deal with women's rights. Some of them have caused great controversy, like those which regulate women's sexual and reproductive rights, but generally none of them are adequately applied. Mexico's law on violence against women applies in 28 of the country's 32 states, but but there has been no significant decrease in the number of female murder victims. One city near the northern border, Ciudad Juarez, has become synonymous with femicide — hundreds of women have been killed since 1993 and just as many are missing. The official death toll is nearly 400 but locals claim that the number is closer to 5,000. The number of solved murders is low and the main reason cited for that is that the city is considered a haven for a big drug cartel. Hence the police do not venture there very often, and justice and law is largely self-enforced according to that local code of machismo.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Kitchenspace: Women, Fiestas, and Everyday Life in Central Mexico
Maria Elisa Christie.
University of Texas Press, 2008
Women's Participation in Mexican Political Life
Victoria E. Rodríguez.
Westview Press, 1998
The Women of Mexico City, 1790-1857
Silvia Marina Arrom.
Stanford University, 1985
For We Are Sold, I and My People: Women and Industry in Mexico's Frontier
María Patricia Fernández-Kelly.
State University of New York Press, 1983
Women and Social Movements in Latin America: Power from Below
Lynn Stephen.
University of Texas Press, 1997
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "The Politics of Urban Survival the Women's Regional Council of the CONAMUP, Mexico" and Chap. 5 "The Unintended Consequences of 'Traditional' Women's Organizing"
The Challenge of Local Feminisms: Women's Movements in Global Perspective
Amrita Basu; C. Elizabeth McGrory.
Westview Press, 1995
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 13 "Mexico Building Bridges: The Growth of Popular Feminism in Mexico"
A Courtship after Marriage: Sexuality and Love in Mexican Transnational Families
Jennifer S. Hirsch.
University of California Press, 2003
To Love, Honor, and Obey in Colonial Mexico: Conflicts over Marriage Choice, 1574-1821
Patricia Seed.
Stanford University Press, 1988
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