Brazil Making Feminism Matter

While it is being discussed in Estonia whether there is a lack of eligible bachelors as an explication to why more and more smart, successful and beautiful women stay single or go looking elsewhere, Brazil seems to have declared a full on (social media) war on sexism.

In the last six months, two social media campaigns have gone viral: “My First Harrassment” (#meuprimeiroassedio) and “My Secret Friend” (#meuamigosecreto). The first of them came to life just after a participant of Master Chef Junior, a child, became a victim of abusive sexual comments on Twitter. The comments were not just urging sexual violence but also blaming the child herself for it.

Viral Stories of First Abuse

Shocked by what had happened, a journalist and the founder of the feminist project Olga, Juliana de Faria shared a story online of the first time she had been harassed in the street when she was just 11 years old. She used the hashtag #primeiroassedio. It was not long until other women followed her lead.

Gaining courage and assurance from seeing their friends and acquaintances telling stories similar to theirs, women opened up. In a short amount of time all popular social media channels were flooded with thousands of Brazilian women telling the stories of how they had been harassed or abused, many of them having been less than 13 years old at the time.

All of us have received those dirty looks, nasty comments and that unwanted attention. The saddest part is that the first time it happens, most are only kids, just like that girl from Master Chef Junior. When reading posts with the hashtag #meuprimeiroassedio, it becomes evident how many women have kept what has happened to them as a secret out of mixed feelings of guilt, fear, shame and powerlessness. The stories are heartbreaking and I think, to an extent, all women can relate to them. Female objectification and sexism are phenomena not at all rare in Brazil (or anywhere else in that matter).

My Secret Friend – Everyday Sexism Reported

During the next wave of the public discussion, even more women joined in to report sexism they face in their daily lives. While “My First Harrassment” focused on first traumatic memories of direct abuse and harassment, the next hashtag campaign #meuamigosecreto allowed women to report on frustrating and degrading sexist attitudes all around them. Some of the favorite topics were macho co-workers or family members, as well as double standards and gaps in the public feminist discourse that some people just find safer to support than challenge. Some examples (translated from Portuguese):

#mysecretfriend does not like violence against women but calls his female university co-students sperm deposits

#mysecretfriend thinks that catcalls, whistles and horny looks in the street are compliments, not harassment

#mysecretfriend thinks that it is more convenient to teach their daughter to be careful with men than teach their son to respect women

There is the everyday sexism, catcalling on the streets, unfair employment opportunities, unequal salaries, division of housework, behaviors that are applauded in case of men but strongly disapproved in case of women, and the list continues. From my first days in Brazilian soil, I already had some similar stories to share with other fellow female foreigners. And they did too.

Masculinity Defined by Conquests

It seems to be quite common here that a woman is catcalled every day they go to work, gym, supermarket or anywhere else. And not just on the street. It also happens at work. Sometimes the disrespect even comes from family friends. It is the unnecessary comments, the blatant staring at women’s breasts, bums or even intimate areas, touching, and the attitudes as if they had the right and women were supposed to take it, even like it.

In addition, it gives a very bad reputation to a woman if she goes to bed too soon with someone she is seeing, or if she is too open and honest about her sexual life. They will not just be judged by men but by other women, even more so. Men, on the other hand, seem to be considered real men only if they casually pick up as many women as possible and share all details with their friends or colleagues afterwards. It does not matter if it is a girl from the university, a single mother of two, the new hot intern in your company or a Raimunda (that is how Brazilian men call women they think are hot from behind but with an ugly face) they hooked up with at a nightclub. They all get treated the same.

When it comes to going out it gets especially tough for foreigners from somewhat more reserved countries. I remember a German girl telling me how within a couple of months of living in São Paulo she had understood that a polite “no” was not nearly enough. Therefore, whenever at a party and approached by an obtrusive guy, she learnt to shout out “Leave! Now!” or even push the person to make it clear she was not interested. Otherwise, they just thought they could come and try and kiss or grab her. To those guys, her normal way of saying no would just be a flirtatious way of playing hard to get…

Is it spring for both, men and women, yet?

There is obviously such a long way to go. It is never just one gender or the other that is to blame. Sexism is rooted in the views of both, many men and women. Several women unconsciously support and direct their actions or value judgements according to the dictate of the “old” model of men being the intelligent adventurous leaders and women the lovely conservative caretakers. These women can make the situation worse for everyone even if they do not realize it. It just is that direct abuse and harassment tend to come from the masculine side and are more often talked about.

Nevertheless, Brazilian women are fighting to change all of that now more than ever. And many men have joined in to support them! These are the real men, the ones that find the masculinity in themselves not in trying to conform with the unrealistic and unfulfilling norms of the sexist society. These men do not find that feminism endangers the very existence of their manhood. They do understand what it is really about – equality and liberation of both, men and women.

Little by little, and definitely with the help of the campaigns, women, too are finding more courage to be what they really are like and stand up for themselves. I have friends that have declared publicly they will make a scandal each time they are catcalled and many others that refuse to lay low before sexist attitudes. And I must admit, that takes a lot of courage. In the back of our minds, there is always that constant fear: “what if they get mad and hurt me.”

Considering the gloomy statistics of gender violence in Brazil and the fact that sometimes it is better to be safe than sorry, ignoring unwanted attention might be the rational thing to do. Nevertheless, while hoping that all women stick together and stand up for each other might be a bit too naïve, empowering everyone to understand, that they deserve to be treated with respect and can be whatever they want to be, is priceless.

No other way is acceptable and all women need to realize it. Therefore, I do hope that the anti-sexist campaigns were not a fad but a sign of Brazil actually taking a big step forward!

 

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