Beyond #MeToo, Brazilian Women Rise Up Against Racism and Sexism

Alvaro Jarrin, College of the Holy Cross and Kia Lilly Caldwell, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill

Women’s empowerment recently got a big boost at the Golden Globes, but the United States isn’t the only place having a feminist revival.

In 2015, two years before the #MeToo campaign got Americans talking about sexual harassment, Brazilian feminists launched #MeuPrimeiroAssedio, or #MyFirstHarrassment. In its first five days, the hashtag racked up 82,000 tweets detailing the chronic sexual harassment of women in this South American nation. It soon spread across Latin America in Spanish translation as #MiPrimerAcoso.

The viral success of #MeuPrimeiroAssedio spurred a spate of social media activism in Brazil, where despite decades of feminist efforts gender inequality remains deeply entrenched.

With #MeuAmigoSecreto – #MyAnonymousFriend – women documented misogyny on the streets and at work. Tagging #MeuQueridoProfessor – #MyDearTeacher – university students outed sexism in the classroom.

And when the weekly news magazine Veja described the wife of Brazil’s president, Michel Temer, as “beautiful, modest and a housewife” in April 2016, feminists transformed that stereotype into a meme showcasing empowered women.

Temer came to power following the impeachment of Brazil’s first female president, Dilma Rousseff. Many saw Rousseff’s ouster as misogynistic. Feminists were determined that Brazilian sexism would no longer go unchecked.

Black Women’s Bodies

As race and gender researchers, we’ve been watching Brazil’s feminist resurgence closely to see whether it reflects the needs of Afro-Brazilian women, who make up 25 percent of the population.

Though the country has long considered itself colorblind, black and indigenous Brazilians are poorer than white Brazilians. Women of color in Brazil also experience sexual violence at much higher rates than white women.

For example, domestic workers, who are predominantly Afro-Brazilian, have been systematically harassed by their male employers. This centuries-old power play dates back to slavery.

Since both of us have recently published books – “The Biopolitics of Beauty” and “Health Equity in Brazil” – examining the impact of Brazilian medical practices on black women, we are particularly interested to see if Brazilian feminists will tackle two issues that particularly affect black women: health care and plastic surgery.

These may seem unrelated to each other and to black women’s rights, but in Brazil they are deeply intertwined. All Brazilian citizens get free medical care under the Sistema Único de Saúde, the national health care system.

Despite universal access to health services, black women do not always receive the best care. Though Brazil’s colorblind approach to health has resulted in scant documentation of differential health outcomes by race, one study found that black women are two and a half times more likely to die from an unsafe abortion than white women.

The startling discrepancy probably reflects a lack of high-quality prenatal and obstetric care for black women, which is a problem in U.S. hospitals as well. Discriminatory treatment by medical professionals, which includes a lack of attention to the specific health needs of black Brazilians, also factors in.

Black activists have also pointed out for decades that Afro-Brazilian women have higher rates of sterilization and abortion, which in Brazil is mostly illegal – and thus very risky.

Overall maternal health is also markedly worse among black women. In Brazil’s impoverished northeast, which has the country’s highest concentration of African descendants, black women are 10 to 20 times more likely to die in childbirth than white women.

The ‘Negroid Nose’

Medical doctors may neglect black Brazilian women, but plastic surgeons pursue them. Since the 1960s, Brazilian cosmetic surgery has been included in Brazil’s national health care system.

In Brazil, white beauty standards remain the cultural ideal. That means many Brazilian plastic surgeons operate on the basis that more European features – facial features in particular – are better.

Specifically, our research has found, they tend to target black women’s noses, which they deem a “problem feature” in lectures, publications and websites.

In conversation, some doctors even expressed their belief that the “negroid nose” is a “mistake” caused by racial mixing. Fortunately, they would add, it’s nothing a nose job can’t fix.

This occurs within a broader culture, familiar to women worldwide, of bombarding all Brazilian women with opportunities to “improve” their imperfect bodies. Brazilians are among the top consumers of plastic surgery in the world. It is estimated that more than a million cosmetic procedures are carried out every year.

Some Brazilian plastic surgeons refer to their jobs as helping women achieve “the right to beauty.” When, in 2016, a famous plastic surgeon who promoted this idea died, his obituary read like that of a national hero.

And since most plastic surgery is covered under Brazil’s public health system, our research uncovered, surgeons have found it lucrative to develop procedures targeting the entire topography of the female body.

Treatments that aren’t paid by insurance come with long-term payment plans. For the poorest patients, doctors have made plastic surgery accessible by exchanging their professional services for permission to use these operations as a teaching exercise for young medical residents.

Taking Online To The Ground

Historically, feminist critiques of this industry were largely subdued. But plastic surgery is now in the spotlight of Brazil’s “Women’s Spring.”

In October 2017, one of Brazil’s biggest newspapers, Folha de São Paulo, ran an article extolling the “ideal vulva” and describing the surgical interventions necessary to attain it. Women lambasted the piece on social media, calling it “absurd,” “unacceptable” and “sad.”

The assumption that some vaginas are more desirable than others, feminist commentators pointed out, imposes the male gaze on the female body. Additionally, they argued, the article’s emphasis on “pink” vaginas and its suggested use of skin-whiteners was patently racist.

Black feminist bloggers likely started this particular line of critique. As early as 2014, they were denouncing Brazilian cosmetic surgery as “racism cloaked as science.” Plastic surgeons, wrote Gabi Porfírio in a June 2014 post on Blogueiras Negras, have become “experts at using demeaning terminology for the noses of black people.”

But in a country where only 63 percent of households have internet access, black feminists also have also used more traditional forms of protest to engage women of color.

A year before the hashtag #MeuPrimeiroAssedio would go viral, black feminists began working across Brazil to organize women who don’t generally participate in activism. Their efforts culminated in the Black Women’s March Against Racism and Violence and in Favor of Living Well in Brasilia, the capital.

There, 50,000 Afro-Brazilian women of all ages and backgrounds came together to denounce violence against black women – not just sexual violence but also deadly abortions, mass incarceration and medical neglect. It was the first ever national march of black Brazilian women.

The first-ever national march of black Brazilian women had ‘living well’ as a central demand. Brazilian Ministry of Culture

In a country that has long ignored inequality, the protest put race squarely on the feminist agenda. By contrasting the diverse forms of violence black women face with the idea of “living well,” the Black Women’s March voiced an alternative vision of racial and gender justice for Brazil.

The ConversationIn doing so, they join #MeToo, #MeuPrimeiroAssedio and a whole chorus of female voices around the globe. Online and on the ground, Brazilian feminists demand equity from the surgeon’s table to the office.

Alvaro Jarrin, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, College of the Holy Cross and Kia Lilly Caldwell, Associate Professor, African, African American, and Diaspora Studies, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

In Trinidad and Tobago, Carnival Goes Feminist

Photo: Andrea De Silvia

Gabrielle Hosein,
The University of the West Indies: St. Augustine Campus

Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival, which recently ended its 2017 rendition, is an event as contradictory as it is extraordinary. The Conversation

No mere mimicry of other such celebrations in Rio de Janeiro or New Orleans, Carnival on this Caribbean island of 1.4 million people – primarily descended from enslaved Africans and Indian indentured labourers – combines African traditions with European pre-Lent festivities and Indian musical rhythms.

Given this syncretism, it’s perhaps unsurprising that, over the past 200 years, Carnival has been not just two days of normal order turned upside down but also an annual expression of female political resistance.

Beads and glitter and ‘bikini mas’

Caribbean women’s takeover of Carnival is most evident during “bikini mas”. Each year, tens of thousands of women participate in this Carnival mas(querade), “playing mas” in Rio-style sequined bikinis, feathered headpieces and beads.

Because playing bikini mas has come to replace traditional costumes portraying other periods, places and cultures (as well as some fantastical imagined characters), some fear that Trinidad and Tobago’s historic tradition is dying. New, imported masquerade styles, say traditional mas makers, do not make political statements or show off local artistry.

But bikini mas is a complex phenomenon. Its rise is directly linked to women’s increasing earnings and economic independence; disposable income and the desire for well-earned fun support the demand for such costumes. It also reflects black and brown women’s wish to be affirmed as beautiful and sexy, not only seen as successful and serious students and workers.

As feminist scholar and mas player Dr Sue Ann Barratt told me:

A big part of it for some women is … to show they have been working out and qualify as gorgeous, for affirmation as a woman and to send a message that you can be watched, but not touched.

In short, bikini mas authorises women to push back against the strict moral controls that religion and society place on them (while allowing men more sexual freedom).

Take, for example, these lyrics from Soca music star Destra Garcia’s 2016 hit, Lucy: “I grew up as ah real good girl, always home, don’t go nowhere. As soon as I was introduced to Carnival, they say I loose”.

Meanwhile, singer Orlando Octave observed in one 2017 tune, “Plenty girl have [a] man and [yet] acting like they single, wining like she single, feting like she single”.

This contradiction – which Trinidadian women live every day – has helped spur bikini mas to become a ritual for an entire generation of young women: a women’s movement given cultural expression.

The original anti-slut shaming

These revellers are continuing the nation’s long-standing tradition of female self-affirmation, resistance to subordination, and renegotiation of the rules governing public space.

Caribbean women have always been at the forefront of rebellions, from rising up against slavery in the 1500s to leading the 1903 riots over access to water.

Well before slavery was abolished in 1838, Trinidadian women played in Carnival bands. Sometimes they covered themselves in mud, expressing a sexuality even then decried as indecent. Alongside them would march women who fought in stickfights (public duelling competitions), a stereotypically “masculine” activity.

By the 1800s, such women had come to be known as “Jamettes”, from the French diametre, which referred to those considered to exist below the line of respectability.

After abolition these working-class, African-descended women continued the Jamette tradition. They often cooked, washed clothes and socialised in shared urban backyards, and worked in a wide range of trades, from washerwomen or market vendors to sex workers.

With its fearless and unapologetic combination of sexual, reproductive and economic issues with insistence on justice, equality and freedom from violence, Jamette politics has come to influence Trinidad and Tobago’s modern Carnival – and Caribbean feminism – in ways that cross class, colour, religion and race.

Predating by decades the “slut walks” of Canada and the United States, bikini mas has helped cultivate contemporary women’s opposition to rape culture in Trinidad and Tobago, where male domination and sexual harassment of women is seen as natural and normal. Indeed, the Caribbean region has disproportionately high rates of sexual violence.

Last year, a Japanese steelpan player, Asami Nagakiya, was murdered during Carnival in Port of Spain. After the city’s mayor suggested that that women’s dress and behaviour at this annual event invited abuse, feminist groups called for his resignation and young women came out in their bikini mas costumes to protest the victim-blaming.

Over the next months, #NotAskingForIt campaign, featuring female students, workers, family members and bikini mas players, circulated social media across the entire Caribbean region.

‘Just because I look glamorous in a tight dress’ doesn’t mean I’m ‘asking for it’.

Classist and sexist or empowering?

Bikini mas is not without its contradictions. The cost of participation in a “band” of mas costume players can be up to US$1,000 per person. Though all classes of women find the money to pay for an outfit, economics shapes access to these moments of female freedom.

Classism features, too, in the way that many women who play in bikini mas bands are contained on either side by ropes and security personnel. This reproduces historical ways that white upper classes used to cut themselves off from others while taking over the streets.

But such cordoning also signals a harsh modern reality of violence against women: the ropes are meant to protect women of all classes and races from sexual harassment. Still, this policing of women’s bodies complicates the radical potential of bikini mas.

Young feminist are finding ways to connect Trinidad’s centuries-old Carnival to a new generation of political resistance. This year, the prominent “Leave me alone, Leave she alone” campaign teamed up with singer Calypso Rose to embolden women against sexual violence and encourage men to help create a Carnival – and by extension society – in which women are safe and free.

In Trinidad and Tobago, Carnival is where thousands of women express their aspirations for freedom and equality. Look beneath stock images of pretty glitter and beads, and you’ll find just such feminist ideals.

Gabrielle Hosein, Lecturer and Head of Gender Studies Department, The University of the West Indies: St. Augustine Campus

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Women Marching Worldwide Revive Global Feminism

 

Women marching worldwide revive a long-sought dream: global feminism

kenyansmarchingopti
Kenyans marching in solidarity with Americans and women worldwide to protest the sexist statements of president Donald Trump. Voice of America

Ariadna Estévez,
Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM)

The day after the inauguration of Donald Trump as 45th president of the United States, almost three million women and men marched on the streets nationwide to show their rejection to the demonstrated sexism, xenophobia and Islamophobia of the new American president.

Americans and immigrants in the US were joined in their dissent by citizens on every continent. Thousands of Latin American marchers showed their solidarity across the region, from Mexico to Argentina. Africa and even Antarctica also showed their support.

This international march is a major achievement for the feminist movement. Feminists have finally achieved something the movement has struggled to do for decades: bring together Black, Latino and Indigenous women, the LGBT community, environmental activists, and many others groups under one umbrella.

And in adopting tactics from foreign human rights movements, American organisers and participants demonstrated a rare global and historical awareness.

Women’s rights are human rights

This diverse coalition came out not just to protest Trump’s agenda but to state that women’s rights are human rights, and that the president of the United States is obliged to respect the rights of migrants, Muslims, Latinas and Latinos, people with disabilities and the LGBT community – under domestic and international law.

In Latin America, it was natural that women would take to the streets on this occasion. Women across the region are systematically killed and sexually abused with impunity under the same misogynistic culture that underpinned President Trump’s comments about sexual assault.

The Women’s March adds to the recent women’s movements in Latin America – Ni Una Menos and Paro Nacional De Mujeres (National Women’s Strike) among them – representing what the feminist movement has long aspired to: women’s unity around the world.

Rarely have women’s movements and feminists managed to appeal to other
identities. The most visible part of movement has, both intentionally and unintentionally, often excluded those with less privilege, like Latina, Muslim and Black feminists, by championing causes seen as narrow and concerning only white women.

Ditching the ‘nice white lady’ agenda

During the early stages of planning, the organisers of the Women’s March on Washington were accused of forwarding a “nice white lady” agenda that neglected the class, race, gender and religious issues facing non-white women.

But by the end, the march’s list of speakers included not only white feminist activists like Gloria Steinem and celebrities such as Scarlett Johansson and Madonna, but also a long list of Latina, Black and Muslim feminists. Legendary Black feminist Angela Davis, Latina actor America Ferrera, singer Alicia Keys, the Mothers of the Movement representing Black Lives Matter, and Pakistani Muslim activist Hina Naveed all spoke.

Black feminist Angela Davis speaking at the Women’s March on Washington on January 21, 2017.

The Women’s March on Washington was the first time in history that US women have helped launch an intersectional movement incorporating not only American citizens but also people around the world who are affected by US foreign policy. American women with their pink pussy hats are a symbol of meaningful unity against misogyny, racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia worldwide.

The discourse that minority and women’s rights are human rights framed the movement. Trump has spoken openly against women’s reproductive rights – seeking to restrict abortion access at home and abroad – and seems keen to dismantle the civil rights protecting minorities and migrants.

Despite his background living in liberal, gay-friendly New York City, Trump has has also threatened to appoint Supreme Court justices that oppose the rights of gay, lesbian and transsexual people to marry.

The world did not observe the rise of Trump quietly: it marched along with American women and other minorities. This recalls the way that the world – headed by Americans – in the 1980s and 1990s marched to demand the end of Apartheid in South Africa, and to protest genocide in Argentina, Chile and Guatemala.

Learning from the experts

The global nature and historical roots of the Women’s March were also evident in its tactics. Participants employed human rights strategies well-known in Latin America and Africa, such as naming and shaming.

Boomerangs and spirals – tactics used to mobilise international pressure against states that are violating human rights – were also at play in Washington.

Traditionally these strategies have focused on weak states, on the assumption that Western democracies have the authority to judge the human rights performance of other nations. Today, under Trump, the US is more akin to the rogue state that American scholars have previously described.

The US has long seen itself as exceptional, but Trump’s election has forced Americans to look toward other countries with experience confronting the brand of right-wing populism that Donald Trump now threatens to unleash on the US public.

It is invigorating and inspiring: if these strategies have worked in Latin America and Africa, why shouldn’t they work in the US? The feminist movement is finally going global. That’s good news for Americans, and for people of all genders, all over the world.

The Conversation

Ariadna Estévez, Professor, Center for Research on North America, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM)

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.