Gender Expression and Roles in Latino Relationships

So, what does La Rosa de Guadalupe have to do with gender expression and reproductive health?

Normativities about gender (i.e how to perform gender) are kept in place by binary perfomances of masculinity/femininity, and ideas about how power operates are ingrained into social, economic, and cultural structures.

The protagonist's gender identity is performed and reinforced by others in several ways:

1. Going out (only with male friends) and flirting with other girls, even though he is already in a relationship (his girlfriend is not allowed to go out, and if she did the same, she would be shamed).

2. The protagonist (and others around him) reinforce the idea that sex as a biological, physical need for men (and by contrast, not for his girlfriend).

3. Sexual activity is expected of him. When he refuses sex several times, his girlfriend starts to suspect that he is gay (which in Latino culture, is emasculating and insulting).

This episode also demonstrates the roles that women play (or don't play) in their sexual health.

1. There is a lack of transparency in the protagonist's sexual activity, leaving her vulnerable at not in control of her own sexual health.

2. The girlfriend saying she doesn't want to engage in sexual activity is not a good enough excuse for the protagonist.

3. The mother of the protagonist, despite her involvement in her son's life, has little decisionmaking power in the household.

4. The mother is excluded from conversation with her son about sexual health.

The spheres of the 'men' and 'women' do not overlap (except for the mother, who is at the end, excluded). This is congruent to Ann Blanc's global meta-analysis and Claura Pedone's findings, which show that one of the main contributors of early, unplanned pregnancy and STD infection is the lack of communication between men and women.

Claura Pedone and Ivonne Szasz found that men are expected to know more about sex than women. The knowledge that they have is often false, but because of this lack of communication, their knowledge is not corrected or improved. Similarly, the performance of womanhood is that around a cult of virginity, and any show of 'experience' or knowledge about sex is not only seen as taboo, but as an affront to men's identity. Therefore, the knowledge that women have (which can also be misinformed) is not passed on to their partners. 

Sexual activity as power performance

In very simplistic terms, some might define sexual orientation as defined by the partner that one has sexual relations with, and how that gender compares to one's own. However, sexual activity can also be a performance of the power dynamic the of the gender one is presenting.

In a study by Ivonna Szasz, Mexican men that reported engaging in sodomy did not consider themselves homosexual. Rather, the sexual activity was not about sex, but about power. In this instance, when two straight men engage in sodomy, one is being penetrated, while the other is doing the penetration. This means that the person doing the penetration is performing hypermasculinity, agression and dominance while the other, submission and passivity. In essence, heterosexual sodomy is about performance of heteronormative intercourse, and by extension performing the power dynamics of men and women, reducing one of the men to the position of a woman. Therefore, the gender identity of men is based not on the gender of their partner, but on the performance of power (agression, dominance, strength).

In a heterosexual relationship, the performance of gender is therefore based on control of the sexuality of their partner. There is a generalized anxiety around women enjoying sex outside of the purposes of procreation.

1. Women that are sexually experienced are a threat because their partner cannot use their lack of knowledge cannot be used for force her into submission.

2. If women enjoy sexual activity, they may enjoy it with other men, and be unfaithful.

3. Contraceptive use for women has an implication of promiscuity -  some men may sabotage contraception or prevent its use as a way to perform power by controlling their partner's sexuality and reproductive health.

Finally, what this concludes to is that power dynamics in a relationship affirms the gender identity of heterosexual men in Latino relationships. Gender performance for men means infringing on the body autonomy and sexuality of their partner, and for women means performing and perpetuating the cult of virginity and feigning ignorance and naïveté. This may help explain why in places like Catalunya, Spain, where healthcare is inexpensive, there is a common language, culture, and accessibility to healthcare, why Latina women still fall behind other groups in reproductive healthcare.

Gender Expression and Roles in Latino Relationships