A few months ago I was walking towards the Luas stop in Charlemont and suddenly there was water flowing down from the bridge. I was confused as the rain had stopped a good while ago. As I walked up the steps, I had to turn my body as the steps changed direction. I was faced with a man with his penis out, pissing down. For once, I was grateful that my prescribed glasses were out of date. I really did not want to see his penis. He finished, zipped up his pants and walked as if he owned the space and glanced at me as I passed by. He sat beside his friend, who turned to him and said: “what a gentleman.” Disgust. That is what I felt. Something about his attitude brought me back to my memories of Brazil, where you often see men having that I-own-this-place attitude. It is intimidating. I got into the Luas, as far from them as I could.
Stop by stop, the Luas got emptier and emptier. I noticed the men two wagons down and had a tightening in my gut that they were going to get off at the same stop as me. I was right. When I got off, they were walking in front of me. A tall man in his forties was beside me, and I had to suppress the urge to walk very close to him. I then spotted a girl on my right and began to walk faster to catch up with her, and I did. The tall man got into the car once we reached the street, and the girl turned right. I was still walking straight ahead behind the two men I had encountered in Charlemont. The one on the left was talking about a party. He turned his body slightly and he spotted me. He gave me a quick glance and then another before addressing me:
“Were you out dancing last night as well?”
“No.” I said, as directly as possible. He looked me up and down and then the question I hate came out of his mouth:
“Are you Brazilian?”
“No.” I lied dryly. Neither him, nor his friend, seemed convinced as they began to slow down. My heart sank, my stomach tightened. I couldn’t turn to see if there was anyone behind us. I couldn’t bring my head to move. I was stuck watching their every single movement and assessing the surroundings to try to figure out where I would run to if I had to.
“Can I ask where you are from?” The other one, the one who was exposing his manhood so openly in Charlemont, said, turning towards me. I was nearly between them now.
“No.” I said, and slowly checked my pocket to see if I had my keys there in case I needed to use them, as I always do when I am walking alone. I don’t know how my body language seemed, but the other one said:
“You’re gonna scare the girl. Leave her alone. She is scared.”
“I was just asking where she is from.”
I couldn’t take in any more of their words as I slowed down even more to increase the distance between me and them. They had also sped up, their bodies were still slightly turned towards me and they loudly chatted to each other. I could not comprehend them. All my focus was on walking and taking deep breaths while holding my keys tightly between my fingers.
Let’s change that scene, and instead of me being a woman, I was a Brazilian man approached by two women. Can you imagine a man trying to ignore the women while assessing his surroundings for a possible escape, if it came to that? Can you imagine a man searching for his keys to be used as a weapon when the women are merely asking him where he is from? I cannot.
Incidents like that make me reflect back on a book I read a few years ago called The Gift Of Fear. In the book, the author, Gavin de Becker, states that men’s inherent fear of the opposite sex is to be laughed at, while for women, our inherent fear of the opposite sex is to be murdered. The difference in that is disturbingly big.
For the moment, there is one aspect I want to focus on from that encounter: the mention of me being Brazilian. I hear that quite frequently and, unfortunately more often than not, I cannot take it as a compliment.
A while ago I went out to a Latino music session, and the vibe was great. People behaved nicely and I had a great time. But at one stage I was approached by an Irish guy and we danced for a bit. And then the question came:
“Where are you from?”
“Yeah, I guessed that. You girls are so beautiful and you know how to move. I love Brazilian women.”
Love Brazilian women? What do you mean by that? That is what I wanted to ask. Instead I gave him a half smile and said nothing, moving slightly away from him. I was trying my best to show him that, despite liking dancing, I had no interest in taking that interaction any further.
What really bothers me about that statement is what usually follows it. The way they interact with me instantly starts to change, and the way their eyes travel along my body also changes. How entitled they feel to position their bodies closer to mine, and sometimes to stroke my arm or try to hold my hand or touch my hair. I feel invaded and disrespected as if boundaries no longer exist as soon as I mention I am Brazilian. That is what bothers me.
A friend and I were watching the Netflix series, Narcos, and prostitution is very much a part of it. But there was one episode when some men brought prostitutes to the jungle, where these drug dealers were working to process cocaine. As they handed over the women they said something along the lines of “we got you prostitutes and they are Brazilians”, emphasizing ‘Brazilians’ as if that is a bonus, the right kind of women for the sex trade. As a Brazilian woman, that is a very annoying, and unfavourable representation of my gender and nationality.
Stop and think.
How does the term Latina make you feel? How about Brazilian women?
What comes to mind?
When I meet a non-Brazilian man who, before I have a chance to properly speak, asks me if I am Brazilian, I get a sinking feeling in my stomach because I know what that might mean to him. I know how he is most likely to perceive Brazilian women and I do not want to be perceived like that. Brazil is a very liberal country when it comes to men’s sexuality, but not so much for women. We are hypersexualized from a very young age, and then criticized and looked down on (and treated badly) if we are curious and choose to go discover ourselves sexually.
About a year ago, a teenager girl known to my family was expelled from school because her boyfriend at the time recorded her giving him a blowjob and sent it around. Did he get expelled? No! Why? Because she is the one “damaging” the image of the school. She was the one bullied by her peers and thought of as a disgusting human being. Now, I don’t know any sexually active man or woman who hasn’t performed oral sex before. That is part of the sexual experience for most people. In a country where women are still perceived and treated as sex objects, where sexual abuse, domestic violence and female homicide rates are high, I fail to see it as sexually liberated.
As a Brazilian woman, I feel more of a target. It means that people often perceive me, and other Brazilian women, as inherently sexual and therefore ready and willing to fulfill men’s sexual needs and fantasies. Despite looking at each incident on an individual level, it still happens often enough to raise concerns over the mindset (that men and women have) of what Brazilian women are like and what we are abroad for. I find this very problematic because this stereotype completely dismisses that I am a person in my own right, first and foremost.
This is not something that just happens when you meet strangers, it is a pervasive problem everywhere. I find that people here [in Ireland] do not know what Brazil, Brazilian people, and our culture is really like. We come in all shapes, forms, and colours with a variety of personalities, and belong to a very diverse, economically-challenging and complex culture. This stereotype does not cater for all of that. It is dismissive towards the fact that we are all individuals. It turns any Brazilian woman into a one-dimensional sexual figure, instead of the diverse people that we are.
Law for domestic violence against women only implemented in 2006: