Tag Archives: brazil

The Pro-Choice Fight in Brazil

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This is an edited and cut down version of this piece. It is part of my Beyond the Sex and Sunshine series, where I write about Brazilian women and try to change the sexualized narrative around them. To read the full text please click here and support my work.

Jandira Magdalena dos Santos Cruz, 27, was last seen alive on her way to an illegal abortion clinic in Campo Grande, Rio de Janeiro. Weeks later, her body was found carbonized in a burnt car, without limbs or a dental arch. A divorced mother of two daughters, Jandira resorted to abortion when her boyfriend refused to take responsibility for the pregnancy.

Abortion is illegal in Brazil except in cases of rape or if the mother’s life is in danger. This illegality what led Jandira to pay USD$1,200 for a procedure in an illegal clinic. Her case is not a rare one: according to the World Health Organization (WHO) one woman dies every two days because of unsafe abortions in Brazil. Brazilian public health care estimates indicate that 1.5 million women get abortions yearly while the Ministry of Health’s calculations reveal that 3.7 million Brazilian women between the ages of 15 and 49 have had at least one abortion in their lifetime. In Latin America, 95% of abortions are considered unsafe by WHO.

In Brazil, having an abortion is punishable by law and could result in one to four years in prison. In 2005, a proposed bill of law threatened to take away the already existing provisions for abortions and to make abortion a heinous crime. The law would also forbid stem cell research.

In an election year, the subject of abortion is curiously absent from electoral campaigns and debates. Despite Jandira’s death and that of thousands of women which has caught the attention of mainstream media, advocating for the legalization of abortion is considered political suicide in a country where 79% of people are against any change in legislation.

“Abortion is a taboo, religion and the media display dead babies of eight or nine months and say this is abortion, which causes discomfort in any person,” says activist Isabella Medeiros, organizer of a pro-choice march in Rio de Janeiro on September 28. “This image of taboo that the media shows the population is very fictitious; the rate of women who get abortions is immense. In truth, it is a great manipulation because of religion, more so than politics, where conservative values are predominant.”

Mariana* says this predominant attitude in society makes it harder for women who have abortions to speak out or even heal mentally from the procedure. She got an abortion after paying R$12,000 ($5,000) to a doctor who instructed her to go to a high-class hospital and pretend she was having a miscarriage so she could be operated safely.

“He told me to come to a hospital – a good hospital in Rio – and pretend I was having a miscarriage. I would have to arrive in the early hours of the day. I was lucky – we paid a lot of money. My father got a loan from the bank, my mother didn’t go on a planned trip. I was lucky to have a family that was looking out for me, that supported me. They understood it wasn’t the time for me to have a kid.”

While Mariana was fortunate to have the procedure done in a proper hospital, this is not the reality of most Brazilian women.

“Jandira’s case is an example of what we call unsafe abortion,” explains Dr Ligia Bahia in an interview to newspaper O Globo. “It’s an abortion performed outside of a medical unit with proper credentials. In Brazil, because abortion is illegal, interventions in illegal clinics are more common. Women put themselves in a situation of extreme risk when they seek this kind of operation. Ideally, society would debate this theme without an ideology, focusing only on the grave issue of public health.”

Since the legalization of abortion in Uruguay, the number of abortions has decreased and there have been no deaths as a result of the procedures. Despite this positive result, political leaders in Brazil seldom mention a direct change in legislation, with presidential candidate Marina Silva only going as far as proposing a referendum on the issue. According to Uruguay’s Public Health sub-secretary Leonel Briozzo, “that’s not the best way to solve the problem.”

“For the life of women,” they chanted

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On September 28, Latin American and Caribbean Day for the Legalization of Abortion, women took to the streets in several cities across Latin America to protest for their bodily autonomy. In Brazil in particular, organizers of the movement hoped to bring attention to the issue in times of election.

At the end of Copacabana beach, a small group of feminist activists painted pro-choice signs for the march later in the day. They were of all colors and backgrounds, but all of them recognize that the criminalization of abortion is a bigger danger to low-income women of color. One of the signs read: “The rich women pay, the poor women die.”

Besides remembering the death of thousands of women across Latin America who died from unsafe abortion, the march in Copacabana had as an objective to start a political conversation about the legalization and decriminalization of the procedure.

Protester Desirée Carvalho, 23, said: “We think this is something to be debated since we are in an election year and this is a subject that isn’t debated, even though we have more than one woman running for president so our objective is this, to talk about the need of the legalization of abortion by the public health system.”

The march was peaceful, but also met with a bit of hostility. Many people shook their heads in disapproval when the protesters chanted pro-choice songs to call attention to the march. A few others observers pumped their fists and joined in, but the march was mostly met with silence.

In a Lugar de Mulher (A Woman’s Place) blog post that went viral last month, Brazilian feminist writer Clara Averbuck summarizes an approach to the legalization of abortion that might work for Brazil.

She wrote: “Your personal opinion about abortion doesn’t matter. Women will continue to have abortions and to risk their lives while it’s not a legal and safe procedure (…) You hate the idea of abortion? OK, so don’t have one. Your opinion won’t change that women have abortions (…) All kinds of women have abortions and there is not one personal opinion that will change that.”

*Not her real name.

This is an edited and cut down version of this piece. To read the full text please click here and support my work in changing the narrative around Brazilian women.

Beyond Sex and Sunshine

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It’s not news that Brazilian women are used to sell plane tickets, hotel stays, tours, and whatever else there is to do in Brazil. In the last year covering Brazil, I’ve come to realize that the mainstream press is reluctant to cover anything other than Brazilian women’s sexuality – which enforces stereotypes and dehumanizes women in a way that puts them in danger.

So far I have reported on the fact that here in Brazil there are more rapes than murders, that 80% of Brazilian women have been sexually harassed in the street, how one woman dies every hour and a half in this country, how the former Human Rights Committee president was sexist and how sexual exploitation of minors is considered normal in Brazil.

While Brazilian women are depicted as hypersexual, they live in an extremely sexist and conservative society. It’s not really surprising since most women around the world live in that kind of environment, but I believe this fallacy is especially harmful in Brazil. While we, women, are viewed as sexual objects, beckoning Brazilian and foreign men alike to a ‘sexual paradise, we are also human and we support the country in so many more important ways.

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For example, did you know 25% of Brazilian households are financially supported by women? Yet, men receive, on average, salaries that are 42% higher than women’s? Did you even imagine that native indian women and black women have the hardest time getting health care in Brazil? Or that in eleven years, rape rates have risen by 88% in Rio de Janeiro – a supposedly sexually free city?

These statistics are terrifying to me. I know women here in Brazil from all walks of life, and they are so much more than sexual objects. I want to tell their stories and explore how their particular lives are affected by their nationality and its stereotypes.

This is why I have launched the project Beyond Sex and Sunshine at Beacon Reader. Although I have pitched similar projects / reports to mainstream publications they have been widely rejected – there is really no interest in selling such a humanizing project, I guess.

The cool thing about Beacon Reader is that you can back my work financially, so you will be helping me directly in making this project happen. I know a lot of people don’t have money to contribute, but I also believe writers should be paid for their work.

Here are the subjects I am planning to cover:

  • The life and stories of Brazilian women in the favelas
  • Afro Brazilian culture
  • Racism and gender
  • Transgender women and their struggles
  • Queer women and their struggles
  • Brazilian carnival, sexual harassment and the non-sexual aspects of carnival
  • Brazilian women and football
  • Native indian women’s lives in a colonized Brazil
  • Rape, rape culture and the failings of the Brazilian system
  • Women, politics and religion
  • Sex workers
  • Sexual exploitation of girls and its normalization
  • Women entrepreneurs

As I move forward with the project I am sure new subjects will come up. I also ask that if there is anything you think I should be covering you please get in touch with me through email at nicolefroio@gmail.com. I am so, so excited about it and I really hope I get the funding I need to get this project off the ground. It would be really amazing if you could fund me but I know that’s not always possible. For those who cannot fund me I will sporadically release shorter, edited versions of my work.

Things to note:
1) Any NGOs/communities I mention in my reporting will receive a donation from the funding raised on Beacon;
2) I will try my best to let these stories speak for themselves, distancing myself from privilege and biases. I want to be responsible.

If you can’t fund me, I only ask that you spread the project’s link around. Tweet and share, please please please. Thank you!

 

Politics and Sports: Why the 2014 World Cup can make or break Brazil

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Brazil: Love it or Leave it

Humanity’s competitive nature has always been an advantage to political leaders. The Roman gladiators were not only an example of human cruelty and violence, but also an instrument of political control. Centuries later, this method hasn’t changed and as the biggest sporting event in the world approaches, the Brazilian people are subject to the too well known intersection of sports and politics.

This intersection is well known in Brazil, albeit forgotten since the military dictatorship ended in 1985 because of the establishment of democracy. But while a democracy implies freedom and a people chosen government, political manipulation is present in all kinds of political systems. The clever political PR that can be drawn from the World Cup comes at the optimum time for Brazilian politicians: 2014 is presidential election year.

In 1970 Brazil was prosperous but violent. While the economy was growing by 10% every year, the military dictatorship leaders unceremoniously silenced the press, tortured, murdered and exiled members of the opposition. President Emílio Garrastazu Médici was one of the cruellest politicians in Brazil – hundreds of people were killed during his term.

Go, Brazil!
Go, Brazil!

The middle class was growing, but Brazilians lacked basic human rights such as freedom of speech and press freedom. The people were becoming richer, but many didn’t like this lack of rights. Médici created an image of a populist, soccer crazed president who resonated with Brazilians. He claimed to be ‘a man of the people’ and often said he was passionate about football.

This might not seem like an efficient tactic of political control to outsiders, but in a country that has been used and abused by European colonizers and then further explored by the USA, the people often need some help with their self-esteem. Back then, Brazilian football was still golden: we were the best in the world and that’s really all we had. Médici’s image combined with a growing middle class placated the naysayers.

Brazil’s 1970 World Cup win provided Médici with the best kind of political propaganda. Nationalism was the norm, and slogans like ‘Brazil, love it or leave it’ and ‘Nobody can hold this country down’ increased the people’s self-esteem and distracted them from the dictatorial reality. Brazil became the first country to win the World Cup three times.

President Médici holding up a Brazilian flag
President Médici holding up a Brazilian flag

Maybe this is why Brazilians rely so heavily on winning the cup. When we lost in 2010 the value of our country went down in the streets. After watching the match in Copacabana’s FIFA Fan Fest, walking home was incredibly sad, people were throwing Brazilian flags on the ground and street sellers were letting their Brazil-themed products go for much less than a dollar.

The current climate in Brazil is mixed. I’ve met people who are excited for the soccer matches and people who have nowhere to live and complain about the government’s negligence towards the poor. Some people are in the street yelling ‘There won’t be a World Cup’ and burning FIFA’s official sticker albums, while others quite happily buy the stickers until they complete it.

In 1970 the intersection of politics and sport was very significant, but in 2014 it might be even more so. Social media and a globalized coverage of the World Cup and the issues surrounding it have given unhappy Brazilians an opportunity to be heard by the rest of the world. The huge difference is that in 2014 the championship is interfering directly with internal policies on housing, health and education. It is emphasizing the negligence the Brazilian people suffer. The clever plan to control the people in this way might have backfired.

Yet the danger of it working out for the current government is still present. If Brazil wins, public approval will sway towards the party that is currently in power, despite its negligence. In history, we can refer back to instances where this type of political propaganda has worked: the 1936 Summer Olympics in Germany was used to ‘prove’ the superiority of the Arian race and it succeeded. It played a significant part in the holocaust.

Of course, this intersection can be used for good. In the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised a black gloved fist in a Black Panther salute, a gesture in opposition of white supremacy and for civil rights. And just last year during the Winter Olympics in Russia LGBT rights activists and supporters made a point of boycotting and speaking out against Putin’s anti-gay policies – and journalists made sure the Russian Olympic Committee got laughed at around the world by tweeting photos of their unfinished rooms and disgusting running water.

The real consequences of the 2014 World Cup will only be seen by the end of the year. It’s innocuous to think the result of the championship will have no political bearing in the choosing of future leaders. But I sincerely hope that the global focus in Brazil will be used for good and that the big political dogs will not win. Maybe a win for Brazil will mean Brazilians recognize they deserve better.

On foreigner’s privilege during the World Cup

Last week Danish journalist Mikkel Keldorf Jensen left Brazil after deciding he could not participate in the coverage of the World Cup because he felt complicit to how the Brazilian people are being ignored by the authorities. He could not, in good conscience, perpetuate what is happening in Brazil.

This attitude is interesting because, while his intentions were good, his position reeks of privilege. Mikkel is a freelance journalist who spent five months in Brazil, reporting and selling stories internationally. He doesn’t have anyone to pay for his travels as he was not tied to any particular publication.

Brazilians suffer with poverty, lack of education, racism, sexism, exploration and a thousand other issues every single day and the needy are daily ignored by authorities. Seeing this suffering is hard and sometimes even maddening. Mikkel has a pretty huge privilege over low income Brazilian families though: he had the means to come, see and leave. Maybe he feels that by leaving he is not helping FIFA – but the truth is that his ability to flee is the biggest show of privilege of all.

During the World Cup, tourists will come to Brazil and will do the exact same thing: they will come, see, shake their heads in disapproval and leave. Brazilians will be left behind with the same lives they have always had and the same corruption that has stalled social mobility for generations.

I write this not to make tourists feel unwelcome, but to point out the incredible privilege they have in coming to Brazil and not having to stay if they don’t want to.

As a privileged woman in Brazil, I know how fortunate I am when having the ability to leave. In reporting human rights violations in Rio de Janeiro I have been able to walk away from misery and poverty after I finished writing. That’s privilege. And that’s something I have to recognize to properly understand the world around me.

So what does it mean to be extremely privileged in a third world country? It means you can leave when things get ugly.

It might be that the Brazilian government thought tourists would bring more prosperity, and perhaps that’s true. But since the World Cup and Olympics were announced, the cost of living in Brazil has soared – without any increase in the minimum wage. Unemployment in Rio de Janeiro has declined, but with the rise of living costs people’s social status remain the same – and it’s a given that once the event is done with, there will be a rise in unemployment.

Thousands of people have been removed from their homes in the last four years to get the country ready for tourists and for football. Poverty is rampant, violence is commonplace. And Brazilians are forced to live with it.

And of course, as foreigners, there’s virtually nothing you can do about it – it’s not your job to do anything, but it is your job to leave with a better understanding of what Brazilians go through and the toll that the World Cup has taken on them. As writer Eliezer Yudkowsk has put it; ‘You are personally responsible for becoming more ethical than the society you grew up in.’

It’s important not to live within the illusion that we are all equal. The human race is very distant from equality, and denying it by claiming to be ‘colour blind’ or any such excuse is counterproductive. It is better to think that we all should  be equal. Whether we like it or not some of us benefit more from the status quo than others and that’s not about to change in a second.

The Brazilian media, Representation and ‘bullying’ of foreigners

Last week, the Brazilian Human Rights Commission approved a request by Congressman Marcos Rogério to remove a Guaraná commercial featuring Neymar that allegedly ‘promotes bullying against foreigners in Brazil’. Watch the video above.

In the commercial, foreigners ask Neymar how to order Guaraná, a Brazilian soda made from an Amazonian fruit. Neymar then writes the translation on a piece of paper. But he doesn’t write what they asked him – he writes common Brazilian sayings that make zero sense in the context of ordering a drink. And so the ‘gringos’ go off to Rio and embarrass themselves by saying things like “I am a dog sucking on a mango, please” (which is a phrase that means ‘ugly’).

Maybe it is a little bit offensive, but if someone is travelling to a place where they don’t know the language they should expect some confusion and ridicule. After all, there’s nothing wrong with being lost in translation – no one expects someone to speak all the languages. And if you are hung up on going places where the language is unknown to you… well, just stay at home.

In any case, the complaint was not made by any gringo (that I know of) but by Brazilian congressmen who are responsible for human rights in this country (it’s important to note that the former president of this human rights commission was largely homophobic, racist and sexist). From this I can only assume they a) have nothing better to do and b) have no idea what human rights actually are.

It’s very difficult to agree that this little prank qualifies as bullying and that this commercial somehow, as the request document put it, ‘violates the values of human dignity’ when so much of the media representation in Brazil is incredibly harmful to its own population.

For example, black women are notably either portrayed in soap operas as maids or sexual objects. The first ‘gay kiss’ on national television was aired a few months ago but comedy shows still largely rely on homophobia to make jokes. Women in general are told they are token prizes in commercials, or are regularly asked by yogurt adverts whether they are thin enough for summer.

If the issue really is ‘human dignity’ and not ‘don’t bully the gringos, they’re bringing us cash’, then why is the image of the Brazilian woman, for example, so warped? A study published by Avon in 2013 shows how women in particular have their ‘human dignity’ violated by the Brazilian media: half of Brazilian men think women are responsible for the house and 89% of them find it inadmissible when women do not keep the house clean. Around 50% of Brazilian men also think women don’t feel the need for sex and 69% of them will not allow their wives to go out without them.

Judging by the commission’s complaint against the Guaraná commercial, we can assume that these congressmen know the importance of media representation. And yet, the Brazilian media is sexist, misogynist, transphobic, racist and does not correctly portray our people – in fact they are regularly oppressed by it.

Slavery is constantly erased, and made into a joke – despite the ugly fact that Brazil was the last country in the world to abolish slavery, after bringing 3 million Africans to the country. Women are belittled and represented as sex objects. The history of native people is also constantly made fun of and the genocide of native peoples is erased by the mainstream colonialist rhetoric.

And this pathetic complaint, that uses ‘human dignity’ as an argument, is coming from a human rights commission that spent the larger part of 2013 trying to pass a bill of law called ‘Gay Cure’ that would allow doctors to treat homosexuality as a psychological disease.

When the population’s ‘human dignity’ is violated every day by harmful stereotypes and oppressive representation, it is really hard to care about Neymar laughing at a few tourists who are fortunate enough to be able to travel to Brazil to (presumably) watch the World Cup.

FIFA opened a can of worms, which Brazilians won’t close

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Wiki Creative Commons Licence

This Friday, December 6, the World Cup draw will be broadcast across 193 countries. After the messy, convoluted chaos that has been leading up to the draw, FIFA and the World Cup Committee are sure to be glad the day is finally here. And of course, they hope that once the first ball is kicked into a goal in 2014, people will forget all the disasters, protests and deaths that led up to this international event.

Football in Brazil is famous around the world, but it is much more than sport on Brazilian soil. When the Brazilian protests hit last June, the words on everyone’s lips were, ‘Brazilians don’t just care about football anymore.’ But Brazilians have, of course, always cared about things in addition to sport – the difference is that decades of government misconduct has culminated in their loss of the ability to use football as a means of controlling the masses.

Outside of Brazil, these protests and general anger might seem like a passing fad, but it’s not. It’s historic. Before June 2013, people died because of street violence and general government neglect and no one hit the streets with protests signs.

When it was announced that Brazil would be the next World Cup host, the federal government celebrated. In an attempt to embezzle more money (in addition to the $160,000 federal congressmen bag every year, not counting benefits) they didn’t realize that they were mixing politics with their most effective control tool.

After years of neglect, the government was making movements to improve transport, security and tourism in general. Security has indeed improved in Rio de Janeiro city but that doesn’t change the fact that this improvement only happened because of the international event Brazil is hosting. There would be no pacified favelas if thousands of international football fans were not travelling to Rio next June.

This World Cup improvement policy also ensures that some areas, where tourists are unlikely to visit, will continue to be dangerous, decadent and neglected. And the building of structures to benefit the tourists has also resulted in thousands of people being removed from their own homes into subpar apartments (or forced into homelessness).

Last week two people died in the building of a new stadium for the World Cup. The deaths were the result of an accident, but they are now in the body count the preparation of this event has left behind. These include innocent people being hit by ‘pacifying’ bullets; mothers, fathers and babies who die in line for the hospital every day due to a decaying health system; the child thieves whose favelas have been pacified but have not been educated because of a lacking, underfunded public school system; the people in the slums who die because of the disgusting, subhuman state of their surroundings, where the water isn’t clean and people live in litter.

All the public money and the time used to prepare Brazil for the World Cup has set the country back. This time and money could have been used to improve lives in the long term, to nip security issues in the bud, to make a plan of what to do after pacifying the favelas, to educate our young so that the next generation treats football as entertainment, not as a distraction from real issues: education, security, public services and decent quality of life for all.

Will Brazilians enjoy the 2014 World Cup despite the exorbitant ticket prices that have further segregated race and class (which go hand in hand in Brazil)? There’s no doubt about it, and there will be cheers for Neymar and Felipão to win the Cup for the sixth time. But this time, make no mistake, there will also be cheers and protests outside of the stadiums, calling for a better life, a better government, a better country.

“The Bullets in the Favelas Aren’t Made of Rubber”: A Report from Brazil for The Toast

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The awesome blog The Toast has published one of my reports, and I am super proud of it! The first few paragraphs are below and you can keep reading after clicking the link at the end.

When J. took his first breath, fresh into the world, he was already condemned to be an outcast for the rest of his short life.

His birth certificate bore no reference to his father: he had none. He was–like thousands of children born in the Complexo da Maré, Rio de Janeiro–excluded from society.

His mother was HIV-positive and he lived in a 2m by 2m cubicle house without a bathroom. The complex of favelas where he lived is one of the most dangerous parts of town, where two neighbouring rival factions of drug traffickers make sure all Maré residents live in a state of constant civil war.

Read More on The Toast.

‘Hey beautiful’ is the same as any other street harassment

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Source: http://leftycartoons.com/street-harassment/

It was a sunny day so I was wearing my shades, shorts and an airy blouse. I was already late so I hurried without taking the usual care of avoiding the dirty bar right in front of my house, where fat hairy middle aged men were already getting drunk at one in the afternoon.

A man shouted in my direction, it was something rude, but I brushed it off, making a mental note to avoid the place when I made my way back home.

Relieved to have passed the bar I continued to make my way to the metro station, but I hadn’t even walked half a block from my house when another middle aged man sat with two of his mates harassed me.

“Hey, beautiful”

I turned around and told him to f*ck off. I was absolutely livid. I work from home so I don’t go out as often as most people but that week, the three times I had to run errands I had been the target of some kind of disgusting comment that reduced me to a piece of meat.

He yelled back at me saying it was a ‘compliment’. The stupidest thing is that I started feeling guilty and like I overreacted, maybe he was just complimenting me, trying to be nice, right? Maybe I should give him the benefit of the doubt and be nicer in the face of street harassment.

I was out to cover a festival for a known online magazine and was mentally planning how I would write it – I was concentrated, focused on my work. And then a disgusting middle aged man feels the need to point out that my exterior features are ‘beautiful’, completely throwing me off and making me jump. And there comes the feeling of vulnerability and the submission that feels mandatory because the man might lash back at me if I respond.

Don’t think for a second that I would be happier or more comfortable if the man had been young and good-looking though – street harassment makes you a disgusting human being no matter what you look like.

It makes me angry that certain men think that I am some kind of object to be looked at just because I stepped out of my house to go to work. And no matter the context it is always the same. I might be wearing a skirt, a hoodie, sweatpants, jeans, shorts, anything and I will still be harassed.

It makes me feel unsafe and worthless. Women are people – is that so insane to grasp? I am a person filled with dreams, intelligence, plans, ambitions, likes, dislikes, love, hate, anxiety. I am so much more than my face and my body.

Why do I have to write a blog post saying that I am a person?

Many people will tell me – wait a second, ‘Hey beautiful’ isn’t as bad as the other things he could have said to you. Maybe he really did mean to pay me a compliment and maybe he was just being nice. ‘Beautiful’ is a good thing. I should be flattered! After all that’s all women are good for: being beautiful.

Have we really come to the point where the best I can hope for is being treated as an object in a ‘nice’ way as opposed to not being harassed at all? Do I really deserve to feel unsafe, objectified and angry just for walking down the street because some creep’s choice of word ‘could have been worse’?

The use of the word ‘beautiful’ doesn’t fool me. It’s just a pathetic attempt to veil objectification. It’s the same as any other obscene comment directed at a woman walking in the street alone.

It’s not so difficult to figure out if a woman will welcome harassment: did she ask you what you think about her body? No? Then keep it to yourself.

And another thing I will never understand: what reaction do these men expect to get?

“Oh my gosh, sir, thank you so much. I absolutely needed the validation of a sad old man getting drunk on the street! Thank you so much for salvaging my self-esteem.”

I mean thank God a man told me I am beautiful! I was starting to think I am worthless since the last time I was harassed had been less than a minute before.

I am a person. Don’t forget it.

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Click on the photo for an awesome comic about street harassment.

REVIEW: ELLES Exhibition, CCBB, Rio de Janeiro

The Blue Room by Suzanne Valadon
The Blue Room by Suzanne Valadon.

As in most fields of work, art is an extremely sexist environment for women artists. The majority of known artists are men, and as a consequence art galleries and museums tend to display pieces made by men.

So the ELLES exhibition was refreshing: all the works of art were produced by women. It’s exciting because only 3% of the art in the Metropolitan Museum are made by women. As for nude paintings, 83% are women. These facts were displayed in a Guerilla Girls poster, a group that dedicates itself in pointing out the misogyny and sexism in art. The title of the piece was ‘Do women have to be naked to be in the Metropolitan Museum?’

These women reflected on beauty, sex, life and love. In the beginning of the exhibition two huge photos were placed opposite each other, one with a woman who had chiselled features and another of a girl with an orange bikini looking extremely uncomfortable about being photographed on a windy beach. They were opposing ideas of beauty, one perfect and another real. And I say ‘real’ because the chiselled featured woman was in fact a mannequin made to embrace the traditional beauty enforced on women. The shy girl was a real woman.

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Self-portrait by Frida Kahlo.

The following pieces also challenged beauty. One of them was by Frida Kahlo who is known for painting her self-portraits with much realism. Her uni-brow, moustache and colourful clothes make her unique but not exactly beautiful. Being beautiful was never her intention – she wanted to depict the ugly. A tortured soul, she expressed her pain through art and one of her more disturbing portraits is about her second miscarriage; full of pain, blood and suffering.

Behave or be Joan of Arc by María Blanchard.
Behave or be Joan of Arc by María Blanchard.

An abstract piece that stood out for me was the painting of a woman called ‘Behave or be Joan of Arc’ by María Blanchard. The painting itself was interesting but the title was what most intrigued me. I always talk about how women shouldn’t have to be ‘nice’ just because it is entrenched into gender roles of society. I’m not saying women should be rude, but when women have to confront people because of genuine problems they are called bitter, bitchy, drama queens, etc.

And this painting seemed to be all about that. Women must either behave or become some kind of rebel. It reminded me of the current campaign called ‘Stop telling women to smile’. Sometimes, like all human beings, we are not up to it.

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S.O.S. Starification Object Series by Hannah Wilk

‘S.O.S. Starification Object Series’ by Hannah Wilk was impressive not only because of its weirdness – it is a topless woman with bits of chewed up gum on her body posing for a camera – but also because of the confidence in each photograph. The woman posing owns her body, she is confident and sexy.

Some of the pieces were quite difficult to understand. Many of them were short films of women performing art, but I really struggle to understand if there is supposed to be a plot or if they are just making a continuous point throughout. The oddest one was probably a black and white film of a naked woman holding a headless dying chicken out in front of her.

Overall the experience was empowering. I loved it and I want to seek out more female artists. If I take them seriously maybe more people will.

When the people changed the angle

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One of the most substantial problems with the media-audience relationship is representation. Though journalism is supposed to be neutral, it has always been blatant that political bias is a reality that cannot be avoided. Though a piece of writing or a news reel might be balanced, by having both sides of the argument there is always an angle to present the information with. Editing, choosing quotes, structuring the piece, all of this depends on the opinion of the writer or the media outlet.

This has never been a secret. And the problem with it is that many times the work of journalists can fail to represent their audience’s interests because they are too out of touch. People might complain of the Daily Mail but it is incredibly unlikely that they will change their sexist, misogynistic, shaming agenda.

But in the last three weeks Brazilian protesters all over their country forced the media to change their angle on the movement completely. In the beginning of the protests newspapers were using words that implied all the protesters were being violent. One perfect example of this was the front page of O Globo in the first week of unrest that splayed the Turkish protests and the Brazilian manifestations. The headline referring to the Turkish unrest called the Turkish people ‘activists’. The headline pertaining to the Brazilian protests used the word ‘vandals’. Placed side by side it showed the clear right-wing intentions of the newspaper to make the protests into a violent, senseless affair.

Soon enough citizen reporters started posting photos of the peaceful movement on social media, saying that O Globo and Rede Globo weren’t reporting the protests correctly, and that they had been for the most part completely peaceful.

Those involved in the movement, be it online or on the streets, quickly started sharing personal accounts of the events, conspiracy theories and instructions on how to protest (including how to recuperate from inhaling tear gas). It became clear that no one was happy about how they were being represented and this  issue started coming to the streets with everything else people were angry about. It wasn’t only that they were being misrepresented but Globo has been monopolizing information for the last two decades. It is the most watched free-view channel in the country, and the other options are scarce.

After a week or so of complaints the turning point came when a female reporter was forced to leave a protest after being antagonized furiously by protesters chanting at the top of their voices against Rede Globo. They sang “The people aren’t stupid, down with Rede Globo” and “The truth is harsh, Globo supported the dictatorship”. The reporter was driven away afraid they would hurt her. The same happened to a male reporter a few days later.

Soon Rede Globo reporters were forced to start using microphones without the network’s logo and to report from the roof of buildings looking over the protests as opposed to the ground.

That wasn’t the only thing that changed though. While broadcasting the violent action live from a helicopter, journalists continually said the movement was mostly peaceful and that the violent actions were completely isolated. The agenda, the angle, the opinions changed just like that. And even though people are still complaining online and would probably be hostile to any Globo reporter they recognize, the media in general has changed their tone. They are no longer disapproving or generalizing the movement.

It is not only an interesting phenomenon for any media geek, but also a point that should be taken by all journalists. Listening to your audience is and will always be important.

Photo courtesy of Michel de Souza.