Note from BW of Brazil: The funk music that comes out of Brazil’s favelas has been a topic discussed here on the blog in a number of posts, but not in the manner that will be explored by an educator from São Paulo. For more than a few decades, funk music has been denigrated and rejected by middle class Brazilians as being a “coisa do favelado” (thing of the slum dweller) and not having any cultural value. And in addressing the debate, culture and music, it has never been this blog’s intent to analyze, accept or reject but rather lay out the facts. I am not particularly a fan of funk but I respect the right of all to create their own forms of art. When poor people don’t have access to privileges of the middle class (fancy restaurants, music lessons, private schools, etc.) they improvise and that is also the case with funk.
GAIOLA DAS POPOZUDAS – MY PUSSY É O PODER (My pussy is the power)
But because of the style’s strong sexual content, it has earned many critics who believe it to be an example of a culture of poverty that is responsible for the exclusion of many millions of poor, mostly black citizens. Never mind Brazil’s own record of excluding poor, Afro-Brazilians through its own brand of institutional racism or the fact that many of those same middle/upper class people who criticized funk are now entering the slums and participating in it in manners that approach cultural appropriation. While there are countless ways to approach the topic of funk, one researcher is travelling to the United States to state her case on how funk carries certain attributes of feminism and female empowerment. Is it possible? Well first, below is an introduction to the story.
Jaqueline Conceição da Silva was invited to present her work on Brazilian funk at Columbia University
Jaqueline was invited to a conference on works related to Hernert Marcuse
By Ana Carolina Pinto
“When I heard Valesca Popozuda singing ‘My Pussy is power’ for the first time, I thought, wow! This is deeper than Simone de Beauvoir.” The interpretation is from the pedagogue Jaqueline Conceição da Silva, 28. With a Masters in Education from the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo (PUC), she was invited by the prestigious Columbia University in the United States, to present her work on funk and Brazilian youth, “Só Mina Cruel – Algumas Reflexões Sobre Gênero e Cultura Afirmativa no Universo Juvenil do Funk (Only a Cruel Girl – Some Reflections on Gender and Affirmative culture in the Youth Universe of Funk), at a conference held in September this year.
A resident of Jardim Celeste in the Campo Limpo neighborhood in São Paulo, Jaqueline celebrated the opportunity to take culture from the periphery to another country. But because of not having current ties to any graduate program, the realization of the educator’s dream collided with the financial issue. Until now. After learning about the online donation drive organized by Jaqueline to raise money, popular funk singer Valesca Popozuda contacted Extra (news website) to say that she wanted to help.
“I want to pay for half the amount, if she agrees. I am very happy with her care and I hope she can go. The work must have been magnificent, because funk is pretty broad. I already requested a copy, because then I want to see it and read everything”.
Valesca prided herself in seeing the genre being represented in the United States and sent a message to Jacqueline.
“Good luck in the presentation and representing Brazil there and funk that will be cheering, proud of your strength and courage from here.”
Upon learning of the unexpected help, Jaqueline was even more excited. A fan of the singer, she had already received advice to ask for Valesca’s help but opted for fund raising. Now she’s happy to know the muse of the hit “Beijinho no Ombro” (Little Kiss On the Shoulder) in person and talking about her article.
“I hope to meet you, because I’m a big fan! I don’t know what made me more beige (amazed), if it was the fact that she contributed or being able to know her. I don’t know what know had a bigger impact. I’m shocked,” joked Jaqueline, who credits Valesca’s story as an inspiration to other women.
“I think that the trajectory of her thinking in a country like Brazil, is a path that inspires me. There are women who go looking for their space based on what they believe. I’m very happy, despite not being a work in which I defend funk as music, of being able to get a work that they constructed and be able to discuss it on top of that, in order to emancipate ourselves.”
Jaqueline’s article doesn’t intend on analyzing funk as a musical genre, but as a cultural product generated by the youth from the periphery. In the classroom, her students analyze the lyrics and debate about the reality portrayed in the songs, from the perspective of the authors of Critical Theory, Theodor W. Adorno and Hernert Marcuse. For the educator, who completed her master’s degree course “Educação: História, Política, Sociedade” (Education: History, Politics, Society), despite criticism, it’s necessary to move forward and understand how the funk phenomenon is impacting youth, especially from the favelas (slums).
“The idea of the work is to think about the society in which we live. In this context, the female gender is an opposition to what it is ‘to be a man’. Thus, our desire as a woman, of doing this or not, is also related through what desire is for men. So until what point in funk does, even the women being able to have the freedom to say ‘buceta dela’ (her pussy), really mean sexual freedom, including upon the body itself and what it represents?”, she questions.
Valesca Popozuda – Beijinho No Ombro
“The considerations point to the effect that such young people (producers and consumers of funk as a cultural product of mass society) reproduce in their discourse the same relations of oppression and submission in which the woman is subjected throughout the civilizing process, even if re-dressed in an apparent pseudo-liberation in the exacerbation of female sexuality and the ‘right’ of young people in enjoying the pleasure that their body can provide them,” highlights a portion of the article abstract.
“For me, Valesca is one of the women that deals more with this dual reality in her songs. For a poor and black woman from the periphery to say that “dá para quem quiser” (I give it to who I wish), or that today she’ll bankroll and show off money, for example, is a libertarian fact we cannot deny. The question is to what extent, in the society in which we live, can it be really liberating, or is it more a reproduction of how women are seen. It interests me to think of funk as a legitimate cultural manifestation of these boys and girls. What does it have immediately for the youth? Sexuality. And funk talks about it. I was starting to understand the lyrics to understand this discourse, to understand the reality of these young people to think about the paths of which we are taking them, what kind of training are we giving these young people and what prospects they have and can come to have from this point.”
Note from BW of Brazil: Funk, liberation and feminism. Can they possibly go together? Although this post is not meant to cover more than two decades of funk, a little background may be in order here before considering Jaqueline’s perspective. These details will play a vital part in the debate. First of all, Valesca Popozuda is very popular Rio-based funk singer who is known for her risqué lyrics, dancing and curvaceous figure. She led the all-female funk group Gaiola das Popozudas between the years 2000 and 2013 before embarking on her solo career. In some ways, Popozuda’s very image puts the question of “legitimacy” at question. First of all, the word “popozuda” refers to a “big butt woman”, but as we pointed out in a previous post in which she was featured, Valesca is perhaps not what she appears to be, at least not naturally.
When one considers how Popozuda looked when she was still a teenager and the finished “product” that she is today, we realize that the only way to even have this discussion is with a shift in what we accept as “legitimate”. As has been mentioned previously, cosmetic surgery is a huge industry in Brazil where so much rides on personal appearance. Combine that with a near obsession of the nation’s media in portraying its population as white and it makes for an intriguing mix, especially considering Valesca’s physical appearance. Although she is of clearly of mixed African ancestry, her bleach blond hair, blue contact lenses, inflated breasts and butt provide her with the aesthetic mixture that is very appealing for the average Brazilian man: a “white” woman from the neck up and a “black” woman from the neck down. And with her stage presence and lyrics, Popozuda is clearly not afraid to sell this sexual fantasy. But again, is it possible that this type of representation can truly liberate women? Revista Fórum (magazine) also pondered this in its interview with Conceição.
“The pussy is mine”: The body as a subject in the world
What are the possible intersections between feminism, funk and women’s empowerment? The pedagogue Jaqueline Conceição dealt with this issue in an article that will be presented at Columbia University
By Marcelo Hailer *
The name of Jaqueline Conception circulated this week in the media for two reasons: first, the online campaign she launched to raise funds for a trip to the United States because her article “Só Mina Cruel – Algumas Reflexões Sobre Gênero e Cultura Afirmativa no Universo Juvenil do Funk (Only a Cruel Girl – Some Reflections on Gender and Affirmative Culture in the Juvenile Universe of Funk), which deals with the issue of gender in the world of funk, was selected to be presented at a conference at Columbia University, a reference in the world. The second reason is that the campaign caught the attention of funk singer Valesca Popozuda, who liked the project and decided to help Conceição to raise the funds for her trip to the land of Uncle Sam.
Conceição decided to deal with an issue that is controversial in feminist debates, the issue of women and feminism in the middle of funk. When singers shout out phrases like “a porra da buceta é minha” (this fuckin’ pussy is mine), are they practicing autonomy over their bodies? “In my interpretation it’s this, saying that the pussy is hers is more than just saying ‘she gives it to whoever she wants’ and our body as our unit, as a subject in the world is the most important thing, what people have most immediately is our body,” says Conceição.
As to the controversy with sectors that don’t see feminist nuances in the performances of the funk singers, Conceição does not shy away from the debate and raises an interesting question. “For me, whenever I thought about feminism, it would be something to ensure my freedom, but in order for this would I have to get rid of household work and what most feminists do? They pay other women, usually black, to do the housework they don’t do. So in a way, her freedom is not complete, her freedom is grounded upon someone’s work,” said the educator.
Revista Fórum – Where did the idea of writing the article “Só Mina Cruel” come from?
Jaqueline Conceição – I wrote this article to publish it in a scientific event that happened in Marília (in the state of São Paulo) last year. I wanted to discuss the issue of feminism, but didn’t want to be stuck to the question of the academy. And on my street, there were many pancadão (bailes funk/funk dances) and that caught my attention, and it was there that the idea for this article emerged.
Revista Fórum – In what way do you relate the issue of feminism with funk?
Conceição – Funk mobilizes girls to think about more ownership of their bodies and it is very close to what feminists have been discussing: the right to the body, to space, to pleasure, to the appreciation of women as historical subjects. And to the extent that the girls that sing funk are increasingly protagonizing the cultural scene, they are also appropriating themselves in a historical context.
Fórum – Funk is a predominantly masculine space. Do you believe that with the rise of girl groups and singers the space of funk is becoming more feminine?
Conceição – In fact, I think there is a dispute, but not a dispute in the formal sense, but within the social relations, which is a field of extension, and this is like in any other social field. To the extent that women are constructing themselves as mediators, producers, consumers and singers of funk, they’re challenging men for this space.
Are women are gaining more space in funk? (Photo: 24hNews)
Fórum – Can you talk about women’s empowerment in funk?
Conceição – You can think of women’s empowerment from funk, including why the opens a debate. For example, I was in the classroom with students discussing sexuality and we were talking about the issue of the cervix of the uterus, a very timely and informative school thing. And a boy said to a girl, ‘but don’t you masturbate?’, And the girl made a face of desperate and said ‘no’, and the boy, ‘but you have to touch yourself…So, take the mirror, put it there and look.’ In my generation this would never happen and to me it’s the advent of funk, it brings it to the fore and for young people who are in formation it’s unacceptable that a woman doesn’t feel pleasure. This is what funk brings, this thing of masturbation, and it brings a debate that perhaps my generation didn’t have the access that they have today.
Forum – When we get the phrase “a porra da buceta é minha” (this fucking pussy is mine), can we say that it’s the girls saying: the body is mine and I do what I want?
Conception – In my interpretation that’s it, saying the pussy is hers is more than just saying ‘she gives it to whoever she wants’ and the body as our unity, as a subject in the world, it’s the most important thing, what we have most immediately is our body. For a woman, in a society like the Brazilian that controls the reproductive process, that controls the pattern of how she should dress, speak, and how she should be, legitimizing the possession of the body and saying that it’s hers is an empowerment, yes.
Forum – We have some feminist sectors who disagree with this thesis. What do you think of that?
Conception – Funk he is what it is. It doesn’t only liberate, and it doesn’t only imprison. Like any cultural product of the society in which we live, a mass society, consumer society, where culture itself is mediated by the industry, funk is a product that has been created and is being consumed, today, on a large scale and that it can liberate as much as it can imprison.
For example: for me, whenever I thought about feminism, it would be something to ensure my freedom, but for that do I have to get rid of household work and what the majority of feminists do? Pay other women, usually black, to do the housework they don’t do. So in a way, her freedom is not complete, her freedom is grounded upon someone else’s work. Even being a working relationship, it doesn’t stop being devalued work, a work that’s not recognized and that feminists themselves ignore, which is domestic work. Funk is the same thing. It brings a freedom that enables further discussion on the issue of the body and dealing with the role of women, but, as it’s within a sexist logic, it ends up reproducing sexism. The same occurs with housework, in a sexist society, it is the woman doing the housework. It’s a tension that is brought out.
Forum – Do you believe that the clothing of the funk singers represent the desire of the male hierarchy?
Conception – It totally reinforces it. Therein lies the crux of the matter. I often say that desire is socially constructed, the very conception of what is “pleasure” for us, women, most likely constructed and mediated by men. When a woman says she has multiple partners, or who likes to get slapped in the face, or like to suck this and that, what we have to ask is: does she do it because it’s legitimate for her or is she reproducing what she was taught about how she should be acting?
But I want to make an observation about something that always get me thinking. On one hand we have a boom of information for youth and they have access to a number of things, on the other hand the issue of sexuality is still a taboo. Neither the family nor the school discusses how it has to be discussed. This generation of young people who consume funk and are 15-20 years old, their sexual formation was probably mediated by pornography, and pornography is full of violence. The way pornography conceives the sexual relation and sexuality is violent. Most likely they reproduce in the songs this formation that they had, mediated by violence.
Forum – Now there is a question that is as follows: when a man sings that “comeu” (literally “ate” but in slang, “fucked”) in several ways, fine. But if a woman sings that she did it various ways it causes a shock. This is inserted in a cultural-historical sexism?
Conception – When I was doing research I went precisely into the question of gender. There wasn’t any security to say that it was just sexism, or only libertarian. I had no doubt it was in the middle of the two paths and in the end I came to the conclusion that it is both, sometimes simultaneously and sometimes in opposition.
Mr. Catra has a song in which he sings “mama eu” (suck me), something related to oral sex, and in the song he encourages the girls to do oral sex and receive oral sex. During a show, the girls sang in a choir, in a frenzy. In a society like ours, that lives under a sexual taboo, being in the company of other youth and being able to express your sexuality without having anyone keep talking to you, it’s actually liberating. And as I said in the example in the classroom, this opens precedent for other things, for another generation of man that will have another view on woman’s pleasure. It may be that it’s not an emancipatory view, but it’s already a look at emancipation.
Note from BW of Brazil: OK, let’s delve a little deeper into this because in my view, it is often possible to participate in one’s own oppression even if it doesn’t appear to be such. In the case of female funk singers in general and the overall imagery of singers such as Popozuda and Tati Quebra Barraco, one could argue that these women are merely adhering to what the sexist male glare demands and inflicting self-imposed imprisonment beneath the illusion of liberation. Here’s why.
Popozuda freely admits to spending R$40,000 (US$17,600) on silicone treatments on her breasts and butt and in analyzing her previous photos it is quite clear that she is a completely different person than she appeared to be as a teen. Similar to another funk singer (Tati Quebra-Barraco who has had more than 20 cosmetic procedures), Valesca seems very willing to buy her way into the physical standard that women are expected to meet. With this stance, should we consider this to be “empowering” of women? This doesn’t necessarily directly approach Conceição’s views on sexuality but indirectly it does as it is often the physical “package” that attracts the male gaze in the first place. Did Valesca feel that she couldn’t possibly succeed in her previous incarnation with afro textured, dark hair and smaller assets? Well, one could argue, she played the game, artificially created this buxom image and is laughing all the way to the bank by giving the male population what they want. But what does that message say about our society? How does she really feel believing that she couldn’t have reached success as real self and what message does this send to little girls and teens who are watching her?
And is Popozuda’s complicity in giving men “what they want” a step toward liberating women from physical standards that are often unreachable (as Valesca herself seems to be proof of)? Does all of the artificiality make a woman happy or does it make her a slave to the standard that bothered her so much that she made the changes in the first place? Consider Valesca’s comment in 2011 that without her blue contact lenses, she doesn’t even like to look at herself in the mirror. Again, is she free or enslaved?
On the sexuality issue, I pose another question: As our world becomes increasingly overtly sexualized, where does the ability to get “down and dirty” like the boys take us? If a boy is playing in mud and a girl insists on playing with him don’t they both get dirty? Personal sexual relations are one thing, but ultimately what is the influence on society when the demand for fair play in the bedroom, often in vulgar terms, is played out in public? Consider Brazil’s hyper-sexual image and children’s exposure to premature sexuality in its mass media and we could be setting a dangerous precedent that is anything but liberating. Sociologist Yago Euzébio Bueno de Paiva Junho also took note of this writing:
“In the 2000s, we saw the emergence of funk, with its pornographic lyrics and dancers that took off their panties on stage and rubbed their intimate parts in the face of the guinea pig chosen among the public….As if this overdose were not enough, television completes the sexual framework of Brazilian society…dancers in g-strings, at times in which children are still awake and sex scenes in novelas (soap operas). It’s commercialized nudity as art and, in this case, it’s far from being artistic nude. The more sexualized and pornographic the society is, the less autonomy of thought we can observe in it.”
This is in no way a means of suggesting that society should return to the days in which, in terms of sexual relations, women were expected to simply play the role of receptacle for childbirth, but it is a warning that there are always unexpected outcomes when we argue in favor or against something. Someone may lean heavily to the side of political liberalism until the borders that once existed on a given topic were totally annihilated to the point that the order of things is out of control. In today’s society, sexuality is no longer played out only in the private realm. With a constant dosage of sexually titillating music videos, song lyrics, dances and movies, the world of intimacy is clearly not the same as when Fred and Wilma couldn’t be shown sleeping in the same bed. Whether you regard this as positive or negative is only partially the point. The question would be, what will that same scene look like 50 years from now?