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Marianismo and Maternity in the Film “Baby Shower” Research Paper

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Updated: Dec 25th, 2020


Different cultures feature different ideas of a perfect woman. These ideas may be related to the way a woman should look, behave, or treat men. However, under the circumstances of male domination, the ideas of a perfect woman often feature the element of obedience. Traditionally, femininity has been linked to submissiveness (West 100), and the socially acceptable women’s behaviors are often found to feature the component of docility as a necessary component. For example, there is the concept of marianismo; i.e., the vision of the female gender role in Latin America, where it was largely influenced by the image of the Virgin Mary. This concept focuses on motherhood as a key aspect of femininity, but, importantly, it excludes the element of sex, which leads to childbirth.

Marianismo and the mariana identity (the identity of a woman who adheres to marianismo values) have been heavily used in popular culture. For example, Baby Shower, a 2011 Chilean horror movie written and directed by Pablo Illanes (“Baby Shower”), demonstrates mariana (i.e., related to marianismo) images and explores them through a series of symbolic events. Although appearing to be another horror movie with much blood and vividly shown mutilations, the story, in fact, challenges the widespread idea of a mariana woman. To analyze it, it is necessary to establish methods of analysis, describe the theoretical approach, address the historical context of marianismo, and discuss marianismo and maternity in the movie.


The method of exploring marianismo and maternity in Baby Shower is theme analysis. According to Donohue, one of the main things to address in the framework of theme analysis is the characters’ perception; i.e., the way characters see themselves and each other (7). Also, this approach is applicable not only to the relationships among characters but also to their visions of the situations in which they find themselves. Particular attention in this regard should be paid to the way stereotypes and widespread perceptions (or clichés present in the horror genre) are either reaffirmed or challenged (Subero 100) in character development, plot development, or premises on which Illanes relies. The strength of this approach is that it allows drawing conclusions based on a primary source (the movie), while the weakness is that it is rather interpretative and may feature elements that will vary depending on the researcher’s initial knowledge and attitude.

Another method that can be applied to analyzing the themes of marianismo and maternity is the exploration of the movie’s symbolism. It can be assumed that the events described and shown in the movie have symbolic meanings initially intended by the creators. From this perspectives, the elements of the plot—especially, the mutilations and the things the members of the cult say and do—can be approached as metaphors and can be further deciphered by means of interpreting and revealing hidden meanings. It is suggested to address the sexual symbolism of the story specifically (Clover 49) because the themes of marianismo and maternity are essentially linked to sexuality. Apart from explicitly sexual scenes, such as the ones depicting intercourses between Olivia and Julio, there are also implicit sexual symbols that should not be overlooked.

Theoretical Approach

The theoretical framework of the analysis is largely based on the exploration of gender- and sexuality-related themes in Latin American horror movies carried out by Gustavo Subero. The author initially explains the concepts of marianismo and mariana identity by stating that they originated in the legacy of the Catholic Church, in which women are seen as “subservient and docile” (Subero ix); the reason for this vision is that the perfect image and the ideal of femininity in Catholicism are Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. According to the dogma of immaculate conception, Mary was a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus Christ, and she was still a virgin at the time of her ascension. This concept reflects important things about the perception of femininity in Christianity: first of all, a woman who was deflowered could not have given birth to the son of God because, according to a widespread belief, defloration is equal to deprivation of purity in a physical as well as a spiritual sense. Second, the fact that Mary never engaged in sexual relationships signifies her refusal to admit and act on her sexual desire (Jacobus et al. 11). Therefore, the rejection of carnal concupiscence is an important aspect of the mariana identity.

Referring to the initial use of the term “marianismo,” Subero explains that, apart from the elements of sexuality and sexual behaviors and experiences, it also refers to a certain form of women’s superiority to men (xiii). Based on their ability to give birth and thus create (or, from a different perspective, continue) life, women are regarded as semi-divine and “spiritually stronger than men” (Subero xiii). These two conflicting visions of a perfect woman—as obedient and submissive to men on the one hand and as superior to men on the other hand—are reconciled by the idea that the latter vision, in fact, reinforces the former. Having this superiority, women must cherish it and commit to serving their spiritual purposes, which implies that they stay within the borders of the mariana identity. Therefore, a woman’s failure to adhere to these values and her attempts to be equal to men in anything different from the vague sphere of spiritual strength (e.g., in terms of displaying sexual interests and sexual initiative) are punishable behaviors. This spiritual strength, in turn, should be directed to giving birth to children and raising them.

Historical Context

The term “marianismo” was coined in the early 1970s (Subero xiii); however, it was not initially used to describe a new sociocultural phenomenon that occurred or developed during this time. Instead, the creation of the terms was an attempt to describe and explore the key concepts of femininity as they are understood in Latin American culture. Although often juxtaposed to the notion of machismo; i.e., the understanding of masculinity as something linked to physical strength, courage, and pride of being a man, marianismo should not be perceived as the counterpart of machismo or the opposite of it. It is a set of ideas and premises that are related to femininity and often reinforce machismo-based ideas of masculinity.

Unlike marianismo, machismo is not deeply rooted in religious dogmata; however, both concepts have restrictive elements in them. That is to say, machismo can be prescriptive in terms of what men should not do or be like (e.g., weak and sensitive), and marianismo can be prescriptive in terms of what women should not do or be like (e.g., liberated and sexually active). In this context, the two notions are closely interconnected as they may regulate gender relations and socially acceptable behaviors displayed by women and men.

The sexuality-related aspect of the mariana identity is especially important in the presented analysis. First of all, it cannot be simply disregarded that being pregnant and giving birth (which are key components of the marianismo-based vision of a woman) is impossible without sexual intercourse. Although the Latin American culture (and Chilean specifically) was affected by the sexual revolution (O’Toole 447), mariana values and views on what a woman’s sexual life should be survived—despite the fact that they essentially contradict the ideas of sexual liberation. As Subero notes, marianismo fails to link a woman’s pregnancy to the fact that she had sex before getting pregnant; from this perspective, “women become pregnant and, thus, mothers through a divine act or plan rather than the satisfaction (or fulfillment) of their own sexual desires” (111). This vision originates in the dogma of immaculate conception and continues to influence the image of a pregnant woman in popular culture.

From the historical perspective, it should also be noted that the mariana identity is challenged in today’s world. The sexual revolution mentioned above-produced values different from the values of this identity, and engaging in an active sexual life is no longer seen as something reprehensible for women in many societies anymore. Moreover, efforts aimed at pursuing and experiencing sexual pleasure, which is especially tabooed in the framework of marianismo, are more accessible and acceptable for women today than these actions were at the time when the idea of a mariana woman developed and was dominant. Therefore, marianismo today may be found to conflict with norms, and this is why this perception of femininity is often challenged in art. It can be argued that Baby Shower both reaffirms the image of the mariana identity in some aspects and moments of the plot and challenges it in other aspects and moments.

Marianismo and Maternity

The main character of Baby Shower, a woman named Ángela, is pregnant, and this appears to be the central theme of the movie. As Subero notices, she is often seen to caress her belly (the heroine expects her twins to be born the following week), which demonstrates her “fetishistic fascination” (115) with her body. This is not explicitly explained in the movie, but it can be assumed that she had suffered some kind of a personal breakdown, and the members of the cult that she later joined found her unconscious outdoors (Illanes). Ángela is still emotionally unstable, and she is trying to regain her strength by engaging in spiritual practices that the cult arranges. As the character learns that her husband is cheating on her, she is reluctant to see him or even answer his phone calls. Her isolation in a mansion that is not only far from the city but also has no hospitals or any other facilities nearby is her way of committing to her pregnancy and upcoming childbirth as crucial spiritual experiences.

In fact, marianismo is explicitly demonstrated in the way Ángela behaves at the beginning of the story. To confirm the heroine’s adherence to the mariana identity, it is possible to analyze symbols surrounding her isolation. First of all, she is preparing to give birth without her husband, and he is, indeed, absent in the plot for the largest part of the movie. Instead, she is taken care of by the members of the cult who are preparing to deliver Ángela’s twins. Moreover, Soledad, presumably the leader of the cult, thinks that the twins are children of their prophet (Illanes). At the same time, the members of the cult apparently do not think that Felipe, Ángela’s husband and the father of her twins, is the prophet, as Soledad brutally murders him later.

It can be argued that the heroine does not, in fact, adhere to the mariana personality because she disobeys her husband, while a mariana woman should be submissive and obedient. However, Ángela invites her friends to find out which one of them her husband is cheating on her, which means that she still treasures her husband and thinks keeping him is very important. She even slaps one of her friends whom she suspects of being Felipe’s mistress. Moreover, Ángela is mariana in a deeper sense: she symbolically represents Virgin Mary because, according to the cult members’ belief, she is preparing to have children who are not conceived by her actual husband but by the mysterious prophet who perhaps is not a real human being. This theme of immaculate conception is evidently present in the plot.

In contrast to Ángela and her mariana image, her friends represent dramatically different values. First of all, they criticize the heroine for living in isolation; they are urban women and disapprove of the main character’s intention to live in the countryside far away from the benefits of civilization; specifically, far away from hospitals. The very fact that all the women who visit Ángela wear pants, while Ángela and Soledad are only seen to wear dresses, suggests a difference between the two groups of women in terms of gender roles. Although one of Ángela’s friends—Claudia—is a mother herself (while the other two are most likely childless), she also indulges in discussing the body of Ángela’s servant, Julio, which indicates her sexual emancipation.

In fact, sexual emancipation is exactly the sign of anti-marianismo, which is displayed in all four women who visit Ángela (three of her friends and one young woman who is the assistant of one of the friends). They appear to be much more liberated than the heroine in terms of their sexuality. Subero stresses that “the female body as text…will prevail for most of the narrative” (116); indeed, the main character’s friends go topless poolside and openly discuss how sexually appealing Ángela’s servant is. The fact that they do not deny their sexual desire and pursue their sexual interests—one of them, Olivia, sleeps with this servant, Julio, during their visit—appears to be exactly the concern of the members of the cult. From this perspective, the brutal killings of the three women and the mutilations inflicted on them by Soledad and other cult members are punishments for their failure to comply with the mariana ideas of the way a woman should be. Apparently, the cult shown in Baby Shower can be described as the cult of the mariana identity.

If it is stated that the themes described above are associated with marianismo, the ideas of femininity and maternity cannot be further discussed without reflecting on male sexuality as well. The male characters of Baby Shower are rather minor; however, important conclusions on the vision of male sexuality from the perspective of marianismo can be drawn based on their behaviors. Julio is a member of the cult, too, and he is apparently prohibited from engaging in sexual intercourses. When he has sex with Olivia, he is later hit with a wooden stick by another member of the cult who is presumably also Soledad’s lover. This man tells Julio that he (Julio) had wasted precious energy on having sex, and for this, he was punished.

Therefore, it can be concluded that the members of the cult are not allowed to have sex or, at least, to have sex with someone who is not a member (perhaps not before marriage either). However, that same man who hit Julio later rapes Claudia, one of Ángela’s friends, which is also a form of punishment—punishment for being “anti-mariana” (Subero 116). However, since this man is punishing Claudia, he is not supposed to enjoy the process and supposed to view it as a necessity instead. Therefore, the marianismo cult denies the men’s right to gain pleasure from having sex just as well as it denies the women’s right to gain such pleasure. The movie suggests that an essential element of the mariana identity (for women) and the mariana worldview (for both men and women) is denying sexual desire.

The issue of sexual desire and sexual liberation appear to be central in marianismo. As it was described above, a mariana woman is not supposed to explicitly express her sexuality. The main reasons for which Ángela’s friends can be regarded as anti-mariana are exactly their readiness and willingness to be subjects of sexual desire and not objects of it. As Renner notices upon exploring gender roles in twenty-first-century horror movies, women in such movies often participate in their objectification (36), and it can be argued that participating in one’s own objectification is what is normally expected from a woman in the framework of marianismo.

A possible interpretation of the movie is that, when violating this rule and becoming objectifiers themselves, Ángela’s friends declare their equality to men, and this is perceived by the supporters of marianismo as a form of emasculation. This emasculating behavior is demonstrated in the movie quite literally: trying to stop Julio from hurting her, Olivia performs fellatio on him, but, at some point, she bites him and escapes. This scene symbolizes the anti-mariana identity as something that is a threat to male domination. However, in compliance with Renner’s idea, the main proponent of marianismo (and, therefore, the main proponent of male domination) in the movie is a woman—Soledad, a doula and presumably the leader of the cult.

Although it has been established that Ángela displays a mariana image during the first part of the movie, it can also be argued that she later steps away from it and, as a result, challenges the mariana identity. First of all, it is noteworthy that, at a certain moment of the plot, viewers may think that Ángela herself is the initiator of brutal killings of her friends. Subero notes that a pregnant woman is often vilified and turned into a monstrous character in horror movies (117). This theme is linked to the inverted perception of pregnancy—while it is a state of producing new life, it can also be a state of taking one’s life away. As Gatrell notes, the maternal body can be treated as “monstrous, or alien” (633), and this idea links the symbolism of maternity as the production of life to the symbolism of maternity as the destruction of life. Therefore, the viewers can perceive Ángela as the evil character who allows other cult members to brutally murder her friends for being anti-mariana in general and having affairs with her husband in particular.

However, during the scene in which Soledad kills Claudia, it becomes apparent that Ángela does not have anything to do with the murders. She is shocked to see Soledad covered in blood and holding a knife in her hand. She decides to help her friends and run away from the cult because she realizes that the members of the cult are ruthless and most likely mentally ill people. At some point, she confronts Soledad and demands to let her only surviving friend, Olivia, out of the cage, despite the fact that Ángela already knows that Olivia had an affair with Felipe. To prevent Soledad’s resistance, Ángela holds a knife against her own belly, thus threatening to hurt her unborn children.

Interestingly, this stops Soledad from trying to attack Ángela. Apparently, the cult does not obey Ángela, who is the mother of the children of the prophet, but it cannot allow her to hurt the twins whom the cult members worship. However, later, when Ángela is running away down the road, another cult member tries to stab her in the belly; this perhaps shows that, since she betrayed the cult’s beliefs, Ángela is no longer sacred, and neither are her twins.

This aspect of the plot reveals a particularly important aspect of the relationship between marianismo and maternity. Maternity is a key concept in marianismo, and it is seen as a woman’s ultimate purpose and the source of her spiritual superiority. However, it is only respected when it complies with the other crucial element of marianismo: submissiveness. If a woman denies her desires (sexual desire primarily) and becomes obedient, she is treated as a divine creature who is working the miracle of producing a new life. However, when she violates the rules and strives for independence, she is no longer to be treated well, even if she is pregnant. Claudia was a mother, too, and one of her three children was sick, which is why she was trying to leave and go back home, but she was not spared by the cult because her anti-mariana attitude was more important than her maternity. Similarly, the story of Ángela showed that, in marianismo, being docile is more important than even being a mother. Although marianismo declares motherhood as its central value, deeper analysis reveals that this concept is focused on submissiveness.


As a set of ideas of what a woman should be like, marianismo declares motherhood as a primarily important value. From this perspective, becoming a mother is the purpose of a woman’s existence, and carrying out pregnancy is the main accomplishment. According to the concept of the mariana identity, maternity constitutes the women’s spiritual superiority to men. However, there is also another crucial element of marianismo—submissiveness. The analysis of Baby Shower has shown that being obedient is more important for mariana women that becoming mothers. This analysis has confirmed that marianismo is a restrictive perception of femininity and female sexuality that prescribes women to submit to male domination.

Works Cited

IMDb, Web.

Clover, Carol J. Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. Princeton University Press, 2015.

Donohue, James P. “Using Systemic Functional Linguistics in Academic Writing Development: An Example from Film Studies.” Journal of English for Academic Purposes, vol. 11, no. 1, 2012, pp. 4-16.

Gatrell, Caroline J. “Monstrous Motherhood versus Magical Maternity? An Exploration of Conflicting Attitudes to Maternity within Health Discourses and Organizational Settings.” Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal, vol. 33, no. 7, 2014, pp. 633-647.

Illanes, Pablo, director. Baby Shower. Los Tres Mosqueteros, 2011.

Jacobus, Mary, et al., editors. Body/Politics: Women and the Discourses of Science. Routledge, 2013.

O’Toole, Gavin. Politics Latin America. Routledge, 2014.

Renner, Karen J. “Monstrous Schoolgirls: Casual Sex in the Twenty-First-Century Horror Film.” Red Feather Journal, vol. 7, no. 1, 2016, pp. 31-49.

Subero, Gustavo. Gender and Sexuality in Latin American Horror Cinema. Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.

West, Emily. “Gender, Race and Family in Nineteenth Century America: From Northern Woman to Plantation Mistress.” American Nineteenth Century History, vol. 15, no. 1, 2014, pp. 100-101.

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