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- Restless in Rio
June 29, 2013
A protest in the Confederations Cup has become the catalyst for a nationwide movement.
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Women on top
Just because they like to flaunt their assets, it doesn’t mean that Brazilian women can be treated like sex toys. The women in this country see their sexuality as a way of empowerment
The girl who sold her virginity for $780, 000 didn't even get the mandatory 15-minutes of notoriety or fame at home. Catarina Migliorini ruled the global wires for a few days in October as this Brazilian student "auctioned" herself on the Net, with some rich blokes from US, Australia, Japan, India and Brazil among other countries trying to outbid each other to have an "encounter" with her on an aircraft flying thousands of feet above international waters. Even as this girl from Santa Catarina made jaws drop all over the world, at home, she barely made front page. Finally she did but only after the teenager had promised to give 90 per cent of the cash to charities that are building homes for the poor in her home state.
Charity, and not chastity or lack of it, makes news here. So much so that in the same online auction a Brazilian woman identified as Nene B, who "bought" a 21-year-old virgin man for just $3, 000, was largely ignored by the media. Both Catarina and Nene are lucky to be Brazilians. Their "performance" in the international auction didn't create media frenzy in the country. Neither did the religious folks spit hellfire on them nor did the political class try to sway people with their moral policing. The issue - if it was an issue at all - was treated lightly and largely ignored. Blame it on Rio - the city as well as the movie named after it - but this country has got a reputation for sexual freedom. The lurid tales - real and imaginary - of Brazilian women's toned and tanned bodies and the romantic settings on its golden beaches have become the stuff of legend. In 2007, when Pope Benedict made his maiden journey to the world's biggest Catholic country, in his address to a gathering of 30, 000 young people in this city the pontiff asked them to "lead pure lives" and turn "their backs on the sexual freedom" Brazil is famous for. It didn't cut much ice with the young. "What I do with my body is nobody's business. For a long time, men have controlled women by dictating to them how they should look, what they should wear and how they talk. Not anymore, " says Ivana Duarte, a student of social psychology who had attended the pope's meeting. "I liked the sermon but I didn't agree with the sexual freedom bit. "
Sexuality is an important part of identity and freedom for women in this country. Though Brazilian women - and men - are often accused of being obsessed with their bodies, they are comfortable in their skins. Almost every month, there is an event or incident which pushes the boundaries of sexual freedom further. A couple of weeks ago, the country selected Miss BumBum 2012, literally the "woman with the best backside". At an event in this city, Carine Felizardo, 25, was declared as the woman with the sexiest female derriere after she strutted her stuff in a barely-there thong and bikini top. And after she was crowned the winner, Carine thanked "God and my family" for the support, shocking a bunch of foreign tourists. "Only the Brazilians can do something like this with so much grace. Thank God they exist otherwise the world will be such a boring place, " said Alain Michel, a French traveller. He was looking forward to attending the first transgender beauty pageant in Brazil too.
Brazilian women do what they do not in order to entertain others but because they seriously believe in it. In August this year, a public notary in the state of Sao Paulo sparked a debate by granting the country's first civil union to a trio: three professionals in their 30s, one man and two women, who "live together, love one another as equals and are like any other non-married cohabiting couple". The story may sound like a chapter straight from a Milan Kundera novel but the three - who live together in Rio, share a bank account and want protection in case of separation or death - have been recognised as a family entity for all legal purposes. Now, two similar trios have approached notaries for registering their "union".
In a country where gays can easily enter into civil union, the case of Rio's trio could be a turning point for women and their rights. "There was a time in the 1970s when Brazil used to have what's called 'honour killings' in some interior parts of the country. With proper laws and change in social attitude, the place of women has become much better, " says Duarte, who is studying the relationship between culture and women's sexuality. "You can't touch a woman against her wishes. It's entirely up to us how we dress and who we go out with - men or women. "
The Brazilian women may be sexually liberated and willing to take their experiments to next level, but there is a downside to the story too. The stereotyping of Brazilian women as sex kittens has given a boost to the use of minors in the sex trade and human trafficking to Europe. Between 2005 and 2011, according to government figures, 475 Brazilian women were victims of trafficking networks and forced into prostitution abroad. The real number could be higher. Also, in some badlands in the country's rough parts, virgin girls are still auctioned by organised mafia to sex tourists. In that respect, by turning her auction into a global news event, the girl from Santa Catarina and her $780, 000 deal has not done any favour to the future victims of this trade.
But it was a good sign that she was ignored at home.
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