Diana Marie Cortada: Ida España 2022

Ida: Spain’s Influences on Family Structure in the Americas

by Diana Cortada of FIU


This project delves into the many factors that contribute to the Spanish family structure and how these ideologies have been instilled into the lives and minds of individuals in the Americas. The impact of Spain on the structural component of family in the Americas will be examined through a historical, cultural, and psychological lens. This includes the implementation of societal beliefs such as the ideology of an extended family, machismo and the institutionalization of a patriarchal social system beginning at its origin circa 3100 B.C to its influence on our current society. We will also study the psychosocial effects of the ideologies that make up the Spanish family structure on the behaviors of Latinx families and how this contributes to the degradation of the female gender today in the form of pay disparities, laws disregarding the health of women placed by men and the demeaning labels forced onto women by society.

The Patriarchy

Life Before A Male-Dominant Society Circa 3100 B.C.E.

Iroquoian Women Sharing Equal Power by Carol P. Christ
Christ, Carol P. “Iroquoian Women: Power Held and Shared by Carol P. Christ.” Feminismandreligion.com, (2019).feminismandreligion.com/2019/01/21/iroquoian-women-power-held-and-shared-by-carol-p-christ/. 

Before the creation of a patriarchy, societies in mainly Native American communities consisted largely of women dominant families and an overall egalitarian social standing. The Iroquois were a tribe that depicted this kind of family structure before the rise of male-dominance. They originally consisted of a clan system. These communities began to adopt the male-dominant societal structure and the concept that family only consisted of blood relatives in the 19th century as European fur traders and Christian missionaries made their way through the Americas. Even before agriculture and trade became a common practice, which encouraged the idea of male superiority and gender division, male dominant families had been ruled as a natural occurrence because of the biological nature of men being providers, and in a more ancient reference, “hunters.” It was said that women were considered “producers of life” while men were “producers of agriculture and hunting” which was used to argue why women fell to a subordinate position in society and why men were able to seize control of women (Omvedt 1987).

In Native American societies, such as the Iroquois, family’s were mainly female dominant. In matrilineal families, the daughters who married had their husbands move into their families homes and the sons would need to leave their homes to move in with their in laws. The women in these families would receive the most attention and respect, and they were allowed to decide their participation in marriage. Meaning, women were allowed to divorce their husbands, in whichever unconventional manner, before the European settlers colonized their lands. They were also allowed to own or inherit land, participate in politics by electing their chiefs and removing them from power as they pleased, and handled economic issues between clans. Young sons would be given the role of caring for their sisters.

The Origin of Patriarchy

The ideology of a patrilineal society is believed to trace back to Mesopotamia, where men in Sumer began to claim ownership over their children and spouses (Reneejg 2018). Much later, the rise of agriculture, militarism, large cities and the desire to discover and conquer land all played major roles in the development of male dominant societies, but the arrival of European settlers in the land of the Iroquois, alongside other Native tribes, had the largest influence on matrilineal societies. European colonization introduced Native Americans with the concept of a patriarchy. They enforced the legalization of men’s ownership over their wives and everything they owned, from properties to children, and the societal acceptance of marital rape and the abuse of women.

Women’s Societal Roles as Wives in Babylonian Marriage Market by History on The Net “Mesopotamian Women and Their Social Roles” History on the Net
© 2000-2022, Salem Media.
April 21, 2022 <https://www.historyonthenet.com/mesopotamian-women-in-mesopotamian-society&gt;

By 4000 B.C.E the same society in Sumer that was once matrilineal, had now adopted the patriarchy as their societal blueprint. They began to instill marital rules like having the right to name their children over the women that birthed them and their wives’ properties and bodies. Women in patriarchal societies in this time were stripped of their rights to their bodies, their decision making in marriage, their political participation and their dignity, as well as many other rights. Even though women were given the power to handle the food within their communities, they were still objectified by men in this new, male-dominant world and womanhood was almost nonexistent. We can also thank this historical occurrence for today’s “male mentality.” I refer to the “male mentality” as men’s inability to express their emotions properly, using modern day phrases like “boys will be boys” to justify irrational expression of anger and aggression, and the adoption of the idea that men don’t cry and that they should be strong. This societal blue print was also the beginning of the instillment of gender roles in the home as well. Women were placed in positions that consisted of house chores and child care while men were given the tasks of providing for families through hunting, participation in the military, and much later, through jobs.

These concepts were eventually adopted by Europeans who later taught their North and South American colonies after Columbus’ arrival in 1492. Latinx families today, in their home countries and in the United States, still give relevance to these ideologies and continue to raise their children in gender role directed households with little to no development of emotional intelligence or sense of building boundaries.


The Origin of Machoism

Machismo Series: Machismo #3 by Irish Gonzalez Gonzalez, Irisol. “Machismo #3.” Irisolgonzalez, (2020). http://www.irisolgonzalez.com/machismo-3. 

Alongside the ideology of the patriarchy was the spread of machoism. “Machismo” is a Spanish reference defined in the English language as masculinity and its root word, “macho,” means male. Native Americans were indoctrinated with these societal ideologies, to believe that the male was the superior gender and had possession over their women, children, land and much more. However, it is believed that both concepts are a reflection of male insecurity and feelings of inferiority to women. Machismo is known to have traced back to pre-Columbian times (Coronado 2015). It wasn’t until the arrival of the Spanish in what is now Latin America that these ideologies were even more deeply rooted into society. A man who is brave, courageous and relentless is a man who is considered a “machista.” In Latin American societies, machismo has come to represent the male dominance that has been instilled by the patriarchy, continuing to justify the portrayal of femininity as weakness.

Religious Influence on The Patriarchy and Machismo

With the arrival of European settlers in the Americas, also arrived the indoctrination of the cultural and religious beliefs of Christianity. In the Bible it is clearly stated that women should be submissive to men, and because of this God ordained order, women continue to feel dependent of men socially, politically and economically (Prado 2005). The 16th century Spanish Conquest brought a lot of controversy on the male gender identity. The Spanish conquistadors who arrived alongside Hernan Cortes in 1519 fought the Aztecs who were located in what is now Northern Mexico, and won, overthrowing the Aztec Empire. These indigenous peoples of Latin America suffered a loss of their land to the Spaniards because of their military strength and large-bodied physiques. Indigenous males birthed the concept of machismo as they began to practice what are considered more “masculine behaviors” to compensate for their military inferiority and physical disadvantages (Heep 2014).

Converting to Christianity by Viktor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov Mark, Joshua J. “The Medieval Church.” World History Encyclopedia, (2022). http://www.worldhistory.org/Medieval_Church/. 

Catholicism greatly influenced these gender disparities and duality between the roles of men and women. Religion defined femininity as a woman’s biological characteristics and abilities like birthing children, being a nurturer and a provider of emotional support, being the passage for a soul to enter earth side and allowing for the alimentation of this new soul. However, masculinity became defined by culture rather than biology. It no longer mattered if a man had broad shoulders or male genitals, now society decided their masculinity based on their social, political and economic standing. Their masculinity was marginalized to how much land they owned, how many children and wives they had, how aggressive and courageous they could be and how emotionally unintelligent they were.

The book of Genesis in the Bible quoted “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him…”; “To the woman he said, ‘I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you’” (Heep 2014). This statement further justifies a world of male-dominance and the indoctrination of female submissiveness to men in society. The description of Eve’s biological ability to bear children, the woman quoted in the verse, shows even further that femininity was defined by the physical characteristics of a woman. The Catholic Church promoted these restrictions on the rights of women in Latin America and continued to push the societal, cultural and religious agenda that women were inferior to men and their femininity was considered a weakness or a delicacy. This continued the objectification of women, used only for sexually pleasurable activities and bearing their husbands’ children.

Extended Family

Defining An Extended Family Structure

A nuclear family consists of a mother, a father and their children. However, an extended family consists of three generations after the nuclear family. This includes grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, and cousins. They can either come from a unilineal descendant, meaning family from either the mother or father’s side, or both parents depending on the culture and the relationships of the extended family with their relative. When the concept of family rose in the 15th century, its meaning in English was close to that of a “household.” A family at the time included the blood relatives that lived under one roof along with any other occupants in the house, like servants.

Families in Spain consisted of the extended family structure where relatives outside of the nuclear dynamic spend their time visiting and hosting family events. Some of these can be dinners, lunches, birthdays and other social events to gather their family and spend time together. These same practices are seen in families from South America and the Caribbean, both regions conquered and colonized by Spanish Europeans.

Diana Marie Cortada’s Cuban Extended Family taken by Nilo Cortada (my father) | CC by 4.0

Today, Spanish families’ living arrangements depend on their economic status. Hispanics are very family oriented and they turn to their families as their primary social reference (Specialists in Educational Projects 2018). This signifies that Hispanics are very dependent of their larger families for support and security. Family is a valuable concept for the majority of Hispanics and there is emphasis on the appreciation of extended family. However, economic status has affected Hispanic families in the sense that individuals living in the lower or middle class are more likely to share a home with extended family only because they can receive monetary support to pay for bills or share certain household chores in order to help those that need to work. I see these issues taking place in my own home. I live with my mother, her sister, her cousin and godmother. They are all my aunts, of whom are extended family who help my mother pay the house bills and help with chores around the home when we are absent, going to work or school. It isn’t uncommon for Spanish individuals to stay living in their parents house from the age of 20-30. This is also common in Latin American countries and the Caribbean. In Miami, my hometown, the majority of people my age still live with their parents and it is also because of Miami’s expensive market. Many people our age, completing college degrees or making less than $100,000 a year cannot afford to live on our own in this city, continuing to encourage the commonality of kids living in their parents house until they are close to their 30s and even then.

Delving Into A Psychological Lens

The Psychological Effects of The Patriarchy and Machismo on Family Structure

Male-dominant societies tend to have increased family violence. A study conducted by Curry in 2018 confirmed the detriment of machismo on the family dynamic and challenges the integration of this social ideology on first generation immigrants in the United States today. The results of the study showed that first generation Mexican immigrants demonstrated no adoptions of machismo or familism, and family violence was lower than those presented in past generations (Curry 2018). The concept of machismo deteriorates the mental health of family members. Women feel restricted, helpless, unsupported and abused by the masculine behaviors expressed by their husbands, leading to the development of depressive disorders. Machistas also suffer from major internal insecurities and lack emotional intelligence due to the pressures put on the male gender identity by society. Children can also suffer from this, experiencing their parents marriage as an ownership rather than a partnership, which can cause attachment issues and anxiety disorders.

The Psychological Effects of Extended Family on Family Structure

A study was conducted on the Black Caribbean population to investigate their relationship satisfaction with their extended family and their ability to provide emotional support (Taylor 2012). The results revealed a positive association of the individuals’ satisfactory relation with extended family when depending on them for emotional support. This shows that the concept of extended family is common among Latin American and Caribbean families and it can benefit them mentally by providing individuals with a larger support group. This also increases the reinforcement of important family values and encourages the comfort of knowing that one has others they can trust and depend on, especially when in need. Another study conducted by the same researcher in 2015, showed the effects of the presence of extended family in individuals’ lives and their mental health, specifically with depressive disorders. The results of the study once again revealed that depending on the closeness of the extended family to the individual, the sample population observed showed to have less susceptibility to depressive disorders as they are provided by the family’s emotional support (Taylor 2015). The concept of extended family has not only increased morality and one’s family values but it provides Latino families with a large support group that they can share life with comfortably knowing they can depend on their family.

The Effects of These Ideologies Today

Gender and Pay Disparities

As a result of the patriarchy ideology brought by Spaniards to the Americas, women continue to be objectified to this day and are less respected than men in many aspects. In the working environment, women are given much more challenging tasks than men. However, women get paid 84% of what a man earns in the same occupation (Barroso & Brown 2021). Women still face gender discrimination in the workplace and are often harassed by employees. The patriarchal ideology has brought about this income gap between men and women. It also brought inequality in the aspect of education. Women and minorities were excluded from professional occupations and from an acceptance in certain university institutions, especially in the 1960s. Ivy League schools, like Yale, had placed quotas on the acceptance of women into their prestigious school which restricted them from attending these schools and receiving a higher education (Parker 2015). These gaps brought by a patriarchal society affect the now American family structure because women earning less income have less of an opportunity to support their families on their own if they were to divorce their husbands. The inaccessibility to higher education also led to women remaining in abusive relationships and unsupportive households so that their children are taken care of financially.

Pay Disparity in Gender by Thoka Maer
Miller, Claire Cain. As Women Take over a Male-Dominated Field, the Pay Drops. The New York Times, (2016). http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/20/upshot/as-women-take-over-a-male-dominated-field-the-pay-drops.html. 

Another issue is the way that women’s biology is completely disregarded in this patriarchal work environment. Women who become mothers and birth children only have a maternity leave that lasts only 12 weeks, unpaid, to care for themselves and their newborn children. These disparities and disregards significantly affects the family dynamic and structure of families all over the US. Hispanic families turn to the help of extended family during this time to collectively raise this baby until they are old enough to be put in daycare. This restriction on the time a woman can spend with her child continues to support the idea of femininity as weakness and women have actually gotten denied jobs for their desire to have a family, jobs knowing this will affect their own profit and workplace dynamic with an employee gone for so long.

My Body My Choice

Women’s Rights: My Body My Choice by Alexie Sass
Sass, Alexie. “Sign the Petition.” Change.org, 2019, http://www.change.org/p/georgia-state-house-women-s-rights-my-body-my-choice. 

Women are still experiencing restrictions with their own bodies by white men in power to this day. Forty-eight anti-abortion legislations have passed in 13 states as of March 25, 2022 (Nash et al. 2022). White men in political power are deciding the kinds of restrictions to put on women’s bodies, without considering the biological or scientific aspects behind the dangers of ectopic pregnancies or performing unsafe abortions. The anti-abortion laws being implemented today are just as damaging to gender inequality as the restrictions put on indigenous women by the Catholic Church with the arrival of Spaniards in the Americas. They are the epitome of the teachings of the patriarchy and the idea that men possess women, that women are just sexual objects and their only use is to produce children, and that the male gender is superior to the female gender. The way this affects the family structure in America is that it enforces the traditional nuclear family, however, now women are once again in possession of their abusers, rapists, and must keep their children and attend to them, much like the ideologies of a male-dominant world and the concept of machismo. In a way, it also encourages the concept of the extended family since the rate of single-mother households has increased by 80% and continues to increase (Watson 2021). The many restrictions on education, income and bodily autonomy on women does not allow them to raise families on their own, meaning they must turn to their extended family for help.

Work Cited

Barroso, Amanda, and Anna Brown. “Gender Pay Gap in U.S. Held Steady in 2020.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, (2021). http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/05/25/gender-pay-gap-facts/. 

Christ, Carol P. “Iroquoian Women: Power Held and Shared by Carol P. Christ.” Feminismandreligion.com, (2019). feminismandreligion.com/2019/01/21/iroquoian-women-power-held-and-shared-by-carol-p-christ/. 

Coronado, Juan David. “Machismo.” Obo, (2015). http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199913701/obo-9780199913701-0106.xml.&nbsp;

Curry, Theodore R., et al. “Why is Family Violence Lower among Mexican Immigrants? the Protective Features of Mexican Culture.” Journal of Family Violence, vol. 33, no. 3, 2018, pp. 171-184. ProQuest, https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/why-is-family-violence-lower-among-mexican/docview/1992789927/se-2?accountid=10901, doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10896-017-9947-y.

Gonzalez, Irisol. “Machismo #3.” Irisolgonzalez, (2020). http://www.irisolgonzalez.com/machismo-3. 

Heep, Hartmut. “Catholicism and Machismo: the Impact of Religion on Hispanic Gender Identity.” (2014). pdfs.semanticscholar.org/e57c/ad8adb6c421ea2917b6dc19026dfe1b47022.pdf. 

Mark, Joshua J. “The Medieval Church.” World History Encyclopedia, (2022). http://www.worldhistory.org/Medieval_Church/. 

“Mesopotamian Women and Their Social Roles” History on the Net
© 2000-2022, Salem Media.
April 21, 2022 <https://www.historyonthenet.com/mesopotamian-women-in-mesopotamian-society&gt;

Miller, Claire Cain. “As Women Take over a Male-Dominated Field, the Pay Drops.” The New York Times, (2016). http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/20/upshot/as-women-take-over-a-male-dominated-field-the-pay-drops.html. 

Nash, Elizabeth, et al. “2022 State Legislative Sessions: Abortion Bans and Restrictions on Medication Abortion Dominate.” Guttmacher Institute, (2022). http://www.guttmacher.org/article/2022/03/2022-state-legislative-sessions-abortion-bans-and-restrictions-medication-abortion.&nbsp;

Omvedt, Gail. “The Origin of Patriarchy.” Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 22, no. 44 (1987). pp. WS70–72, http://www.jstor.org/stable/4377665.&nbsp;

Parker, Patsy. “The Historical Role of Women in Higher Education.” Administrative Issues Journal: Connecting Education, Practice and Research, vol. 5, no. 1:3-14 (2015). files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1062478.pdf. 

Prado, Luis Antonio, “Patriarchy and machismo: Political, economic and social effects on women” (2005). Theses Digitization Project. 2623.

Reneejg. “The Creation of Patriarchy: How Did It Happen?” Writing by Renee, (2018). http://reneejg.net/2018/12/creation-of-patriarchy/. 

Sass, Alexie. “Sign the Petition.” Change.org, (2019). http://www.change.org/p/georgia-state-house-women-s-rights-my-body-my-choice. 

“Spain and the Importance of Family.” Specialists in Educational Projects, (2018). kens.es/uk/2018/12/04/spain-and-the-importance-of-family/.  

Taylor, Robert J., et al. “Extended Family and Friendship Support Networks are both Protective and Risk Factors for Major Depressive Disorder and Depressive Symptoms among African-Americans and Black Caribbeans.” Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, vol. 203, no. 2 (2015). pp. 132-140. ProQuest, doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1097/NMD.0000000000000249

Taylor, Robert J., et al. “Extended Family Support and Relationship Satisfaction among Married, Cohabiting, and Romantically Involved African Americans and Black Caribbeans.” Journal of African American Studies, vol. 16, no. 3 (2012). pp. 373-389. ProQuest, doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s12111-011-9205-y.

Watson , Jessica. “US Has Highest Rate of Single-Parent Households in the World.” ParentsTogether. (2021) parents-together.org/us-has-highest-rate-of-single-parent-households-in-the-world/. 

Author: dcort028

Dog lover and travel enthusiast pursuing a career in medicine as a physician associate.

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