Treatment of Women in Brazil

This post strays a little from my normal story-like posts and life updates, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last seven months.

This is definitely going to be a more controversial post due to the more taboo nature of this topic, as well as perception of concepts like feminism in Brazil. This is purely my opinion and I mean no offense. If you feel differently, I’m open to discussion.

I also think it’s important to mention that I live in one of the biggest cities in Brazil so that drastically changes how these topics are approached.

That being said, here we go:

Treatment of Women Under Law:

Much like the United States, women appear to be treated the same. Around the same time women in the US gained the right to vote, so did women in Brazil. In the 1930s, women were granted equal opportunity to hold government office and earn equal pay for equal work. The 1988 constitution declared women and men as equal. Brazil has had a female president (although she was impeached, many think unjustly).

Of course, a female president for Brazil is like a black president for the US: just because a minority holds the highest political office doesn’t mean minorities aren’t still wrongly treated. It doesn’t mean true equality exists. (I know women aren’t necessarily minorities, but I can’t think of the right word to substitute it.)


Dilma Rousseff, former President of Brazil (taken from Wikipedia page)

One of the major controversies in Brazil is abortion. Personally, I support women’s choice in the case of abortion for a certain period of the pregnancy. Of course, in Brazil, a primarily Catholic country, this is VERY controversial. It is perceived as taking a life and is illegal under law (except in cases where the life of the mother is threatened). I have really only discussed this with a handful of people, but each time I have been strongly, strongly opposed. With presidential elections coming this year for Brazil, I’m sure this is going to be a topic of discussion.

One of the candidates (Bolsonaro) has been compared to Donald Trump for his treatment of women. He’s been called sexist many, many times. He’s made comments towards female colleagues that he would not have made towards men. I’m not going to get into this too much, because that’s a whole other post I would have to write, but that leads me to the next point.

Treatment of Women by Men:

Let me start by saying this is not me saying all men are the spawn of Satan and pure evil. It’s quite the opposite. I think you can be a good person but unintentionally treat women poorly. This is just a reminder to think before you act.

This is something I frequently finding myself laughing at (although it’s not much of a laughing matter, but sometimes it can be quite funny). Let me start by telling a few stories.

  • Once, Brooklyn and I were walking from her house to the mall. A car of FOUR GROWN MEN shouted out to us “ahhhh beautiful, marvelous, give me a kiss.” We ignored them and continued walking. They continued driving. They TURNED AROUND to continue shouting things at us. We continued walking. They continued driving. They TURNED AROUND AGAIN and continued shouting at us. When we paid them no attention for a third time, we were called whores and they continued on their way.
  • As a foreigner who looks like a foreigner, more attention is always drawn to me. Walking down the street, sitting in a restaurant, shopping in the mall, wherever I go, there are eyes on me. One of the strangest things that happens repeatedly is how men of all ages (disgusting) approach me. “America, I love you” “Oh America, America, come here” “Americaaaaa” followed by kissing noises. Usually, I laugh at this, purely because who taught you to flirt like this? Brazilian men, how would you like it if I walked up to you and went BRAZILLLLLLLL (kissing noises). It’s pathetic. Second of all, I should be able to go about my life in peace. A single compliment is fine, but if you perceive you’re making someone uncomfortable or they’re CLEARLY not interested, walk away. Move on. Do better.
  • Once, I went to a party with my friends. Some boys, some girls. We were dancing. A man grabbed me and proceeded to talk to me. “You’re beautiful, wonderful, great eyes, great smile, perfect. Give me a kiss.” “No thanks, I don’t want to” “Why?” Let’s take a pause here: “no” should be more than enough. “I have a boyfriend” “Is he here?” “No” “Then it’s fine.” No, that’s not how it works. Luckily, my boy friends rock, and they let me present them as my boyfriend to get boys away. Brazilian boys, once again, do better.

Something that really pisses (most) Brazilian boys off is when women say they’re a feminist. Here, feminism is perceived as an “anti-boy” organization where women shave their heads, make ridiculous claims, and conspire about how to make boys’ lives miserable. I think this is hilarious because something that’s about improving the quality of life for women automatically becomes about men. Anyway, let me continue.


“Brazilian women before and after feminism” is a joke I’ve heard at least four different times. It’s really ridiculous that instead of trying to UNDERSTAND feminism, women are criticized based on their physical appearance.

As I mentioned in the “Treatment of Women Under Law” section, legally, women have achieved a lot. As far as I perceived, women have pretty good opportunities. There’s a lot of women in STEM fields. The girls in my classes felt comfortable speaking and arguing with their male classmates in the appropriate setting. I definitely think women here are raised to be more opinionated and feel more comfortable actually expressing their opinion. I’m lucky in the aspect that I went to an all-girls’ high school where I learned that I don’t really care how boys perceive me and I will speak and be heard when I need to. I think most girls here already have that part down. (This is a part where it’s important to acknowledge I’m in a big city. I’m sure in small towns in the North-east this is very different).

From what I can see, Brazilian feminism is primarily about changing male perception of women. It’s about making it so the three bullet points above happen to very few women, which unfortunately isn’t the case. Many women share similar experiences to me, if not worse ones.

Treatment of Women in Pop Culture:

Here, there’s a genre of music that is very, very popular. It’s called Funk. It’s mostly common among young people and played at parties, clubs, during Carnaval, in restaurants, on the radio, just about everywhere. In my opinion, it is MUCH more explicit than music played on American radio. (I could be wrong, I don’t really listen to the radio in the US).


MC Don Juan’s picture for music video of “Amar, Amei.”

Less subtle than the lyrics themselves, you can see the difference between expectations for men and women in the way they dance to the music. Men do essentially a line dance and just walk back and forth over and over again. Occasionally, they grab their crotch. It’s funny to watch. Women are expected to violently shake their butts for hours on end. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with this, just an observation that highlights the differences.

Back to the music itself: the majority of the lyrics are about women’s bodies (particularly the butt, “bum bum”), sex, drinking, all that stuff that parents hate.

I’m not going to lie: I listen to the music. I like some of it. I think some of the lyrics are so absurd that it’s hilarious and I listen to it in an almost ironic way. It’s also impossible to avoid it, seeing as it’s played EVERYWHERE and part of the Brazilian culture.

As a woman listening to it, sometimes I’m disgusted. One of the most popular songs right now has the following lyrics: “meu deus, me fala quem colocou essa coisa no mundo” (My god, tell me who put this THING in the world). The rest of the song discusses, basically, shaking your butt about fifty different ways. The meaning of this is obvious: women are literally perceived as objects by these singers and valued for their body.

Other songs discuss break ups, ways to hurt your ex, how good it is to be single, and most of all: shaking your butt.

In some ways, this is empowering. It’s a way for women to really own their bodies. To move their bodies as they like. Although they are significantly fewer and less popular, there are female funk singers who sing songs as well. Some are about boys, with the same sexual tone. Others are just silly songs, talking about dancing and all of that stuff.

Some women, who find these songs extremely offensive, retaliate by making “responses” to same beat. These are a popular sensation on youtube, racking up thousands of views.

Screen Shot 2018-03-12 at 7.43.31 PM.png

A woman responding to a popular funk song, essentially saying she wants respect and that the original song is perpetuating harmful messages towards women

Of course, this is just music, but I think it has major implications for women in society. When men truly become brainwashed by this music, that’s when the problems set in. Plenty of people listen to this without taking the lyrics seriously. After all, the beats are catchy.


I think feminism in Brazil is easily dismissed as an invalid, unnecessary moment. While progress has been made, there’s definitely room for growth.

As someone living under a President who uses sexist rhetoric: Brazilians, be careful with your choice for President this year. It is quite embarrassing to go abroad and be expected to explain the ignorant, senseless things your president says. A president is not some stupid artist you can turn off when you like. A president severely impacts society. S/he should be the model citizen. Don’t choose someone that perpetuates sexist rhetoric, sexist mentalities, sexist ideas.

We should always be moving foward. We should be moving towards a more equal society, towards a society that focuses on economic policies and foreign policies and solutions to poverty and world hunger.

We shouldn’t be a society forced to waste time interpreting, explaining, and condemning sexist rhetoric and actions.

2 thoughts on “Treatment of Women in Brazil

  1. Hannah,

    Your best work yet. Enjoyed seeing your insight and comments on this very topical but important topic. Great work ! Love you and miss you but very proud of you. Dad


  2. Hannah! Sua clareza ao observar e colocar em palavras sua vivência aqui no Brasil é impressionante. Eu, como professora de história e feminista, me senti contemplada pela sua fala. O feminismo ainda tem muito campo para avançar no Brasil e espero que um dia as pessoas enxerguem o seu valor! Continue escrevendo!! Beijos!


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