Thursday, 29 May 2014

Misogyny is informing much of trans-activism in Brazil

It is with immense sadness that I'm writing this post today. I want to let the world know that misogyny has been informing (at least some of the) trans-activism in Brazil. I'm also hoping to touch some trans-activists with my text. 

No, I am not a radical feminist. Some people seriously look at me and wonder if I'm at all a feminist, to be honest. I for one like to define myself as a zen-feminist. I seriously believe in the power of inner balance to counter the discursive practices that dehumanize women since ancient times. 

The thing is, hatred disturbs me badly. Let me tell you that transphobia disgusts me. It really does. I feel miserable every time anyone tells a trans woman that she is not actually a woman. That for some reason, she is not entitled to womanhood, whatever that is. It breaks my heart, and I think feminism should be radically inclusive of trans-individuals. 

However, I do understand the sense of hostility between the two sects (radfems x trans-activists). And… I also comprehend the fact that trans-activists may get aggressive at times. I know it's not easy to have your choices confronted within activism, by and large by radical feminists. There is one thing about radfems that trans-activists in general don't get, though. To be clear, I'd like to speak precisely about the Brazilian radfems I know.

The radfems I know are NOT monsters that should be mocked and ostracized. The radfems I know are people with feelings, and they are extremely concerned about all women. The radfems I know are, however, suspicious. If we look at the way women have been treated throughout history, doesn't it seem reasonable for them to be cautious and distrustful of the new paradigms that have taken over the feminist terrain? I'd think so. 

I was aghast when a trans-activist I used to follow and hold in high regard got engaged in the discussion I expose below (translation mine).

Random woman (as far as I know, she's a teenager, but I've no confirmation on the age): I have nothing against you guys, but understand you will never be women, you'll never menstruate or bear a child, you'll never have to go through what women experience. 

Trans activist: Hi darling! There is one thing we call subjectivity. I am me, you are yourself. The only thing I strive for is to become a better version of myself, and in that you're failing, regressing. There's women who do not menstruate (by means of choice or not) as there's women who can't or don't want to have children. Take a look at some history books and you'll see that this general notion that a woman is BORN to have kids is wrong. During feudalism, the nobles did not raise their children, the task was given to a slave (wet nurse) as soon as the child was born. Where is the maternal love? This need for bleeding or having kids that patriarchy tries to shove down your mind only limits you as a woman. Did you know that a great deal of postpartum depression is derived from this feeling of frustration? From not loving the child like film/media/society preach? From not having had that "instant" shock of unconditional love? Free yourself from sexism and help liberate other women too, there is nothing wrong in not bearing a child/not desiring one. If nothing I've just said made up your mind, take your vagina from between your legs and have it framed on your wall! If your vagina is at the core of your completeness… or you could go vampire and drink your menstrual blood, as it makes you so happy as a woman. I go through all a woman experiences and I can tell you one thing… MISOGYNY hurts! 

One of her followers: Beautiful response. I must confess I wouldn't have had such patience, class and elegance. But you know what? I feel sorry for people who live trapped in a genitalized world. They understand nothing about gender and human subjectivity. This sexist girl will obliterate the freedom of her kids in the future. 

Trans activist: If there was an option like 'tear off her ass' I'd have just done that. 

Believe me, the above interaction took place on a page with 40k+ followers. If someone, anyone, is willing to engage in activism, then educating is paramount. I can't see any educational tone in the response given by the trans activist in question. Apart from the very flawed argument of 'look at the feudal aristocracy', that leaves like ALL my ancestors of color and their struggles behind (isn't feminism also about raising awareness on the erasure of unprivileged women from the history books?), it undertakes a very cynical type of misogyny. The trans activist ends up backfiring, as she couldn't get away with essentialism without engaging in hatred towards women. 

I'll take it as win that she did delete the thread. It gets me thinking, however, that she did that in order to protect herself from some lawsuit, not exactly because she regrets somehow. I don't wish to foster hatred towards anyone. It's just not my nature. It's not how I choose to function as a human being. But the moment I saw that conversation I knew I needed to voice my concern. 

I'm a cis woman (and so far have no problem with the designation). I obviously menstruate. The fact that I bleed in tune with the lunar calendar does not make me more entitled to womanhood than a trans-woman. However, I do believe women who experience femininity in terms of menstruation and bearing children shouldn't be ridiculed like that. This is a huge disservice to the whole cause of feminism, and I'd urge all feminists to actually love women. Like, for real, resentment won't take us anywhere. I'm all in for pointing how essentialism hurts us all. I'm totally supportive of highlighting privileges. I think it's counterproductive, though, to shame a woman. Any woman. 

Print of what happened

UPDATE: I received the following information from Giselle Alves, a radfem friend of mine: "The page exposed the name and picture of a 13 year old girl. This is a crime according to Article 18 of our Children and Adolescent Act. There is no excuse for such behavior. Especially when we consider that the page deletes/blurs names of men. Isn't it a coincidence that they are exposing a teenager? Secondly, I don't follow the page, but four friends shared the post. The girl has been exposed. The crime has had high proportions. This post served as a means for misogynous of all sorts to expose what they really think. Meanwhile, any comment or reasoning from women were promptly deleted and such women ended up banned from the page. This has a name, and it is silencing, and it is rooted in misogyny. The page admin not only said she wanted to "tear off" the girl's ass, a man followed her by suggesting they should spank the girl. This is hatred. Other equally violent comments have followed since. This is anything but pro-women activism". 

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

GQ India tells Indian men to harass Brazilian women

I'm a woman, a Brazilian, and I've lived in India for a few years. The one thing I learned from my "Indian experience" has to do with stereotypes. I was able to move beyond them, and will carry this valuable lesson for the rest of my existence. This article, however, is not on my life in India. Today I'm trying to write about the negative effects of stereotyping. 

I came across this article yesterday and I can't say I gasped in horror because in patriarchy nothing surprises me anymore, to be honest. Shocked I am not, but I did get sad. First thing that caught my eyes, the piece was co-authored by a Brazilian lady. I seriously believe she is unaware of how sexism works. Like most people, after all. 

The text lets the reader know, from its outset, that stereotyping is good: "The thing with Brazil is that most of the stereotypes are true." My response to that? Well, clichés are never true. I can't believe I'm writing an article to counter cliché, but that's just how bad things are in the world of today, especially for women. That article is horrid. It goes on: "There’s football and bottoms and all that Carnaval frenzy. There’s the beach and bikinis and bottoms, coffee and caipirinhas and samba and bottoms." Like, really? In a country that struggles with human trafficking, child prostitution and all the disgrace of sex tourism? Is that how Brazil is still being portrayed? With the validation of, alas, Brazilians themselves? I seriously consider running to the hills every time I'm faced with such gross oversimplifications. 

No, I am not saying we are not 'cool' or 'happy' people who appreciate beautiful butts. Problem is, when you think of a whole nation in terms of its 'bottoms', you are objectifying women. I've no issues with being perceived as cool, happy, sexy, or even naive. It seems to me that, as a Brazilian woman, I will be ALWAYS put in the box of sensuality. Even though I'm (ironically) perceived as 'unsexy' by most Brazilians I know. The thing is, at some point in my life I realized I could be an actual human being, not a piece of decoration. Thus, it's not that I mind the label, or something, I just became unimpressed by it. 

It's not hard to get indifferent to a tag that dehumanizes you. It's not difficult to stop identifying yourself with something that is causing so much suffering and distress all over the world. Brazilian women are extremely available because they are socialized into being acutely romantic. I know that because I'm no exception to the rule. It's just that I was lucky enough to find female friends who took my hand and gave me some direction in life. Sorority matters, and I stand by it.

I know it sounds confusing. Like, below the surface of stereotype, Brazilian women are just plain romantic, that's all this is. If you've read my previous article you'll connect the dots, though. The Brazilian woman is not empowering herself through sex. She is rather using it as a tool to keep her man. It's not that she always succeeds, though. When she doesn't, she finds herself immersed in a pool of slut-shaming. She HAS to be sexy, yet she cannot own her sexuality, and this is just sad. This is just a system capitalizing over the bodies of women who are not exactly liberated. 

So what issue do I take at that article, exactly? Well, it ends with the following 'pearl' of wisdom: "Brazilians date much like they play football: aggressively. Move fast and keep trying until you score". It basically tells Indian men that they shouldn't hesitate in harassing Brazilian women. It teaches them that Brazil is a jungle and they shouldn't worry about feelings. After all, when you regard women to a 'savage' status, you owe them no humane treatment whatsoever. The magazine is telling men, line for line, that in the soccer match of life, Brazilian women are actually the ball. 

The thing is: we won't take it anymore. There is resistance, and I am living proof that we can, and WILL, transcend those stereotypes. As I said, a revolution is taking place in Brazil. We've had enough. And if I could offer one piece of advice to any man who is traveling to my country, I would say: if you're going to Brazil in order to get what you wouldn't otherwise in your home country, then don't. You know, many people travel to India in search of spiritual enlightenment and end up severely frustrated. The Brazilian experience may be just the other side of a same coin. Don't be the jerk who is contributing to the maintenance of a pervasive system of oppression.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Heineken. Sexism. Brazil.

I'm a woman, and I'm Brazilian. Today, I want to tell you a bit about being woman in Brazil. 

Being woman in Brazil means conforming to a set of rules that are often times contradictory in nature. You are expected to be sexy at all times, even when you're sleeping. Seriously, I've seen tutorials on how to wake up in 'good conditions' near a husband/boyfriend/any man. For the record, I still haven't figured what they mean by 'good conditions'. 

Notwithstanding the obligation towards 'sexy', a Brazilian woman is expected to be a 'good girl'. Good as in marriageable. She's a god-fearing creature who will do ANYTHING to keep her man (reads as: forget about her own personality, have no trace of identity, smiiiiiile, in other words, the doormat thing). 

At the same time, the Brazilian woman is expected to be open minded and extremely sexualized. 'Whore in bed, holy in the living room' is a mantra I got accustomed to repeating from a very early age. You have to please, you need to please, otherwise another woman will steal your man from you. You know. It's all about the competition. 

A Brazilian woman is taught that she can't have good female friends. There is no real sense of camaraderie among women, they say. At the same time, you should avoid being friends with guys, as there is no such thing as 'real' friendship between men and women, they think. 

She is also taught that she has to have a good career. But the career, they say, should never come before her man. They put the word 'family' to make it look nicer, though. And the Brazilian woman believes it's normal that she will make all sorts of sacrifice after she's married, for the sake of husband and kids. She's expected to have a male spouse and children even when she's lesbian. The reasoning goes: if she's a lesbian, that's obviously because she hasn't found her man yet. They say. 

The Brazilian woman is told that she has to be extremely kind and exceedingly available if she wants to get married. Yet, people frown upon women who decide not to get married. Something is wrong with them, they say. So, as I mentioned earlier, she has to do anything to keep her man. She shouldn't get slutty, though. Slutty is bad, and it will throw you right in the spinster limbo. Marriage is an asset, and Brazilian women who do get married are somehow perceived as achievers. Whatever.that.means. 

Brazilian women are expected not to smoke: if she smokes she's a whore. She shouldn't drink, either. Good girls just don't. She shouldn't sweat, gain weight, have curly hair, have pubic hair, or hair on the "wrong places". Yellowish teeth? God forbid! Also, she should wear makeup but not too much. She should spend hours trying to achieve a 'natural' look. She should also occupy as little space as possible, and overweight girls suffer with all sorts of fatophobic abuse. She shouldn't bother too much about soccer, either. Soccer is male business, they say. 

Brazilian Slut Walk (neither saints, nor whores, WOMEN!) 

I could go on. The point I wanted to make, though, is that it came as no surprise to me that Heineken decided to advertise its beer on sexist terms. In such a misogynistic scenario, I wouldn't expect a beer brand to tell women to go drinking. Since the Brazilian woman is required to be the null individual I've just described above, Heineken has decided to tell them to go shopping. Apparently, it's the win-win solution for all Brazilian men: send their women to a shoe shop and get rid of all the drama. Just don't ask me what drama they are talking about. I've no idea and I'm afraid no Brazilian woman will precisely know what they mean. 

Heineken and the sexist media in Brazil haven't realized a couple of things, though. The first is that we are changing. Slowly, but steadily. A revolution is taking place in my country at this very moment. We are, in our own good time, raising our voices to speak up against injustice. We are taking ownership over our bodies. We are gathering, sharing, caring for each other. We're telling the media, the bigots, the whole conservative sect of our society that we've had enough. We.won't.stop.

Meditation: the Afro Latina's way ;)

I meditate. To me, it's a very simple thing to do, yet people usually get amused whenever I say I try to practice it regularly. I think it's hard to unlink the word 'meditation' and the image of highly disciplined monks living in reclusion somewhere in Asia. Even though the word seems so spread out, it appears to me that people still find it hard to relate to it in more substantial terms.
I am no expert. I nurture deep respect and admiration to people who tackle meditation to the level of expertise. If you are looking for an article that will give an account of all the technicalities involved in the process of meditation, then I must warn you this piece may not be suit to you. I have no ambition other than express my feelings regarding the practice. I believe feelings matter. 

In order to meditate, you must be open to feelings. I think it's a mistake to imagine that meditation will ALWAYS calm your mind. Well, at least to me, that hasn't been the case. It is only when I realized that meditation could be potentially unsettling that I started to feel change taking place in my life. Slowly, transformation began to shape its way into my heart, something very powerful and organic started to fill a place within myself. A space I tended to consider worthless. Filled with love and gratitude, yes (most of the time), but also with questioning, or fear, or anxiety. And now I feel it's fine to sit with those often times conflicting emotions, and let them be. Feeling is perfectly fine. 

Another point I would like to touch has to do with the myth that an effective meditation is one that empties your mind. I don't know what people mean by "empty", but I have indeed experienced some state of mind that made me feel as if I was melding into the universe. There's this place you go you can't describe. I think that's why so many people mark it as "emptiness". I feel light, as if my body is somehow melted into the ground and the only thing left is my head, which appears to be free and floating in the immense realm of the unknown. I think I reached that state of mind quite a few times, and I can totally relate to the video "My stroke of Insight" when Jill Taylor says "(...) I was immediately captivated by the magnificence of the energy around me. And because I could no longer identify the boundaries of my body, I felt enormous and expansive. I felt at one with all the energy that was, and it was beautiful there". 

But here is the deal: when you reach such state, you realize that you don't necessarily need to achieve it every time you meditate. I think we are wrongly accustomed to strive for perfection, ignoring the fact that we are such imperfect beings. In meditation, as with anything else in life, the journey is much more important than the destination. I know it sounds simple, but it took me a while to incorporate the idea of mindfulness into my practice. I learned that if I'm just present, my body and mind will thank me, regardless of the depths I dive into. 

Further to accepting feelings and imperfection in and as my practice, I also had to learn the importance of simplicity in my daily routine. In order for meditation to begin happening in my life, I had to start small. I wasn't able to connect with most of the material on meditation I found online. It became a source of anxiety to me that I couldn't relate to the way I imagined actual meditation should happen. Well, I had to let go of that. Instead of dreaming of becoming a super-disciplined bodhisattva, I decided to shift my gaze to things I knew. As Belchior (one of my favorite Brazilian singers) has put it, "living is better than dreaming", so I decided to actually experience my practice on my own terms. 

When Paulo Freire stated that "without a sense of identity, there can be no real struggle", he was thinking specifically of oppression and education, but I think we can apply it to any context where things are in construction. Thinking of meditation, I learned clinging to things I identified myself with was paramount. The need for familiarity arose, and I fully embraced it. 

(Re)connecting to the familiar has been essential to my practice. It helped both in the process of grounding and learning. The more I delve into my past, the more confident I feel to take further steps in my meditation. It's a never ending process, and you empower yourself in ways beyond measure. You connect to a place which is only yours, and you feel reassured the space will be there for you whenever you need a retreat, only to get back to the "real" world with a fresh mind - recharged with the necessary strength to face challenges. 

Furthermore, I realized some interesting things that only openness could have allowed me to. Although my experience in India hasn't been a spiritual journey in the more traditional sense of the expression, I believe it does have a special role in my practice. In India I realized at some point that meditation wasn't really going to happen to me. I just couldn't connect to their beautiful symbols. Then I stumbled upon a Kate Bush's album entitled A Sky of Honey. I narrate my experience here.  

The funny thing is I regarded my experience with Kate Bush as the beginning of my journey, and only recently I've come to realize that listening to that album was actually about getting back to a process that dates back to my childhood. Well, my dad had a role in teaching me how to meditate, even though he doesn't consider himself a practitioner. To a certain extent I think he is. What he taught me was very simple, yet very rare if we consider how accelerated modern life has become in the past few decades. He simply showed me how to sit/lie down and listen to a full album.

It may sound silly, but I had lost the habit of listening to music without multitasking. Haven't we all? Well, holds true to those of us who were born before the Internet took over, I guess. All the technology has improved our lives in many ways. The downturn is the deterioration of our mental health, though. How to remain grounded and mindful in such a loud world? Well, my answer is meditation, and this article was an attempt to expose my side of the story. Would you mind sharing yours?

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Cultural essentialism is not the answer

I want to start my article by telling my tale about a pubic hair removal technique widely known as 'Brazilian'. As a woman who was born and brought up in Brazil, I've spent a whole deal of my existence wearing bikinis. That fact also implied frequent trips to the nearest salon in order to have my private parts stripped of all hair. I do agree with the argument that it is plain sexism to oblige a woman to get rid of all her body fur in order to be accepted in public, while men can run free with their hairy figures in pretty much all social situations. However, this is not the focus of my text, and I do need to point out that although I don't do it as often as back when I lived in Brazil (because alas, I don't get to be in a bikini every weekend) I still engage in the practice sometimes. The act is not religious per se, but it does feel ritualistic, as it is something my mother passed on to me as a beauty routine, and that was never meant to be 'sexy'. 

With the intensification of global exchanges and my traveling around the world, I realized that the practice had been globalised. I did feel a bit awkward with the whole idea of sexiness that was suddenly being sold under the label 'Brazilian'. In fact, I wasn't even aware the technique got popularized with the same name that gives me a nationality. At first, I sort of marvelled at the fact that we did get dictionarized for some original creation. I even took pride in that, but kept on feeling weird whenever any of my foreign friends insinuated that the method was created with the sole purpose of making women look 'hot'. After all, along with my female family members and friends, I had never thought of it that way. It's something we always did with the 'hygiene' card in mind. 

So I sort of got sad, and even grumpy, with the realisation that so many people were profiting from something that had nothing to do with sex appeal in the first place. How could I make people realize that they were distorting the original meaning of my Brazilian waxing? Well, the answer is simple: I couldn't. I still can't, and I quit wishing to do so. Simply put, I gave up lecturing others because I realized it didn't make much sense to tell other women how they should feel about the practice. I don't know if it's because I come from a country where races are massively mixed, but I do find it easier to deal with cultural exchanges, even when they are deeply rooted in power imbalance. I will never get the visibility of a fit, white western woman in a bikini and, in all honesty, I do not wish to be visible as a sexual object. I have no qualms about white women feeling sexy with their hairless vulvas. I want to destroy patriarchy, not unnecessarily target privileged women. 

I understand the whole idea of privilege is at the core of any cultural appropriation debate. It is not okay to do blackface. It is not alright to wear ethnic outfits as Halloween costumes. It is not fine to engage oneself in the practice of Orientalism, i.e, showing condescendence towards non-white cultures, especially Eastern ones. I get, and agree with all that. However, I do feel dismayed by the avalanche of negative, dismissive and aggressive posts that took over the internet in recent times. I sincerely do not see any point in shaming women for wearing whatever outfit they wish to wear. I think patriarchy already does that effectively enough. I don't just get to tell my white friend who already struggles with body image issues that she is wrong in wearing a bindi on her forehead. I don't feel it is morally right for me to prohibit people from identifying with cultures other than their own. 

Speaking of identification, it is funny that I, as a black latina, have always found these women who are being scrutinized - for wearing bindis, twerking, belly dancing or epilating their anuses - to be the most accessible and open to my concerns as a black woman than their more traditional, bible-carrying, church-going counterparts. The fact that the former are being consistently bombarded with conservative arguments that resemble the latter is quite telling. I cannot fathom why some well-established feminist websites are giving such monumental visibility to articles that are so fundamentalist in nature. The fact that something feels sacred to me is not enough of an excuse to belittle others. 

Moreover, when we talk about cultural appropriation, there is always a grey zone that is usually ignored: human interactions have always been permeated by exchanging cultures. I could give millions of random examples ranging from numbers, to coffee, to a myriad of food items, to sports, to music. They serve as illustrations of how much we can dig if we want to find the 'essence' of things. Why is it that we are suddenly shaming other women for choosing to engage with non-western cultures in a respectful manner? Another question is: how fruitful would that be in our days? I'm sorry, but I'd much rather fight the good fight for equal rights than engage in pedantic quarrels with women who are also oppressed, even though they appear to be better off than myself. 

To conclude, I need to point out that another reason I quit teaching others about the 'Brazilian' is the fact that it is a bit pretentious on me to think that nobody else in the world had the 'brilliant' idea of plucking hair from their crotches, before Brazil got established as the land of bikinis. Furthermore, getting attached to a concept that my mother taught me as correct may end up concealing the fact that many Brazilian women actively fight against its imposition as a rule of thumb for personal cleanliness. Essentialism of any sort hurts us all. I'm all in for fighting racism, but I won't do that by engaging in hostile and resentful arguments. I choose to embrace all women because my struggle, after all, is to free us all.

This is Sheron Menezes and to me, she is one of the most beautiful Brazilian women of all times :)