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The girl dances...and spins and twirls...

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Bloco das Mulheres Rodadas (Women Who Get Around Group)

Translated by Fal Azevedo

Carnival once again unleashes the discussion about sexism and gender violence in Brazil. This is partly due to the promotion of the sexualized aspect of the popular feast through the endemic exposure of female bodies – such as Globeleza, a black woman, icon of Globo TV Network, who appears onscreen virtually naked in promos during Carnival week, or the Rainhas de Bateria (Drums Section Queens) in Samba Schools: actresses, models and TV personalities who parade their half-naked bodies on Passarela do Samba (Samba Walkway), in Rio de Janeiro. In 2015, one of the most captivating approaches to the issue was the creation of the Bloco das Mulheres Rodadas (Women Who Get Around Group). The group was created as a reaction to a series of debates in the media and social networks sparkled on December 6th of the previous year, when pop singers Anitta and Pitty, while being interviewed in the Globo Network TV show Altas Horas (Wee Hours) disagreed on gender equality and female sexual freedom. While the former argued that women should “behave” so as not to raise unwanted male reactions, the other defended women’s right to behave as they want[1]. One of the answers to the debate was a Facebook post by a collective called “Right-wing youths”: a photo of a young man holding a sign that read “I don’t deserve a woman who gets around”[2], in a sentence worded in a way which in Portuguese means, literally, a car with too many miles – and drivers – on the clock; that is, a woman who has had sex with many men. Some feminists’ immediate response was to create a tumblr page with photos and vines of women walking and spinning, with the sarcastic motto “I get around, but not with you”.

One of the founders of the Carnival group, Debora Thome, points out the positive format of the movement: “Carnival is always a good time to bring forth new elements to the public scene, to the city’s occupation. Since we’ve chosen a laid-back format, we believe we’ve managed to gather women (and men) who are not necessarily activists, but who inevitably are, have been, and will be exposed to the problems we were discussing there.”

The group, which came into being through a Facebook page, was invited to be part of the campaign “On this Carnival, lose the shame, don’t lose the respect” by UN Women, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Women Empowerment.

The partnership with an international organism was a great honor that, at the same time, endorsed the movement, says Debora. The campaign distributed pamphlets during Carnival, giving advice to men on how to approach women respectfully and to women on how to react in disrespectful or violent situations. This way, the campaign sought to achieve mutual respect and to avoid sexual harassment. 

The group’s main focus of political demands is about women’s right to their own bodies and the sexual and reproductive freedom of women. The legalization of abortion is one of these demands, expressed by the phrase “Congressmen, get your hands off my uterus”, directed to politicians, especially those of the religious right, composed of Catholics and Protestants and led by Congress President Eduardo Cunha, who has stated, about an abortion decriminalization bill: “this will only pass over my dead body”[3]. Sexual and reproductive rights are still a sensitive issue in Brazil. Group founder Debora says that Brazilian conservatism is currently very visible in the national media, especially on social networks. To her, the legalization of abortion is at the same time the expression of a woman’s control over her own body and her right to life, since many women die as a result of poorly performed, clandestine abortions.

It cannot be denied, however, that abortion is part of Brazilian reality – with disastrous consequences. Although it is illegal, Abortion National Research claims that 20% of Brazilian female population, twenty-year old and younger, have already gone through a clandestine abortion. UN’s World Health Organization estimates that, every two days, a Brazilian woman dies as result of illegal4[4], poorly performed abortions. In Brazil, there are only three instances when abortion is legal: when the woman is victim of sexual assault, when pregnancy causes serious risks to the woman’s health and when the fetus is anencephalic. In any other case, it is a crime, and the woman having it can be arrested.

There are parallels between the feminist movement and LGBT’s. Marcio Marins, an activist with the Brazilian Association of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Crossdressers and Transgenders – ABLGBT, says that political actions from feminists and LGBT members alike are against the sexist and patriarchal culture, which oppresses “the feminine” and whatever else may be seen as such, that is, not only women, but also those people who do not follow society’s heterocentric/heterosexual standards.

Another form of sexism against which the group raises its voice is sexual harassment, which of course includes sexual violence. A social perception survey carried out by the Applied Economic Researches Institute (IPEA), shows that 58.5% of interviewees believe, either partially or completely, that the chances of a woman being raped depend on her behavior. However, 58.4% say that short skirts do not justify the assaults. Behind those opinions is the question of control over one’s own body. According to more than half of interviewees, if the woman does not impose limits through an adequate behavior, she loses the right to rule over her body. In that case, therefore, she would be the one to blame for her rape, because she would have provoked it.

On March 8th, International Women’s Day, the “Women Who Get Around” group organized the “Miniskirts Day” at Copacabana Beach, demanding respect and the end of sexual harassment and of violence against women, as well as the legalization of abortion. The event had the support of UN Women and of funk singer Valesca Popozuda (a nickname that could be translated as “Big Buns” Valesca), who, through her provocative songs and attitude defends women’s sexual freedom and defies the sexist expectations for an “adequate” female behavior. Both have taped videos that circulated on the internet and social networks, expressing their support to the movement. The UN Women representative, Nadine Gasman, defended women’s right to dress as they please without being harassed if their clothes were considered daring.

The lively event managed to gather people from different social classes, ages, genders and sexual orientations. It also had the participation of a DJ, two painters, hairdressers and other activists, who gave people temporary tattoos and threw a lot of confetti around.

Women’s situation in Brazil is still precarious, for many reasons. Among them is the daily sexism, with its impending officialization being defended by politicians, and also violence and poverty. In spite of the Maria da Penha Law, being considered a step forward, by determining harsher penalties for aggressors of women, there have not been significant, structural changes[5].

Movements such as the Women Who Get Around group, which approaches the issue in a festive way, can draw the attention of a wider and more diverse public, raising awareness of the problem and possibly helping form a new way of thinking about gender issues.