Tag Archives: stereotypes

Violence Against Women: This Isn’t the World We Want

Violence against women isn’t acceptable anywhere. It hurts everyone. However, women standing up and fighting together is powerful everywhere. It inspires us.

"Violence Against Women: This Isn't the World We Want"

“Violence Against Women: This Isn’t the World We Want”

On February 1st of this year, Amanda Figueroa, a professor in the nursing program at UNIVASF in Petrolina, was followed home by her ex-boyfriend and brutally attacked in front of her six-year-old daughter. After her agressor was detained, Amanda bravely shared her story with the Petrolina/Juazeiro community via Facebook and a local blog, bringing attention to the countless cases of violence against women in our region and in Brazil. The picture shared by Amanda is horrifying; her face is so beaten that it looks unreal.

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The picture and story provoked strong reactions here in the region. One of these reactions was a rally on the UNIVASF campus, organized by the Women’s Collective. The goal of the rally was to raise awareness of Amanda’s experience and to protest against violence against women as well as the machismo that still exists in Brazilian, and particularly Northeast, culture. The speeches and songs at the rally also touched on the deeper issues of the unjust political and economic systems that bring about inequality.

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The rally was in many ways familiar to us–group songs and chants (see below), a march through the campus, protest signs, and a theatrical presentation to illustrate the ways in which women are still oppressed in our society. Yet the Women’s Collective gave the event a particularly Northeast flavor. One of the songs we sang has its roots in a traditional Northeast folk song that emphasizes the domestic role of women, except the version we sang turned that song into a call to “leave the kitchen and come to the street to fight.”  At the end of the rally, we gathered together to sing and dance a cirandar, another classic folkloric tradition, where people hold hands circling clockwise in rhythmic step– a symbolic unifying act made more beautiful by historic roots.

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This was our first Women’s Collective event, and it inspired us as we enter our second (Chelsea) and third (Cara) years of Northeast life. Society in general places an unnatural value on women’s looks, but it seems especially prevalent here in Brazil, a country that is famed for its beautiful women. This stereotype clearly plays out in the psyche of women here, as makeup, high heels, hair-straightening, and other alterations to natural appearance are ubiquitous. It was so refreshing to be part of a group of beautiful women who define that beauty on their own terms. It’s inspiring to see that progressive movements are gaining strength even in interior Northeast Brazilian cities–from rallies like this one to a gay pride parade that we attended last year.

International Women’s Day (March 8), which goes virtually unacknowledged in the U.S., is a big deal in Brazil. Women are congratulated for their contributions and varied roles in society, and encouraged to continue the struggle for gender equality. The women’s collective is planning another, grander event this year with an emphasis on domestic violence awareness and women’s liberation (details to follow).

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Mulher não foi feita pra serviço de cozinha
Salsa, cebola, batata e cebolinha
Mulher não foi feita pra levar nenhuma tapinha
No braço, na cara, nem bundinha!
Women were not made for kitchen service
Salsa, onions, potatoes and scallions
Women were not made to be hit
On her arms, face, or her butt
A nossa luta é todo dia
Somos mulheres e não mercadoria!
A nossa luta é por respeito
Mulher não é só bunda e peito!
Our fight is every day
We are women and not material goods
Our fight is for respect
Women are not just ass and tits
A violência contra mulher
Não é o mundo que a gente quer!
Violence against women
This isn’t the world we want!
Olê mulher rendeira
Olê mulher rendá
Sai do pé desse fogão
Vem prá rua, vem lutar
Ole, lacemaker woman
Ole, woman who makes lace
Leave your place at the stove
Come to the street, come to fight

If you know anyone who has suffered domestic violence in the Petrolina/Juazeiro region, contact the Secretaria da Mulher (3867-3516), the Centro de Referência de Atendimento à Mulher – CRAM (3861-4620).

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Stereotypes Continued at English Week in Salgueiro, PE

As a follow-up to Chelsea’s great post on stereotypes, I would like to continue and expand on the theme by sharing an activity about stereotypes during English Week (May 21-25) in Salguiero.  Inspired by her first American Club’s meeting about stereotypes, I decided to also touch on the theme, this time focusing on stereotypes we hold regarding the USA and Brasil.  The dialogue was lively and the results were fantastic.

I began the lecture with printouts of 4 provocative pictures.  In groups of 3 students and staff worked together to write opinions, descriptions and questions on the back of the photo.  When I said switch, they were to exchange pictures with a group who had a picture different from theirs and repeat the process.  After the third switch someone from each group was called to stand up and read the comments on the back of the picture (comments written by groups other than their own).  After each group spoke I revealed who the people in the picture were (see the included power point presentation… but before reading the answers, try yourself!): 1 an American boy scout; 2 Japanese-Brazilians in São Paulo (the largest city in Brazil in the state of São Paulo); 3 Brazilians in Rio Grande do Sul (another Brazilian state); 4 Mexican-Americans celebrating 5 de mayo.

Groups talked amongst themselves about stereotypes – definitions, when they are helpful vs hurtful, etc. and then we watched the first 4 minutes of a clip from an episode where the Simpsons go to Brazil, which you can watch by clicking here or by clicking on the slide in the power point presentation.  They wrote down the stereotypes made evident in the clip, we talked about it as I wrote their comments on the white board (shown in the image below).  Then all together we named some of the stereotypes people have of Americans including fast food, capitalist, warmonger, etc.

But my favorite part was the discussion that followed when I provoked “ok, so we all know what we don’t want people to associate with Brazil, but what do you want people to think about when they think about Brasil”?  I started them off with some of the things I associate with Brazil such as a thriving democracy, warmth and hospitality, athleticism, diversity and openness.  They added many more including nature, gastronomy and lots of music and dancing from the North East .

Student Feedback: on the left, some of the existing stereotypes and on the right, are some alternative visions as expressed by the participants!!

The group present in the classroom represents mostly people from the interior of the North East region of the country.  Yet Brazil is physically massive with extreme regional, cultural, environmental and even linguistic diversity.   With the World Cup (2014) and the Olympics (2016) coming up, Brazil will be spending millions on selling  its (whole) self, and I for one and thrilled to see what they will come up with!

So, readers, what do you all think about Brazil?  How about the USA?  I’d love to hear from our multi-cultural readership–have Chelsea and I made you think twice about any stereotypes formerly held?

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Poor, Ugly, Uneducated?

Last month I took about a week to travel to Curitiba, in the southern Brazilian state of Paraná, and then to Foz do Iguaçu, in the same state on the border with Argentina and Paraguay. Accompanied by three other lovely ladies from the Fulbright ETA program, I relished the chance to see a bit of southern Brazil and reflect on my time thus far in the Northeast.

(One of my travel companions, Christina, has a blog about her experiences in São José do Rio Preto. She posted a fantastic three-part summary of our trip: Londrina and Curitiba, Puerto Iguazú, and Foz do Iguaçu.)

It was a week full of new sights, laughter, more rain than I’ve seen in three months, and a new stamp in my passport (hello, Argentina!), but for now what I want to talk about is the very real divide that exists between the north and south in Brazil. I was surprised, even at times shocked, by the strength of the stereotypes that exist between the regions.

To give you a quick idea, here is one of the first interactions I had with Curitibano (person from Curitiba).

Me: “I’m living in Petrolina.”

Him: “Where?”

Me: “Pernambuco.”

Him: “Oh, I’m sorry.”

In the course of just two days in Curitiba, I heard a number of variations on the following topics: Petrolina is an ugly city; Northeasterners are ugly and lazy and illiterate; the Northeast is sucking up all the money that the southern states generate.

Shocked by these first interactions, Cynthia (the ETA in Curitiba) and I decided to bring up the topic with her students in a more structured setting. In her conversation class, we asked the students about regional stereotypes in Brazil. To my relief, their opinions were nuanced, sophisticated, and intelligent: they recognized the stereotypes, explored why they existed, and recognized that in spite of the stereotypes, they didn’t actually know very much about the Northeast.

Encouraged by the success of this conversation class in Curitiba, I returned to Petrolina wanting to ask my students some of the same questions. Using a presentation that Cynthia had made about US stereotypes, I talked briefly about the preconceptions that Americans have about each other—for example, fast-talking New Yorkers, pot-smoking Californians and the concept of the “flyover states” in the middle of the country. Then I turned the question around to the students: what about Brazilian regional stereotypes?

Our conversation followed a similar vein as the class in Curitiba. My students recognized stereotypes that they had about other states in Brazil: people from the South are unfriendly and rich (and white—the issue of race deserves a whole new blog post); people from Rio are beautiful and spend their time partying and on the beach. (And what about the North and Center-West? Talk about “flyover states.”) They admitted that these stereotypes are unfair and often inaccurate generalizations. Yet even though some of the stereotypes about the southern regions are negative, the fact remains that the Southern and Southeastern lifestyles tend to be more admired—as just one example of many, virtually all news anchors on TV are light-skinned and have Rio or São Paulo accents.

Perhaps most interestingly, my students are also very aware of the stereotypes that exist about them, “nordestinos,” and expressed a kind of quiet frustration that they could be so prejudged when the experience of life here is so positive compared to the devastating image that the stereotypes paint.

I think I will inevitably keep having—and should keep bringing up—these kinds of conversations. Brazil is a huge country, and naturally regional rivalries and preconceptions exist just as they do in the United States. Now that I have some direct experience with this regionalism, I see it more clearly in the country’s politics: for example, the recent debate over a bill that would relax standards of forest protection in the Amazon, which President Dilma recently partially vetoed (the New York Times has been giving this topic significant coverage: start here and here). It’s fascinating to learn these ground-level politics by living them—particularly in a region that bears some of the worst stereotypes in the country.

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