Lessons from Brazil: Getting naked doesn't help women

In Brazil, Carnaval has just wrapped up for another year. I was in the country for the month of Carnaval, mostly because it’s my partner’s homeland. But even with Carnaval in full swing, it was easy enough to disregard the pomp and fanfare and jiggling butts that flanked every TV screen. For a large part, there was too much else going on in the country.

For instance, Sao Paolo’s 20 million residents have had their water cut off five days each week due to shortages. Further south, Porto Alegre had flooded all across the river-lined city. The southern half of the Brazil started running out of petrol due to truck strikes that left people stranded for days. There were murmurs of a new femicide legislation, which has now been passed into law. Then there was the time I nearly stepped on a deadly coral snake in the forest. And I was wearing thongs at the time too. Which for the sake of clarity, translates to “flip flops,” though stick with thongs if it makes for a better story. I digress.

Back to Brazilian Carnaval, which in all its glorious diversity is somewhat of a Mecca for sex positive festivities. It ticks all the boxes when it comes to sex positive celebrations, showcasing women’s (and sometimes men’s) naked bodies in all their various shapes, sizes, ages and colours. It embraces people from all walks of life, it comes with millions of free condoms, and inevitably leads to a whole lot of sexy times.

Prova da banheira
Prova da banheira

Carnaval seems like the perfect antidote to the puritan, prudish, boring, and anti-sex conservatism that reigns.

“Anti-sex puritanism” is a criticism that comes up time and time again. Self-proclaimed “sex positive” feminists and progressives alike criticize “prudish” conservatives. But it doesn’t take conservative politics to be labeled a prude today. Don’t like porn? Prude. Don’t support commercialized sex trade? Prude. Don’t think children being sexually exploited constitutes “sex work?” Prude. Like porn but not the really “kinky” stuff? Prude. Right-wing political views? Prude. Don’t like street harassment? Prude. Part of the anti-trafficking movement? Prude. Don’t believe strip clubs are sites of female liberation? Prude. Don’t have sex everyday? Prude. Do have much sex but don’t practice BDSM? Vanilla. Which on the continuum of prudery is definitely on the very prudish end.

Luckily, the “sex-positive movement” is hitting back against all this prudery. From Herself.com to Free the Nipple to Slutwalk to FEMEN, there is no shortage of women getting their kits off in the name of reclaiming women’s rights. In what could be dubbed the decade of the anti-prude, it would seem that sexualized images are no longer sexist but are, instead, the very foundations of feminist revolution.

On face value, overt sexuality seems a transgression from conservative notions of femininity. Women can reclaim their sexuality without being shamed, or so the story goes. But in order to understand how a sexualized femininity is actually neither dissident nor transgressive, one must look beyond the rhetoric.

Domingão do Faustão: the longest running and most popular family TV show in Brazil.
Domingão do Faustão: the longest running and most popular family TV show in Brazil.

Consider Brazil, the home of the sex-positive fiesta. It’s the country where Sunday afternoon family TV classics include wet t-shirt competitions, women stripping and the ever popular “prova da banheira” bikini bath wrestling. Where children’s TV shows taught tiny tots the “garrafa” (bottle) dance – to “get low” and twerk over a bottle. The bottle represents a penis, in case that wasn’t clear. Though, it’s not all that shocking when just about all entertainment shows include a background of young female dancers in underwear, with camera’s panning and zooming in on women’s body parts. It’s also a country where Viagra is just as widely available as the New Testament. Brazilian hotels, frequently used for sexy times, still come with bibles. In fact around 85 per cent of Brazilian’s count themselves as Christian or Protestant. Perhaps these facts seem somewhat contradictory to the outsider. To better understand all this, Carnaval is a good place to start.

Garrafa dance
Garrafa dance

Carnaval marks the beginning of lent — a Christian tradition with roots in both religious organizing as well as Portuguese “entrado” parties and more recently samba schools. It is increasingly also a celebration of everything pornographic. Female dancers and the famous “Globeleza” are commonly adorned in no more than paint, feathers and silicone enhancements. Songs rejoice in God and, more recently, God’s hand in plastic surgery too, “Giving men value with his chisel… The image and likeness of the Lord… The light of heaven conducts his scalpel.” Carnaval promotes Christianity alongside group sex parties and pornographic films.

Globolezas (Photo/Globo.com)
Globolezas (Photo/Globo.com)

Children are welcome at Carnaval too; if they miss the parade there is always the “Globeleza” who dances naked on TV every half hour for the entire month of Carnaval. The Globeleza is always a woman of colour, whether this is symbolism, an attempt at diversity, or merely the ongoing commodification of Afro-Brazilian women is unclear. There is rarely any outcry about children being fed these supposed “sex positive” ideals early on. In fact, the most significant uproar about Carnaval’s imagery occurred when a mascot had likeness to the Devil. Images of the Devil were deemed too offensive and the public was relieved when later the Devil caught on fire — God’s work.


By progressive standards, the overt sexuality of events like Carnaval presents a call for celebration. What could be more liberating than turning a previously repressed “prudish” sexuality into a public festivity? What better way to neutralize the anti-sex puritans than a good “sex positive” shindig?

In Brazil, these “sex positive” shenanigans manifest in a variety of ways: employment discrimination with many service level jobs mandating “good physique” for women, some of the highest rates of body shame in the world, the highest uptake of diet pills and plastic surgery in the world, a spike in violence against women during Carnaval along with an increase in child sex exploitation, especially at the hands of tourists who flock to the sex positivity. The Brazilian Health Ministry reports that between 2009 and 2012 the rate of rape has skyrocketed by 157 percent, explained largely by the culture of machismo.

An anti-violence flyer in Brazil.
An anti-violence flyer in Brazil.

Unfortunately, public health campaigns that hand out condoms, anti-violence and anti-trafficking pamphlets are not enough to mitigate the 24/7 frenzy of cameras panning across women’s breasts and buttocks as if they were gleaming pieces of meat up for purchase. The picture is perfectly clear: this is not female sexuality being expressed, its commodification.

Could it be that all this revolutionary “sex positivity” is not liberating women but actually reinforcing the same conservative male supremacist dynamic? Yes. It could.

Not to be misconstrued as criticism of Brazilians or Carnaval participants, this is a societal level issue rather than a critique of individual women. The Brazilian context offers a case in point that sexualization does not counteract conservative norms. The case of Brazil uncovers what “sex positivity” means for women. “People might think this is liberty for women to have sex, but really the liberty is for men to have women’s bodies” as one of my Brazilian friends put it. (Of course none of these issues are exclusive to Brazil, with the same effects of sexual objectification occurring across the globe.)

In most countries women are free to be pornified as they wish, ironically, women are often not free to be anything other than pornographic. This is illustrated by Facebook’s ban on breastfeeding images whilst pornographic advertising runs rampant. Or the fact that “leaking” women’s naked images has become a go-to solution for disgruntled and rejected men. Women remain represented as objects for possession, whether it’s in the puritan yesteryear or today’s porn culture, neither offer true freedom.

In the West, other examples exist. Rupert Murdoch was ordained with papal knighthood by Pope John II. Murdoch is a major publisher for religious texts, but he also champions soft-porn tabloids and has held vast shares in online pornography distribution. Murdoch is an exemplar of the conservative world where sex is not a problem to be repressed but a product to be sold. Conservatives are not so much answering to an almighty God but to the almighty dollar.

For liberal feminism, the issue of sexual objectification is reduced to individualistic notions of “personal choice” and “agency.” Rather than targeting systemic injustices that underlie objectification like economic disadvantage, liberal feminists insist that the main issue is that women are “shamed” for their sexuality by “prudes.” Yet conservatives like Murdoch happily pocket the spoils of sexualization. All the while, human rights abuses and sexual exploitation is filtered out in the background of “slut pride” selfies. Vulnerable women continue to pay the ultimate price for gender inequality. The point is entirely missed.

If feminism can accept that “prudes” are not the problem, maybe these campaigns could move beyond individualistic jibes and instead pick up the fight for full human rights for all girls and women. For this, we need more progress, not more pornography.

With thanks to Carina Konzen for offering insights from her childhood and quotes for this story.

Laura McNally is a psychologist, consultant, author and PhD candidate. Her current research examines the political and social implications of global corporate social responsibility. Find more of her work at lauramcnally.com.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • RadForward

    I don’t think you should shy away from condemning individual women. If particular women are contributing to the overall subjugation of the female species, they ought to be called out. It is so-called “Liberal Feminism” to permit unlimited permissibly. I call out women who market themselves using sex tapes or willingly participate in the sex industry, as they promote subjugation and the sexualisation of all women.

    Brazil cannot change or grow without women inside it taking a stand. Broad-based conversations without yardsticks will do no good, as calling out and taking down one particular icon of subjugation can start a conversation which would lead to real progress.

    • Rosie

      Agreed, although I think we should always condemn men first and foremost.

      I once heard Finn McKay say something like “you can’t condemn women for playing the game when they didn’t write the rules”, which is pithy. The problem is that this sentiment is so often misused by liberal feminists to say “you can’t criticise me!!!! Ever!!!!”

    • Laura Mcnally

      There is a good reason to not condemn individual women, when you consider that girls are raised to see dancing at carnaval/ modelling/ playboy/ TV as the epitome of success, and then you consider that employment opportunities are both few, underpaid, and generally overtly discriminatory toward women based on appearance.. I would argue for changing the institutional features behind this, rather than calling out individuals

    • Clive

      It’s ‘female of the species’, not ‘the female species. Species consist of both male and female, or there’s no reproduction and then no species

  • Tracy Allard

    Carnaval is not about “nudity” but about exhibitionism. They are not the same thing. Brazil is a conservative Christian country which has gone all the way pro-gay… demonstrating that gay rights and women’s rights can be quite oppositional.
    The comment on them all being people of colour was pretty funny, Brazil IS a country of POC.
    Prudishness and exhibitionism are the flip sides of the same coin. Could we maybe go for some neutrality possibly? FFS, I just want grey Marxist attires for everyone at this point.

    • Morag

      “Prudishness and exhibitionism are the flip sides of the same coin. Could we maybe go for some neutrality possibly?”

      I agree. There ought to be, but there is currently no such thing, as neutral “nudity” for women.

      “FFS, I just want grey Marxist attires for everyone at this point.”

      Ha! — yeah. Or those beautiful, white, toga-like outfits described in the novella “Herland.”

    • Laura Mcnally

      Uuhhh not all brazilians are POC. In fact most TV shows in brazil almost exclusively show white brazilians, with european background. This is why Carnaval is a little divergent from the norms when it comes to media and WOC.
      I like your point about the difference between nudity and exhibitionism, though, when women are under economic and social coercion to engage could we still characterise it as pure exhibitionism?

    • “The comment on them all being people of colour was pretty funny, Brazil IS a country of POC.”

      Yet, like much of the non-white world nowadays, Latin America has a culture that favours white people and promotes the view that white skin is prettier than non-white skin. So the fact that they are presenting a non-white women in a sexualised way is significant,though not significant in the sense that it is a step forward. I realise that some non-white women will look at these kinds of images and feel happy that they have been included in the “pretty/sexy” category, but the only way to really combat this sort of racism is too resist the whole idea that being pretty/sexy is important to begin with. Unfortunately, liberals have very narrow, individual-centered approach to addressing issues faced by non-white women and women in general.

      “I just want grey Marxist attires for everyone at this point.”

      There is such a thing as Marxist attire? Why didn’t I get mine? LOL.

      Seriously though, cultural relativist liberals are outraged when people criticise female genital mutilation, foot-binding and other non-Western beauty practices (of course they are just as outraged when people criticise breast implants, facial surgeries and other Western beauty practices), yet they are happy to attack (self-proclaimed) socialist states for the oh-so-horrific crime of allowing women to go out in public looking “drab” and unprettified.

      I recognise the Soviet Union and Maoist China were not democratic (and thus not truly socialist in my view), but the lack of prettiness and consumerism were not the problem. It frustrates me when cultural relativists allow societies they like to practice whatever messed up thing they want (especially if it hurts women), but insist that countries claiming to be socialist adhere to capitalistic, western standards of success. Has it ever occurred to them that the goal of a country’s economy might be something over than the production of fast cars and prettied women? Probably not.

      Back to the clothing thing, there already is a group of people, in the West none-the-less, who regularly wear “dull”, practical clothing and are not harmed by it in the slightest. They’re called men. Few people claim that men who wears dull clothing are robbed of individuality, sexuality, “empowerment”, etc. If they all wore the exact same thing, that might imply that everyone was the same or part of one group, but that is not what I am advocating. I just think clothing should be designed for practical purposes, rather than for the purpose of making people (particularly women) look pretty or enabling them to “express themselves” (as if there were not better ways of expressing oneself, including actually saying things.) Besides, when a group of wealthy men all decide to wear suits and thus look the same (to those who are not part of the business world) that is not seen as something that destroys their individuality. I guess so long as you consume as much unneccesary junk as the capitalist class wants you to, you’re an “individual”. Oh, the irony.

      • MC

        Hi Independent Radical,

        just a thought on this: “Yet, like much of the non-white world nowadays, Latin America has a culture that favours white people and promotes the view that white skin is prettier than non-white skin. So the fact that they are presenting a non-white women in a sexualised way is significant,though not significant in the sense that it is a step forward. I realise that some non-white women will look at these kinds of images and feel happy that they have been included in the “pretty/sexy” category, but the only way to really combat this sort of racism is too resist the whole idea that being pretty/sexy is important to begin with. Unfortunately, liberals have very narrow, individual-centered approach to addressing issues faced by non-white women and women in general.””

        Well, I agree with the white-skin-is-beautiful part of course. But please bear in mind that in this case, specifically, the objectification of women of colour (in particular, the bespoken “mulatas”) has always been a central part of inequality and exploitation of women and black people in Brazil. So, certainly none of us ever “feel happy that they have been included in the “pretty/sexy” category” – its rather the opposite: Brazilian women of color have been stereotyped as objects of desire for centuries.

        • “But please bear in mind that in this case, specifically, the objectification of women of colour (in particular, the bespoken “mulatas”) has always been a central part of inequality and exploitation of women and black people in Brazil. So, certainly none of us ever “feel happy that they have been included in the “pretty/sexy” category” – its rather the opposite…”

          I was not actually thinking of Brazillian women specifically when I made the “inclusion” comment, but of non-white women in general. I know there are some non-white women who think in very liberal ways, because they have a group at my university campus and they put up pictures of Beyonce, alongside pictures of Audre Lorde (and other people who actually made valuable contributes to feminist thought) as if the two were part of one and the same movement (yeah right). I do switch from the specific to the general and back pretty often in my comments, so I apologise for not making myself clearer.

          That said, the situation of blacks Brazillians does not seem all that unique. The objectification of non-white women is usually part of some historical or current oppression. It is used to imply that such women are animal-like (even more so than women in general) or that they enjoyed being raped or dominated by white men. I think it would be a little optimistic to assume that everyone in your identity group (or rather social category) is completely conscious of their group’s racial and gender oppression. There are probably “sex-positive” liberals in every group, though if you only hung out with other radicals (and if you do, I completely understand) you would not know any.

    • Priscila

      I wouldn’t say Brazil is “a country of PoC”. In southern Brazil (where I am from), for example, 70% to 90% of the population is white (like me), depending on the state.

      Our racial history is extremely complex and it’s mostly very difficult, if not impossible, for the average Brazilian to trace back all their ethnical origins. We’re pretty much all very mixed, regardless of what color we look like.

      Yet, we are an extremely, endemically racist country. The “Globeleza” isn’t a celebration of diversity, it’s just the same old objectification and oversexualization of black women and “mulatas” (women of black-white mixed race). It’s been the SAME thing every year, since I was a kid (I’m 28), only not with the same model because of course it has to be a young and thin woman.

      Something I hear often when traveling inside Brazil is that “southern women are the most beautiful in the country”. While obviously intended to be a compliment, the racism of this comment is inescapable to anyone who knows that the south of Brazil is the region with the largest percentage of white people.

      I could give thousands of other examples but there are many black Brazilian feminists writing about this (mostly in Portuguese, though).

      • Hi Priscila
        Thanks for your feedback. My parter is from the south too so i have spent most time with ‘gauchos’ and we spend a lot of time talking about their culture and history, though i am looking forward to our next trip in the north too.
        I wonder if you could direct me to any blog or place where i might post this? We are translating it to brazilian portuguese. Thank you!

        • Priscila

          Wow, the author replied to me! I feel honored! ^.^

          Your article is great and I’m really glad that you’re translating it. I feel that Brazilian women (and men) grew so used to this extreme pornification of mainstream media that we don’t really get shocked, as it’s just how it’s always been. It’s only when someone from outside speaks about it that we get a real dimension of the problem.

          As I’m not living in Brazil at the moment (and got to know radical feminism only after leaving) and have no Facebook account, I have now few personal contact with feminists over there. I do know some from your partner’s state, though. 🙂 I’ll ask them and post again here later.

          One of my favorite Brazilian radical authors is Arttêmia Artkos https://arttemiarktos.wordpress.com/. Her blog has many links to other pages in Portuguese and English. I don’t know her personally but I think she would be happy to publish your article.

          There’s also Nádia Lapa (http://www.nadialapa.com/), who gives lectures on sex education, and the collective Manas Chicas (https://manaschicas.wordpress.com/).

          About black feminism, the only radical online source I know is the blog Pirão das Mulheres (https://piraodasmulheres.wordpress.com/). (As you noticed, you won’t hear about radical feminism in the media.) But also black liberal feminists did help me a lot to understand the racial power structures I was talking about. Djamila Ribeiro (http://www.cartacapital.com.br/autores/djamila-ribeiro) writes for Carta Capital, Brazil’s largest left-wing publlication. Jarrid Arraes (http://www.revistaforum.com.br/questaodegenero/) speaks about racism and sexism in the media. There are also the collectives Blogueiras Negras (http://blogueirasnegras.org/) and Geledés (http://www.geledes.org.br/).

          Let me know if you need more info. Let’s spread the word!

  • Michelle

    I have a parent from Ecuador and have been there to visit family several times. Like Laura describes, much of the TV programing includes reality/interview/game shows that show women in an objectifying way (lots of body parts) and women with obvious plastic surgery. Advertisements are the same. It’s gross, and I remember wanting to protect my young female cousins from seeing that crap. Like Brazil, it’s a very Christian country.

  • purple sage

    Great piece, Laura. I’m glad you linked this to issues from the West, because the ideas here are about so much more than just the Carnaval. The sexualization and objectification of women are just a part of the same old religious/conservative notion that women are men’s property. Although this is very evident in Carnaval, it’s also evident in many other cultures and movements like, as you say here, Slutwalk and Femen. When women undress to titillate men, that’s not challenging the status quo, it’s reinforcing it!

  • Missfit

    It must be hard for women with (radical) feminist consciousness to live in such an environment. I wonder if there is a strong/vocal feminist critique there? Women choosing to submit their bodies to plastic surgery at such a pace should be cause for feminist alarm (except, of course, for those who think that feminist concerns/analysis stop at the word ‘choice’).

    • Laura Mcnally

      Indeed, after a month I was certainly feeling worn down though I did get a break from it all by going down to Uruguay. So in terms of feminism over there from what I can see Libfem is doing well but there is certainly a growing support for RF, though you’d not hear about it in the mainstream. You should google slutwalk that went off with a bang in brazil. A few protestors took to publicly shoving the crucifix up their orifices, apparently taking down the puritans, that reached mainstream news of course.

    • Priscila

      I can post some links to radical feminist Brazilian blogs if you read Portuguese and are interested. 😉

      • Missfit

        I would be very much interested but unfortunately I do not read portuguese.
        We desperately need a radical feminist backlash worldwide.

        • Priscila

          Well anyway I just posted some on my comment to the author right above. 🙂

          I think it might be worth mentioning that I was first drawn to radical feminism through material in Portuguese. So there are radicals over there. It’s just a matter of being heard, like pretty much anywhere else.

        • Yes, I understand you don’t understand Portuguese of course, but it’s important to us as feminists to keep in mind that a feminist reaction worldwide can’t dismiss feminists that don’t speak English.

      • Oh, i just saw this, yes please!! Muito obrigada:)

  • Sabine

    I had a friend who lived in Brazil for many years. He said every other woman was having plastic surgery and that the obsession with looks and “staying young” was absolutely staggering, on another level even to the U.S. That women were intensively objectified wasn’t even up for debate; it was a bald fact according to what he saw during those years. One glance at the images attached to this (very well done) article makes it plain to see that none of this stuff is in any way “sexual liberation” for women. It’s just the same old objectification and pornification being trotted out again just with the feeble banner of “empowerment” stapled on. It is also very important to note that machismo is celebrated in central and particularly south America in ways that are beyond our ken in many western countries (which is saying something). Since when does sexual freedom equate to being a conventional wank fantasy? Why does it look so much like what men toss themselves off to? It all seems like conventional “Look how fuckable I am, you know you want me” exhibitionist bullshit and nothing to do with not giving a shit about what men demand. Which is what sexual liberation means to me…The rape figures, violence towards women, inequality, etc. bear out that women painting themselves in glitter and writhing around naked with feathers is doing nothing to “empower” women as a class. It’s just pandering to the male gaze and reinforcing that men have access to women’s bodies as sex objects like they always have done. Foreign sex-tourists flock to Carnaval to enjoy endless boners (and worse), not to behold powerful, autonomous women “owning” their sexuality.

  • MC

    I can’t resist butting in here… as a Brazilian woman and a feminist this piece hit home to me.

    However, maybe I have a slightly different outlook on the issues, and I’m afraid have mixed feelings about the article. On the whole I think it is right on about some very important points: in particular, I totally agree with the conclusion that “sex positiveness” is not to be taken as an automatic sign of “empowering” for women, and that the Brazilian case is an excellent example of that. It is pure hypocrisy. For instance: after all the article reports, you may all be surprised to know that it is *illegal* for a woman to go top-less on a beach in Brazil. Oh yes you can wear the tiniest bikinis in the world for the men to gauge at; but try a pair of good shorts and no top, and you can go to jail. How’s that for women’s liberation?

    So I liked the article very much, but I’d like to suggest one word of caution: please take anything you see on Brazilian television with a pinch of salt… Brazilian media (TV in particular) is rotten, corrupt and unbearable; it’s mission is to preserve the status-quo, keeping Brazilian social, racial and gender divide alive while they can (hope not for much longer). The exploitation of women of colour’s bodies is, of course, central to this disgusting mission. And the media does this particularly well during Carnival; it is unbearable. In fact, I know nobody who can stand watching TV at that period. I feel sorry for the author – this is one experience nobody should go through; I’d gladly run away to Uruguai myself. So, while I agree that it is shameful that we as a society still allow this to go on, I’d like to ask, please don’t judge a whole society and their cultural manifestations (and Carnival is an important cultural manifestation, far beyond the Globelezas) by what you watch on their TV… judge their TV 🙂

    For the commentators: yes, there is good strong feminist reaction in Brazil. Particularly, there are very strong and very important feminist groups led by women of colour, by women in socially challenged contexts, and among young women. They rock, and they are promoting important transformations. Of course, you won’t see them on TV.

    Anyway: thanks for the author, those were very insightful thoughts on a very delicate topic.

    • Thanks for your feedback MC. My Brazilian friends have said the same as you, that TV is an exxageration of reality and no one takes it too seriously. I am concerned though that the tv does have a lot of power in Brazil. For instance, there was the experiment with novellas that showed families with only 1-2 children, and it helped the transformation across brazilian culture toward smaller families some decades ago. The other reason TV stood out to me is because it was constantly there – at most restaurants/ pubs and even smaller cafes. It seemed like a constant presence.
      I reflected to my partner that being in brazil as a woman felt like being in a pressure cooker, and the pressure was all on my body. From the moment we landed at the airport it was victorias secret everywhere, people assessing my body and so on. It became tiring but i learnt a lot. I will be back!!
      I love your bikini comment too, how utterly ridiculous given the size of bikinis men want to see women in! What do you think about ‘free the nipple’ in this case?
      Thanks for your insights,

      • MC

        Hi Laura,

        Yes, TV, and Novelas, have a lot of power. However, this power is declining. This can be measured objectively (plummeting viewing rates) and subjectively (it used to be that everyone, young, old, rich, poor, knew all about the current novela; not any longer. Young people, in particular, don’t watch much TV at all – thank the internet). So yes, it is a power, and a negative one; but we are living its time of decadence.

        Also, about the falling birth-rates – there was one study that showed what you said (novelas as a cause for the fall), I remember; but this may not be the only cause. It is a complex issue: too much has changed in the country in the last 40 years for the cause to be so punctual. I found this interesting piece that makes reference to that in National Geographic: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/09/girl-power/gorney-text

        I do however relate a lot with your “pressure cooker” comment – inside out, actually, because I was born in the pressure cooker, so to speak: so, every time I spend some time abroad, I feel the release of the pressure.

        About “free the nipple”… mmm, very mixed feelings. I find it preposterous that women can’t go topless in the context that I was reporting; however, I don’t know if fighting for *more* exposure would make any sense in this case? In the end it might just be used as an extra chance of exploitation women’s bodies.

        Actually, this happened already: recently, there was a wave of protest against the no-topless situation in Rio, starting with a few activists and finishing in a disgusting overtake by media photo-ops with silicone-filled models everywhere. It was a horror-show.

        In fact I just found something about it in British media: and of course, this media coverage, just as in Brazil, didn’t care for the early days of protests, when the activists included a grandmother taking off her top. Oh no, they preferred to cover the day with the models; see here – but beware; the video, in particular, is painful to watch: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/brazilian-women-stage-topless-protest-5014059

        • Laura Mcnally

          My gosh. Its not so much a protest as it is a public porn shoot. I mean, protest usually means demanding change but this just looks like ‘Girls Gone Wild’. It doesn’t seem like free the nipple is really demanding any change but an extension of what already occurs – objectifying a new body part.
          Would it eventually have its desired impact and normalise women’s breasts? I doubt it. Women are already objectified for the shape and size of their breast. Free the nipple will create a whole new market around how nipples should look, new surgeries, creams, treatments. I can just imagine that if free the nipple succeeds it will be because of industry lobbying for a new market opportunity rather than anyone caring to de-sexualise the female body.

          To look at the issues affecting women today, I can’t see that freeing the nipple is either an urgent issue, nor would it necessarily be of benefit. We need society to stop objectifying women, then the nipple will free itself. I heard that women in France and the like commonly sunbathe without tops, but are increasingly wearing tops because of groups like femen and free the nipple are putting them off. If so, ‘sex positive feminism’ is once again doing the opposite that it claims to achieve.

          My partner was telling me that Globo has played a big role in selecting presidents in the past.. Its much the same in australia with large media conglomerates having clear interests and huge amounts of power not only in the private but also in the public sector.
          It is positive that young people increasingly move toward new media, and hopefully aren’t getting sucked into the world of online porn while they are at it.

          • MC

            Yes… This so-called “protest” is a horror-show, isn’t it? At The time the news about it made me sick to my stomach (even now in remembering it). And the worst part, maybe, was hearing some people (not many though) praising this as oh so “positive” and “forward thinking”… It’s enough to make one cry. I agree with what you say entirely: at least in this context, the “free the nipple” direction would only make things even worse.

  • Mar Iguana

    Racism will never end until its root (radical) cause, sexism, ends.

  • Globeleza being a WOC is not an attempt of diversity. I understand your doubts and appreciate your caution. But the hipersexualization of WOC is a worldwide practice. In spite of miscegenation, racism is present here.

    And yes the easy answer for conservatism it’s always this ‘escape from prudish’…as we all know it has been spread by liberal feminism . We feminists are constantly accused of being prudish and oldfashioned. Maybe we should change our paradigmas and see that there is nothing more conservative than divide women into the ones “made” for marriage and women “made” to have sex with. It is a conservative thought. It comes from a very conservative male head to not “fuck” his wife, a person he “respects” for doing such things…or some kind of things that to other women is ok doing so. And WOC are the most treated that way but not for having serious relationships. (of course husbands rape their wifes, I’m just addressing another part of the issue now)

    And answering Missfit, there is a strong vocal feminist critique here. There are plenty of feminists in Brazil all over the country doing a great job. There are groups and programs for women (of course not as much as we need), we have collectives and we are used to go to the streets to claim our rights, we run blogs, we translate texts and books and we write our own articles. It’s a big community actually. But yes the world is very US and European centered and its pretty hard for us to reach you out there. I hope this doesn’t sound rash…

    I think it is important and true what MC said that the media wants to preserve the status quo. But this is not inherent from Brazil. Media manipulates all over. And I understand how difficult it’s for everyone trying to figure out what is realy going on abroad because it is difficult even in the country we live in). But I wouldn’t say that media exaggerates, I mean I wouldnt use this word, because this also makes us think that its not so bad. And in fact it’s pretty bad the representation itself. And the consequences of these representations, and the impact that it has to us and specially to WOC. It’s a very complex issue this one you wrote here, hard to talk without having millions of different thoughts from one side to another.

    I also understand when MC says about carnival being a cultural manifestation, and yes it is. But it’s twisted because that’s the way it feeds patriarchy and capitalism. And although carnival isn’t running the entire year it reflects in the ways women are treated every day. There are a lot of violence against women going on. We cannot neglect the exploitation women suffer (because we can’t neglect women) during the carnival including the sex tourism that increases at this time of the year. So, I also grown up in the “carnival country” but always apart form carnival because I felt on my skin the results. And then people say we have to promote our culture, but many times people prefer to deny sexism in order to preserve traditions.
    Well I like many many things concerning samba, really hard to explain here that yes I think we have to promote a decolonized culture. But it cannot be on the costs of women. And I also know that there are many great and beautiful things concerning carnival and people envolved. So, how can we achieve decolonization but not forget women’s exploitation?

    • MC

      Hi enilador,

      I agree with most of your excellent points. I may have expressed myself badly on the TV thing – I didn’t mean to say TV was an “exaggeration”, I just felt it could be important to remind other readers that what’s on the media is not a transparent portrait of any country, as the media (everywhere, as you rightly point out) has their own agenda of what to show and how to show it. Take for instance Britain and the (in)famous “page 3” of the Sun – feminists in the UK have been fighting hard against this, and it would be limiting for any person outside the UK to imagine that, if page 3 is still there, there must be little feminist fight in the UK. Because, of course, outside Britain people may have heard of Page 3, but not about the protests against it. Likewise: there are the Globelezas; however, many people oppose this, *and* there is vocal protest agains that in Brazil, as you certainly know – but maybe not other readers, as this is not normally a broadcast priority (let’s put it mildly).

      So, as you said too, it is very hard to make grassroots “non-European”and “non-North American” activism come across into the debate. This is precisely why I thought it would be important to weight in a little… (mind you, even in a site like this, which I admire and take as extremely progressive, you can still find words like “here in the West” to describe Europe and America as opposed to (say) South America – which makes me a little dizzy sometimes, looking right and left and not knowing where I am in the globe 🙂 (sorry just a deterring thought; I do wish “the West” thing would be dropped one day).

      It might be important, as you say, to have more texts from non-Anglo saxon cultures translated into English. I was looking for translated material to share here with Laura and the commentators, and as you know, it is really hard…

      For now I can only think of one instance, it’s a very good site you probably know: and you might be interested, Laura: http://blackwomenofbrazil.co/. By the way, in direct reference to the subject of this article, there is this interesting piece called: “Carnival’s over: and now, how many black women will be on TV?” http://blackwomenofbrazil.co/2015/03/03/carnivals-over-and-now-how-many-black-women-will-be-on-tv/

      Best to all!

      • Thanks for the feedback MC!
        so, I also agree with you that the media is not a transparent portrait of the country for sure. I just wanted to point that it reflects on us and it contributes to our subjugation.

        you didn’t use the word exaggeration but that is not relevant I guess.

        I also want to say that I understand your point in “weight in a little”, I was about to say “I think MC maybe means that…” but then I didn’t want to talk for you, you know…but I know the feeling. I felt the same.

        Thank you for sharing your thoughts and links! this is really a thing, now carnival is over and black women have no more place on TV.

  • Thanks for this article and the fantastic contributions in the comments thread.

    I spent six months in the north of Brazil in the mid-90s and your report echoed much of what observed. I was mixing with university professors (in “hard” science) for the most part and despite the fact that many had travelled and had relatively privileged lives, there was alarmingly little social analysis in the daily conversation. Women in their 30s talked about their “plastic surgery bank accounts”, because at that level of income it was presumed that you would start a course of procedures once you hit 40. Men openly bragged about the number of kids they had fathered by multiple women. Everyone, especially women, commented on one another’s bodies both in a “complimentary” way and with critique. TV was disturbing as was the uncritical embrace of commercialism and consumerism. I was also somewhat shocked by the extreme income gap and how marginal women were to any sort of access to a decent wage. I noticed that people, educated people, were fairly comfortable with expressing racist sentiments, particularly as they pertained to people of visible african descent. A man with a PhD told me without a hint of irony that “the way breasts are important in America – Butts are important like that here.” It really was like what we experience here but more extreme.

    There were also aspects that I loved and I miss: the ubiquitous music and dancing, the fact that the vast majority of people I met were so welcoming and generous to me – I could go on, but that’s not the focus of this comment.

    In reading the thread here, I think it’s important to bear in mind that the post/comments are less judgements and more observations of a process that we all experience with varying degrees of extremity and in different configurations. It was also a great reminder of how quickly social injustice can become normalized. I imagine that a wiser and more educated person could draw connections between the extreme poverty, the sway of catholicism that condemns birth control, the extremes of masculinity and femininity, the highly sexualized culture and the severe wealth disparity for a fairly wealthy nation. I can’t help but feel that those things work in tandem.

    There is a medical anthropologist names Nancy Scheper-Hughes who did extensive study of infant mortality in the favelas. She does not bring radical feminist critique but calls herself a radical public anthropologist. Her book “Death Without Weeping” is a great read and a thought-provoking look at, not only the convergence of factors that keep women stuck in seemingly unbearable social conditions, but the means by which we assimilate those conditions and normalize them (“agency”, anyone?).

    Anyway thanks again for the article. I wish my Portuguese had gotten strong enough that I might read some of the current feminist theory coming out of that country. I’m sure I could learn a lot from those women.

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