Black Women of Brazil

The site dedicated to Brazilian women of African descent

When street harassment is combined with racism: Personal reflection and film deal with the effects of “catcalling” on Afro-Brazilian women


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Note from BW of Brazil: What comes to mind when men think of black women? And what is it that comes to mind when men think of white women? And what comes to mind when we specifically speak of the black Brazilian woman? How does the image change within Brazilian borders and outside of Brazil? In fact, these very questions are some of the reasons for the existence of this blog. When I started this blog over five years ago, I wanted to present a wide range of images that would represent black Brazilian women. I knew that after spending many years visiting Brazil, when African-American men came to discover that I was a frequent traveler to the country, often the first thing they wanted to know had to do with Brazilian women. Let’s face it. Due to widely internationally divulged images of Brazilian women associated with Carnaval and later the porn industry, most men developed a certain stereotype of what the average Brazilian woman looked like and what she was like, which is why I didn’t want to base my blog on just the passista, the often times statuesque, brown-skinned Carnaval dancer that influences endless droves of men worldwide to want to visit Brazil during this time of year at least once during their lives. 

But this image and association can have all sorts of effects on the lives of all Brazilian women, but particularly the black women, as men, both Brazilian as well as foreign, often automatically view these women as being sexually available either as a quick, uncommitted tryst or on a ‘play for pay’ basis. But in a country that was based on 350 years of slave-based labor and sexual exploitation of Afro-Brazilian women, the idea that this woman’s only value is based on hr physical attributes still plagues millions of women across the country everyday. In Brazilian society, as much as people continue to deny it, when one thinks of a black woman, inclusive of the so-called “mulata”, generally she is thought to be a maid, a cleaning woman or the aforementioned Carnaval dancer. This is one of the main reasons I felt the necessity of showing that Afro-Brazilian women hold down positions as scientists, judges, CEOs, mothers and a plethora of other occupations. And today’s personal reflection is a perfect example of an all too common experience of black women of Brazil and why it is imperative that people, particularly men, see and respect them for what and who they are: human beings. 

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“Catcalls”: “Hey sexy”, “Come over here”, “I’m gonna get you”

When street harassment is combined with racism

By Karoline Gomes

Few moments in my life shouted both my identity as a black woman and my “first racist harassment.” I had already gone through a lot of embarrassment on the street as a teenager, but if it were possible to classify the worst types of “catcalls” that we heard on the street, I would say that none compare to being called a macaca (monkey) after ignoring an invitation to samba. I was 15 years old.

I don’t remember the face of the individual, my head was already down the first time he referred to me, calling me “mulatinha” (little mulata), noticing my young age. At that moment, I had already been mentally punishing myself for passing by on my way to an English course, even knowing of the bar that was open during the afternoon on weekends to greet the tourists who were going to the beach.

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Scene from ‘Chega de Fiu Fiu – O Filme’

I picked up the pace, still looking at the ground, because I wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible. But soon after, I saw the footsteps of my aggressor beside mine and I shuddered in fear. He’d left his chair at the bar door and hurried to reach me just to make it clear his displeasure at the fact that I’d ignored him. “I don’t know where you get so much pride, you macaca,” he said and left.

Even for me, who grew up, like my família negra (black family), denying my identity, it was a warning of what would come with my maturation. Men would now see me in a different way than my amigas brancas (white friends).

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Scene from ‘Chega de Fiu Fiu – O Filme’

This was part of the experience of growing up black, although without consciousness: after being left behind in childhood, lack of love and attention of colleagues, teachers and even some relatives, a sudden interest with the arrival of puberty and adulthood, but without ceasing to be set aside as this interest usually does not go beyond the invitation to sex.

And this view, so often reinforced by the media, places us as exotic objects, as justification for the even more aggressive type of harassment we experience. “There is always a game, a question, an image built to refer to the exaggerated sensuality. Mulheres negras (black women) represent danger, or they are seductive, or both, they are dangerous because they are seductive,” argues black journalist Aline Ramos in the third part of Think Olga’s Minimanual de Jornalismo Humanizado  (Minimanual of Humanized Journalism) on racism.

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Scene from film: “….when the person is pretty you have to stare.”

This is the experience of a woman who also has to deal with racism, besides machismo. The “mulata’s arrival” is the theme of YouTuber  and social science student Nátaly Neri’s talk at TEDx, where she very punctually puts it: “When the mulata arrives, it’s unbearable, because they can’t walk on the street, they can’t converse with people without feeling the discomfort of the looks and jokes directed at their bodies.”

Today, conscious of my race and surrounded by women struggling to combat the culture of harassment and rape to which we are socially embedded, I feel stronger to speak about the layers of the problem as a black woman. No wonder I’m telling this story here, publicly, for the first time.

Karoline Gomes

Karoline Gomes

That doesn’t mean I can leave my fears aside. Afraid of being assaulted if you react to a racist scream on the street. Fear of being judged and discredited because of my color when facing or reporting an assault, as what happened to Renata Hill and Patreese Johnson, American black and lesbian women, who were arrested for protecting themselves from sexual harassment on the streets of New York. (The story from the point of view of the two was told in the documentary Out In The Night).

At the same time, I also fear that I can’t fully demonstrate my aversion to harassment, for the stalker, the color of my skin, my hair, or the size of my lips tell him that I am always available, and I often feel the necessity to make it clear that it does not.

But the courage to speak of it comes from a need that is greater than my fears: the fact that these are also the fears of other black women. It also comes from the inspiration of seeing Djamila Ribeiro, in the trailer for the documentary Chega de Fiu FiuO Filme (No more catcalling – the movie), exposing the issue as the cultural problem that it is.

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Feminist philosopher Djamila Ribeiro appears in the film

The need to bring this perspective to the debate on sexual harassment is urgent in Brazil, where, according to the UN, there has been a 54% increase in black woman mortality between 2003 and 2013, while white women deaths have fallen by 10%. Where the urban mobility (and the harassment found in the paths) of the black woman is also more difficult, since the majority live in peripheries. Where, when we ascend socially, we are easily seen as attractions for wealthy white men, often foreigners.

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Da cor do pecado” (Of the color of sin),” “mulata,” “neguinha” (little black girl/nigger) none of these terms define me. I am a woman, I am black, journalist, wife, daughter of another black woman and I deserve respect. But why do I still have to bow my head when I hear these words on the street?

Chega de Fiu FiuO Filme (trailer)

Translation of film’s comments

In most of the tunnels, right, because they don’t have lights. So it’s really common to have cases of rape and harassment in general. Actually I don’t know if I’m afraid to walk on a deserted road and see no one or if I’m afraid to find someone along the way.

I’m afraid of being attacked, I’m afraid of being raped. What makes me fearful is to walk here as a woman because I don’t have any way to defend myself. So I end up going through the brushwood because otherwise we’d have to go all around, because the city isn’t made for pedestrians.

NO MORE CATCALLING: THE MOVIE

We think that a man catcalled us or that he was aggressive with us because we were wearing short shorts. Or because we had more cleavage exposed.

The black woman’s body has been hyper-sexualized and objectified since colonial times. And society teaches us that we have no way to see this as a problem. That it’s ‘cool’ for us to go out and all of a sudden be harassed.

To other people it may seem like nothing is happening but we feel it, you know? Those looks that embarrass you. And that embarrass only you and your intimacy.

Do you need something?
– No. I’m just looking at you.
OK, why?
– Because you’re pretty.
Is that so? Sir, don’t you think it’s disrespectful to stare at others that way?
– No, when someone is beautiful you have to look at them. But you can’t say anything stupid…

What did you say?
– I said ‘hello, beautiful’.
Do you always catcall girls passing by?
– What?
Do you always catcall women passing by?
– No, only when I think they’re pretty. Then I always say hello.
When you think they’re pretty? Don’t you think this is harassment?

After discussing this so much, I feel more empowered and I walk with my head held high. And I look into the eyes of the men. I am putting myself into public places as someone who deserves to be there.

I don’t think that the city could be for women. The city MUST be for women. We aren’t asking for anything. We only want to occupy the space that is ours.

Coming soon.

From the Think Olga Facebook page

Chega de Fiu Fiu changed the conversation about street harassment in Brazil. Four years ago, we began a journey of re-signification about violence as trivial as it was perverse, capable of making open spaces into real labyrinths for women – always in search of safer paths, but fearful of what awaits them at every corner. From here on, our cry has gained strength. Within and outside of the internet, other campaigns have emerged – some even from governments, applications, reports, laws: developments from an urgent situation to be fought in society.

Today we launched the trailer for the documentary Chega de Fiu Fiu, funded with the help of one of the most successful funding campaigns of Catarse until then, as another tool to combat the harassment of women who are only exercising their inalienable right to come and go. “The film is a portrait of this gender-based violence in a still-unexplored context: public space,” explains the director, Amanda Kamanchek. We draw a complete picture of how this type of aggression is drawn in Brazil through the story of three people from different regions of the country: Rosa Luz, from Brasília (DF); Raquel Carvalho, from Salvador (BA); And Teresa Chaves, from São Paulo (SP). We also called the men to this conversation and heard from experts who helped us understand the gears that allowed the normalization of harassment. It is a sensitive, thrilling and profound film, made by and for women, but capable of making even the toughest minds understand that our nuisance is not mimimi (whining) when it is our own freedom that is at stake. Soon we will announce the release date.

Note from BW of Brazil: Although the subject of the annoying so-called “fiu-fiu” has only come up on this blog once, it is a topic that I often see black Brazilian women discuss in social networks. Usually it is discussed in a manner in which black women express feeling objectified and disrespected, a sentiment that should be taken seriously when we also understand how difficult it can be for black women to secure long-term committed relationships. What is really disturbing about the above piece is that this type of approach from men apparently knows no age limits. The idea that today’s post as well as many others on this blog is that there is a belief that black girls and later women are made only for sexual adventures while their white counterparts are the ones deserving of loving, affectionate long-term commitments.

Not only do we see racism play out in simply the place that black women hold in the psyche, but also the expectation that a black girl know her “place” in the racial hierarchy. Note how the man described in the opening of the piece approached a teenage Karoline with the sexually-charged term “mulata” (in this case ‘mulatinha’), whose place Brazilian society is revealed in the old saying “white woman for marriage, mulata for f*cking and black woman for work.” And when the teenager shows that she doesn’t want to be subjected to such an approach, he immediately demeans her with Brazil’s favorite derogatory term for black people (monkey). We saw similar behavior in a 2012 post in a which a black woman rejected the advances of a white man and was immediately insulted afterward. The other noteworthy detail of this post is the fact that Karoline, like so many other black girls/women, didn’t even see herself as black at the time nor understood what being black meant to the outside world as she grew up in a family that sought to deny its blackness. 

Of course it would be expecting too much to think that one film and a personal reflection will change a piece of Brazilian culture that has existed for decades, if not centuries, but the very fact that this film was made and that more Afro-Brazilian women are finding the courage to discuss such a sensitive topic is the first step in changing the narrative and empowering the women who are the victims of such behavior on a daily basis. 

Source: Think Olga

3 comments on “When street harassment is combined with racism: Personal reflection and film deal with the effects of “catcalling” on Afro-Brazilian women

  1. Charles
    April 7, 2017

    Telling a woman on the street that she is pretty is not sexual harassment. It only becomes harassing when the woman says stop and the man continues. 54% in the rise of the deaths of Black women is a national disgrace. Blacks should do everything within their means to oppose it.Brazillian women should stay away from so called feminism, it has turned American women into men. Which man who is not gay wants to be with another man.

  2. Paula
    April 8, 2017

    That’s a bit silly for you to say Brazilian women should stay away from feminism. Remember Women Birth the world

    Meaning: Feminism is the belief that all people are entitled to the same civil rights and liberties and can be intellectual equals regardless of gender.

  3. ABIGAIL S MUTUMBA
    April 9, 2017

    if black brazilian women stay away from feminism than they will continue being viewed as ,sex symbols,house maids e.t.c the only way to change such views is to show that even they can be lawyers,doctors,teachers,scientist e.t.c.

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