“Do you go to the beach topless?” This is a question that Brazilian women find themselves being asked when interacting with people (mostly men) who are not Brazilian. I am sorry to disappoint, but I have never once in my life gone to the beach with no top on – nor should anyone be asking me that.
The hypersexualisation of my nationality is something that I have lived with my whole life. Whenever I travelled, my mother warned me about the stereotypes of Brazilian women abroad and told me to be careful, worrying that I would not be taken seriously because of this.
Sexualised images of women have been used for decades, reeling in visitors to Brazil with its sex tourism reputation and the lure of the Girl from Ipanema.
This was presumably what Adidas was alluding to this week when they unveiled their 2014 World Cup T-shirts featuring sexual images. One of the T-shirts had a picture of a woman in a bikini with the phrase “Lookin’ to Score”; the other appeared to be of a woman’s behind. To many this will sound incredibly funny, but it’s hard to laugh when you live in a society that is as sexist as Brazil.
Almost immediately the backlash erupted, with even President Dilma Rousseff taking to Twitter to criticise the Fifa sponsor’s callous act – and the retraction of the shirts followed. However, it seems too easy to blame the ignorant designers at Adidas.
Considering that the most popular kind of entertainment for foreign visitors in Brazil is watching a woman dancing in revealing carnival gear, it is understandable how this sexualisation is perpetuated. In 2012 the Ministry of Tourism asked 2,100 websites linking prostitution and pornography to Brazil to remove official travel branding, but given Adidas’s T-shirts blunder it seems this reputation is still very much alive. How can we protect women from foreign visitors if we are capitalising on this myth ourselves?
With this imagery being spread around the world, its effects are being felt at home. Last year a study by the website Olga, surveying almost 8,000 Brazilian women, found that 99% had been harassed on the street. The report also revealed that 90% of Brazilian women have changed their outfit to go outside for fear of being harassed, and that eight in 10 women had decided against going somewhere for fear of being assaulted. In 2012, there was an 18% rise in rape in Brazil.
Whereas the Brazilian government’s reaction to Adidas was commendable, it is shameful that a Fifa sponsor has taken such a serious, known issue so lightheartedly. At least they backtracked and apologised. The internal problem of misogyny and sexism might be more difficult to tackle, but perhaps the condemnation of sexualisation by a corporation as big as Adidas might nudge some people towards progress. – By Nicole Froio © Guardian News and Media 2014
Image – Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff poses with a jersey during the opening of the new Beira Rio Stadium during the 2014 Fifa World Cup Host City Tour, on February 20, 2014 in Porto Alegre, Brazil. (AFP)