Skip to content

Ask Shirley 4 – Breaking the Commonwealth’s Cultural Backs for the ‘Commonweal’


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2019/11/13

Shirley Rivera is the Founder and President of the Ateístas de Puerto Rico. The intent is to learn about Puerto Rican atheism and culture, as an educational series.

Here we talk about the gender roles in Puerto Rico.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, we have been talking about gender perspectives around religion, around politics, and around Puerto Rico. With regards to the gender and our perspectives of the church, how does this influence the general public? How does this even influence the way in which secular culture plays out and views itself?

Shirley Rivera: The culture is attached with the religion so most of these perspectives are about what is the role for the woman and what is the role for the man, how big of an influence in how the people raise their kids. Since they’ve grown up, they have become an adult. They keep this all stuff in their mind. All those stereotypes about what is the role for the female, what is the role for the male.

So, the church has a big influence because if we want to talk about the Christian religion, then the role for the female is clear. How, the woman has to stay in the house and also take care of the kids. You see all these stories in the Bible, how the Bible put it clear what a woman will have to do and what is wrong and since to that a woman is a rib.,

The woman can make you do things. Eve made Adam eat the apple. You’re not big enough to make decisions by yourself. He couldn’t say, “I do not want the apple.” So, you can see since in the beginning of the story, the Christian story in the Bible, how it influences the mind of the people. The women are perverts, the females need to come from the ribs of a male. You can always see how the women are always in the side. Why did not male came from the ribs of the female?

So, you see it is clear all those beliefs, all those stories make a perception and our perspective. To the people, it is the same still today. The people still have that. People still believe female came from ribs from the male. When you have that in your mind, automatically, the female is less than the male, so you see how the roles came to be since that time.

Jacobsen: The secular culture, does this seep into the way they work among themselves, the way they view themselves?

Shirley: Yes, it is still attached. In the past conversation, I was talking about in how a secular community. You can see how the female would automatically oppress themselves. When you are on a project, they have to take leadership. They always let the male make the decision because in their minds the male is the one who will have to make the decision because they have the last word about any decision.

So, you can see how internalized in the culture are their roles. The perspective is that he has to take the decision when he has the last word. In my opinion, it does not count. I can make my opinion, but, at the end, it does not count. You can see that in the secular life, in the secular minds, of the people because it is how they grow the culture.

Even though, they do not believe in god. They still have all those perspectives because that is how they grow, that is what they learn. Even when they directly not express that or they did not practice that, it is still deep in their minds; it is still that stereotype in their mind, still. Because you can see in how they act, how they talk, the decisions they take, everything is influenced by that.

Jacobsen: What might be a corrective to secular women always taking a backseat in secular movements, communities?

Shirley: Yes, you can see that today. You can see how in the groups, most of their leaders are male and how if you are in a board, you are in a group, the males are the one who make decision. You can see how the women do not speak out. Because they can speak out, I do not think males have any problem in secular groups in women taking a board position or making decisions. The females automatically have that stereotype.

They feel, “If I talk, my decision does not count. Or, it is going to be embarrassing or, maybe, my decision is now too smart or maybe because they do not believe among themselves because that is how they grow.

Jacobsen: What are the impacts of self-image and self-esteem on secular women?

Shirley: The secular groups bring the best of us into them. We, in the transition, in the process, still deal with the stereotypes within them. However, no one will know tomorrow as time moves forward.  

The old culture, though, has been here since the beginning of time. I see how this impacts the ways in which more empowerment of women for each other is a positive force, when more women are speaking out and getting more important into the community. There is still a lot of work to do.

But it is sad in the leadership, I do not see any progress. We have a little bit of progress; but in the leadership, we need more empowered women in the secular community.

Jacobsen: When women lead these religious communities and then enter the secular communities. Then we can see the differences. At the same time, when are stereotypes not stereotypes and simply statistical generalizations that do reflect some of our reality of differences and in the way this plays out in religious communities, and in the secular communities, between sexes and genders?

Shirley: So, when these females do these transitions between the religious world and their secular work, they bring all that with them. It is how you see their world. Even if you still believe in god, even if you understand human rights, you still have those thoughts in your day.

How you raise your kids, your ideas, your ethics, your morals? Morality and ethics for me is the same thing. But how they base the decision on what they take. So, what do they take? Why the females getting considered trying to think of their decisions?

Females are getting considered when they choose work, what females take into consideration when they go into a relationship. It is all the daily stuff, how you see, how they keep that. Most of them want bigger.

For example, when I was a believer transitioning into an atheist, I was transitioning into something more secular. You need to have a secular mind or secular thought. That is the difficult part, even in males.

Jacobsen: How do these set of roles restrict not only women but men?

Shirley: Because they bring those roles with them in their mind too. That is how you continue the style of belief. For example, you are a male. You transition from a religion into a secular worldview. You bring all those cultures with you, even if you do not believe in god. What is the role for the female? What is the role of you?

you will still be responsible for your family. You need to be the head of the family. Your wife will have to do these stuff because you came with that. That is how you graze, that is how you see your parents; that is how you see your family; that is how you see your neighbour.

So, you will copy that. Even if you do not believe in god, the way you live. The way you make decisions. The way you see the roles. The way you assume the perspective of the addicts. You still bring that idea because the brain when you take decision will look, for example, in the past.

So, when your brain is looking for example in the past, the brain looks for reference, which you have. There is no way you can change that, only if you are super extra smart and delete that from your brain and be more neutral.

But when you have a male, for example, who does that? In the transition, they still bring all those roles and perspectives and stereotypes with them. Without any bad intentions? They will do it because that is how they grow.

They do not know if that is bad or good what they see. So, they will repeat that. So, you will see that in conscious ways. They will pass this on to the kids. That’s how you say this in English. They will pass this on to the family.

That is how they are going to raise the kids in a secular family because you cannot see atheist males. Their wife does not work. Their wife is staying in the house and raising the kids. You cannot see that in most secular communities.

Why? Because that is how they grow, that is how their roles change over time as they transition into a more secular mind compared to a previous religious mind. That is what they have in mind. They do not know another life.

They do not know another style of living because that is how they grow. That is in their minds. So, when the brain is growing, it is going to take that, for example, for the norms and ethics. It is to see how to live.

They are looking for how they grow in the conscience; they will do that. So, it is difficult. There are all these stereotypes in the religions. All those stereotypes and patriarchy affect the females and males. Because if leaving the female happy in the role of being in the house, you put pressure to the male. They are left with the responsibility for the financial needs of the family, and that is not fair for either.

Because you put the pressure in the male. They are responsible for taking care for the wife, for the kid, for the dogs, for everything, so you put the pressure on them; that is not fair too. So, people thinking with these types and styles.

You afraid of the female, “No.” You afraid of the kids, “No.” You afraid of the male because the kids are seeing that is not right. Then the male if they will lose everything, in their mind, then he will feel bad because you put that role on him.

That these types of stereotypes and perspectives affect these lives of the males too. It is not healthy. It does not make for a healthy family.

Jacobsen: What is the positive way forward for the secular communities?

Shirley: When you are being more inclusive, when you do not assign roles, when you start helping each other and become a team, when they are a team, that is good for the kids because they grow with that too.

So, when you have a partner, you have a marriage where both look partners rather than subordinates. They are not a head for the family. This is the feat for the family. You can see how partners can help each other.

When one of them goes and does a bad act or thing, the other one will help them. Because they will have the power to make that happen. Because, for example, if both of them are responsible for their family, and if one of them is gone, the rest will still survive because you did not leave the roles to both of them alone.

They shared their roles. If you let that down to the 5 kids, it will survive for the 5 kids because he never shared everything with her or the opposite with the male who is the one who is taking care of the whole family.

A family in which the female works in the house the whole time. What if something happens to the husband? What is she going to do? Because she never learned. She never learned all the roles. So, when you have a marriage or you have a partner or romantic relationship, both of them will have to share the roles.

Both of them need to be inclusive for the day when the other one is not there. Everything can still run. That would be the healthy way in both of them. You do not put the pressure to the male, and you do not put pressure to the female because at the end both will need some help and should be flexible, dynamic.

Jacobsen: If we are looking at the influence of religions in Puerto Rico, and if we are looking at some of those coming out of those restricted views, behaviours, and mindsets from the Roman Catholic Church and other religions, what are the risks of going back to default in the secular communities given that many people will have come out of religion?

Shirley: Puerto Rico is a religious place, but, at the same time, you can see how the crisis, how the style of living is making both of them work and have our roles. You can see we have religious families, but both have to work.

Both help each other because the necessities at this point will benefit both of them. The both will have to take care of the house because the crisis makes them do it. They need to survive. So, at that point, the male does not care about the roles, being the male for the house, because they need to survive.

It is not that clear or bad right now because that is the only way they can survive because nobody has jobs in the current crisis. They have to survive at some way. At that point, they do not care if the female work or not.

So, years ago, 62% in the university are female. They went more. They earned more degrees. It is much higher than the males and probably even higher now. In a couple of years, we will see more females in the workforce, in leadership positions, compared to the males. Because males have gone to work, so spouses have more time to go to school.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Shirley.

Shirley: You are welcome! ­


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: