Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Doing Science within a Culture of Machismo and Marianismo

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Doing Science within a Culture of Machismo and Marianismo

Article excerpt

Women have been joining the ranks of professional scientists in increasing numbers although international statistics indicate that women's participation varies substantially in different regions. Variation in rates of participation can be explained in part by cultural contexts, and in Mexico, dominant cultural ideologies of machismo and marianismo prevail. To understand the impact, if any, of these ideologies on the lives of women scientists in their professional interactions, a case study was conducted at one research institute. The results indicate that the women scientists report different interactions with men and with other women, and interactions vary with the status of the interactant: whether a senior researcher or administrator, a colleague of similar status, a technician, or a student, and whether a man or a woman. The interactions are strongly influenced by gendered ideologies. The women see themselves as non-traditional, while working in a professional context that continues to expect them to behave traditionally.

Keywords: scientists, women scientists, machismo, marianismo, discourse analysis, Latin America, Mexico.


Women have been joining the ranks of professional scientists--i.e, the 23 fields of natural, exact, and social sciences and technology recognized by UNESCO (1988)--in increasing numbers in recent decades, but equity has not been obtained. International statistics indicate that women's participation varies substantially in different regions of the world: Asia and South Asia have the lowest representation of women at 15% and 12%, respectively; the United States reports women's participation is consistent with the overall world average at 27%; and the percentage of women scientists in Latin America is among the highest at 46% (UNESCO, 2006). In Mexico, the rate of participation is 32% (National Academies Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine, 2011), which continues to be higher than the U.S. figure, but below Latin America as a whole.

Mexican women's participation in science can be understood in light of the limited access to higher education that affects most of the population (Kuznelstov & Dahlman, 2008). Thus reaching professional status is somewhat restricted for all Mexicans, and so it is girls (and boys) from well-to-do and highly educated families who are likely to receive the cultural message to become highly educated themselves. But girls also receive the message to fulfill traditional gender expectations to marry and have children (Etzkowitz & Kemelgor, 2001).

Gender expectations in Mexico are especially interesting because of the ideology of machismo (5) that affects men's behaviors (Fragoso & Kashubeck, 2000; Gutmann, 1996, 1999; Montalvo & Garcfa, 2006) and marianismo (6) (Stevens, 1973) that affects women. The terms machismo and macho (the latter is both a noun as in "he is a real macho" and an adjective "he is really macho") have entered the English-speaking world as general descriptors of undesirable male aggressive behavior (Oxford English Dictionary, 2012). Marianismo is less well-known and is the cultural ideology in which women are judged against an ideal of the Virgin Mary (Stevens, 1973).

The impact of such gendered ideologies on the lives of professional women in Mexico is still under-researched. Women whose professional lives are centered in the geosciences are particularly interesting because they have chosen a discipline that attracts few women. In this paper, we offer an analysis of culturally specific gender expectations vis-a-vis the workplace experience of a small group of women scientists in a geoscience division in a Mexican research institute. Our aim is to understand their lived experience through their expression of positive and negative professional interactions with male and female colleagues, administrators, technicians and students. We also want to examine these scientists' descriptions of themselves in their research environment. …

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