Tuesday, 17 June 2014

World Cup of Sexism

I'll start this post with a friend's story. Thaís is my blog partner (I collaborate in a Brazilian feminist blog, Ativismo de Sofá) and I was pretty horrified when she told me what's happened to her, recently. She was walking down a street in Belo Horizonte, the capital city of Minas Gerais, in Brazil. Well, we all know it's World Cup season. Belo Horizonte is now hosting thousands of eager foreign tourists who are up to having a great time and enjoying themselves in Brazil. 

Thaís, just like myself and most Brazilians, loves World Cups. She was all set to have a great time back in BH, but that didn't quite happen and the reason is very simple: sexism. The system consistently reminds women that public and private are completely separate spheres and we are not welcome in the former, but 'naturally belong' in the latter. That's a subtle, yet powerful way to perpetuate gender inequalities. As you might be wondering what exactly has happened to Thaís, well, she got catcalled. Street harassment, pure and simple. Gringos (foreign men) felt entitled to describe to Thaís, in details, the hard way they would fuck her. Gringos wearing English jerseys somehow felt it appropriate to scare a woman in broad daylight. 

Those gringos were not expecting a reaction from Thaís, though. I'd give two reasons for that: 

1. street harassment is territory demarcation: it's men telling women that they should be scared of going outside; it's men telling women that they do NOT belong in the public realm; it's men feeling entitled to a woman's body because she's dared to get out of her home. It's not about genuine appreciation of a woman's beauty: it's about power, and everybody knows that.

2. it's Braseeeeeel, guys! C'mon, men are obviously sanctioned to objectify Brazilian women because whoop! LATINAS! They love it! There's even GQ magazine teaching men how to harass Brazilian women because we are supposedly keen on violence. Besides, Brazilian women idolize European men and are clearly anxious to hear insults on the streets, because an insult coming from a deity isn't actually abuse, but a compliment, right? 

Well, wrong. Thaís answered back and she did it beautifully, by letting them know how sexist they were. She frowned and yelled back at them. They got clearly astonished. Thaís kept on walking, her head up straight, but her heart was broken. She went home and told us the whole story. We were all glad she reacted, but extremely saddened to hear yet another story of everyday sexism. 

The above narrative is one example of many others that might be happening at this very moment. Those guys were just unlucky to mess with a feminist. What happens, though, when they do make advancements towards women who do not necessarily bear the label? Well, Sabina's example is pretty representative, I guess. 

Sabina is a news reporter from São Paulo, and she was working when a Croatian tourist found it appropriate to stop by and kiss her on the cheek. I will give you a minute to let that sink in: a woman is out presenting the news when a guy suddenly pops and drops an unrequested kiss on her cheek. Her reaction? Well, if you speak Portuguese and see the video, you'll realize that she wasn't exactly comfortable with the situation. She, however, acted friendly, because FRIENDLY is what the world expects from us. We should be docile, and accept the act of "admiration". We should keep quiet and if we protest, we are prone to all sorts of backlash, because the "poor guy" was just being nice to her, after all. 

I know it sounds pretty obvious, but I do need to say that this guy wouldn't have done so in his own country. There is an element of othering in the whole story that feels disturbing to me. Furthermore, Marília Moschkovich, a Brazilian cyber activist, hit the nail on the head when she stated: "Sabina Simonato did not ask for nor agreed with the kiss, however light her reaction might have appeared to us". Women pay the price for the world's refusal to talk about consent. 

There's many reasons I am happy with this world cup. Vibes are so good on my timeline that I genuinely felt homesick, after many years away from Brazil. I agree with the many posts that are praising the event, claiming it to be the best world cup ever, or something of the sort. My friend Thaís still enjoys the world cup and she still appreciates the matches. Those jerks won't take that away from her. Nor will they take away my joy in seeing so many people I love having fun. However, the fact that we are having fun will not prevent us from voicing our dissatisfaction with a system that blatantly strips women off their very humanity. #Yesallwomen is our perennial hashtag, and we'll hush no more. 

Just so you know, a Portuguese tourist apparently found it so cool that the Croatian kissed the journalist that he decided that he too should be invasive. Rape cases related to the world cup are slowly making their way into the news, too. That's patriarchy at its best, unfortunately.


  1. Great post and really very sad about how foreigners see us. I suffered sexism to be a brazilian when I lived in France and sometimes I feel the excitement men feel when I tell them my nationality (living in the UK right now). What makes me really sad it is there is so much to do! Rape is like a joke, imagine street harassment! But, although all the problems we can suffer from men (and women, unfortunately), feminists must continue to fight, because internet is helping more and more women to have voice. We will change this stupid society! I hope so! Congrats for the blog! Really good!

    1. Hey Camila, thanks for dropping by. I agree with you, we must keep on fighting, the internet is helping us loads I guess. As for being a Brazilian woman who lives abroad, I feel you. Guys really do get excited whenever you say the word 'Brazilian' and that's just bizarre. Thanks again for your comment x