There is indeed a mystique and allure to the women of Brazil, but ever since the arrival of 600,000 foreign visitors to the 2014 World Cup, many are saying they don’t appreciate the attention the aforementioned visitors are bringing.
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Since the start of the Cup, the overwhelmingly male crowds have often brought with them a perception of Brazilian women as hypersexual vixens. This is played out with cat calls, leering, whistles, and sometimes even groping that many have complained about.
American journalist Vincent Bevins, covering the Cup for Brazilian newspaper Folha do Sao Paulo, described the atmosphere as a “special” one, where his two female Brazilian friends in Fortaleza were heckled, harassed, and “received about 50 marriage proposals from groups of men from around the world.”
“Unfortunately, an old stereotype is still present in the minds of some international gringos,” Bevins writes, “and many seem to have come here with the wrong idea.”
For Vivian Zeni, a journalist and student from Sao Paulo, much of the nefarious assumptions about Brazilian women fall along racial lines: She told me that since the Cup began, she has been subjected to “abuse” from foreigners who seem to think that Black Brazilian women, in particular, are all prostitutes. “They say all types of things as we walk down the street,” she said, “some of them are very aggressive, using bad words with sexual connotations.”
But many Brazilian women say that this isn’t new.
According to them, the World Cup has only exacerbated this behavior that they are already subjected to regularly in their country, “Foreigners who purchase this image of Brazilian women and come to our country believing that we are here to serve them (including many of them coming to feed a network of sexual exploitation that often victimizes children and adolescents in situations of social vulnerability) are certainly part the problem,” wrote journalist Aline Valek in an editorial for Brazilian newsmagazine Carta Capital, “[as] much as the Brazilians, who consciously or unconsciously reinforce this machismo, [and] undress us in not only clothing, but humanity.”
But where did everyone – apparently including many Brazilian men – get this image of the hypersexual Brazilian woman?
Zeni says that many travelers may be getting their impressions of who and what Brazilian women are from the images presented at the country’s world-renowned Carnival celebration.
“This is a time of year that people celebrate life,” she says. “The way that we dance and dress are connected with that illusion. They see Black women dancing and they make this connection with the hyper-sexualization of their bodies.”
There are also a number of cultural differences between Brazil and the Western world. One of the most prominent is the recognition of prostitution in Brazil, where the occupation is legal and protected. The country is estimated to have more than1 million prostitutes and the prostitutes even have something of a union – the National Network of Sex Professionals.
As such, in tourist hubs like Rio de Janeiro and Salvador, Bahia, there are often garotas de programa (working girls) roaming popular beaches and attractions looking for potential customers who get virtually no pushback from police.
When a friend asked a group of police officers to help him find Praca da Bandeira, a bus stop near Rio’s red light district, the officers delighted in telling him about all the sex he would be having that evening.
Rebeca Abdala Teague, a Brasilia native who now lives in Seattle, says that this is what’s to blame for the reputation of Brazil’s women and the harassment they’ve been getting from foreigners.
“Excuse me, but in a country where prostitution is legal, what did you expect?” she says. “I…read several articles on the Internet and newspapers saying that prostitutes are learning English in order to communicate with the gringos. Not to mention that I have stayed in a hotel in Rio de Janeiro that had a manual of types of Brazilian women and how to get them to bed.
“Since prostitution is legalized, people have thought, It’s my body and I can do what I want, [but] anyone not from Brazil will think that every woman is a whore. It is high time to bring order into this [expletive] and arrest everyone who is selling it on the corner.”
Whatever the reason, the pervasiveness of certain male presumptions about Brazilian women has carried insidious consequences. In 2013, a survey of nearly 8,000 Brazilian women by the website Olga found that 99 percent had been harassed on the street. The report also showed that 90 percent of Brazilian women have changed clothes before going out because they fear that they’ll be harassed. Additionally, eight in 10 women reported that they had chosen not to go to a location because they feared being assaulted.
The Institute for Applied Economic Research found that despite its reputation as a liberal and laissez faire society, many Brazilians often have spartanly conservative attitudes about women. The institute reported that 26 percent of Brazilians agreed that women who wear revealing clothes deserve to be assaulted. It also found that 59 percent said they thought that there would be fewer rapes if women “knew how to behave.”
Perhaps foreign travelers should take heed of the advice offered by the title of Valek’s column: “The Brazilian Woman Exists,” it states, “But Not To Satisfy You.”