The structuralized rape culture is a social mentality based on misogyny and sexism that allows and encourages boys to harass and objectify women’s bodies, viewing them only as objects for the sexual pleasure of men. It has dehumanized generations of young women, whose consent has lost worth and whose rights for their own body have been violated by society.
The sexual objectification of women that Brazil faces today, is a perpetuating component of gender oppression as well as systemic sexism and sexual assault. Not only does it take place in the depictions of our bodies in mainstream media, but also in daily conversations and interpersonal interactions. Besides, the stereotypes International communities have been pressing on the bodies of Brazilian women –by promoting that we all must meet their expectations for a ‘perfectly shaped Latinx body’– contribute even more to our lack of respect and validation in our own country.
503 women are victims of sexual harassment and gender-based violence in ONE hour, in Brazil. 22% of Brazilian women –12 million– have suffered verbal offense last year, 10% were threatened of sexual violence, 8% suffered sexual assault, 3% were strangled or spanked and 1% got shot. Yet, 52% did not report to the police or any legal authorities at the time.
The naturalization of rape and the inferiority of women in a patriarchal society, has led generations to be educated in a sickened environment. Hundreds of women who suffer sexual assault, rape, domestic violence and harassment are actively taught to stay quiet and therefore live their lives urging for safety and the minimum respect of men. If both the police and society blame your clothing, your ‘remarkable beauty’ and your ‘carelessness on the streets’ for being raped or harassed, how can you ever feel safe to report the harasser without certainty that he could not attack you again?
It is dangerously common in my city, Porto Alegre, for women to be touched, kissed and grabbed without consent on public transports. Last year, my best friend and I were going to school on a Friday morning –I’ll never forget how sunny and warm it was–, and a few minutes before our stop, four young white men came to our direction and began catcalling us. For this event had happened multiple times in our lives, until then we simply ignored them and said ‘Not right now, we’re going to school… Get away from us’. But unlike my harassment experiences so far, one of them aggressively grabbed my sexual parts and another one unzipped his pants to masturbate and ejaculate on my friend’s back. Let me just remind you that this happened in front of everyone on the bus, and not a single human soul did anything to stop them until my friend started screaming for help.
When I think back to that day, I get mad at myself for not punching them, for not screaming earlier, for letting this happen. But the ‘blaming the victim mentality’ is exactly one of the most alarming and unhealthy consequences of rape culture in Brazil. From an early age, kids are educated to promote not only gender-binary expectations, but also dangerous gender roles. On the one hand, boys are explicitly told that because they’d get masculine and strong, they could do whatever they want. On the other hand, girls are taught to be submissive and quiet, since ‘a boy wanting you is a privilege, honey’– My Mathematics’ teacher once told me. Society directly attacks us by allowing that we get hurt physically and emotionally by men reproducing these ideals and if women tell anyone what has happened, we are automatically negligent for dressing inappropriately or slut-shamed for letting it happen… As if there was any choice.
Maria da Penha was a victim of domestic violence who reported her husband multiple times for attempt of murder and aggression that left her with irreversible paraplegia. After nineteen years of trials and negligent judgements, Marco Antonio was arrested and spent two years incarcerated. With the support of NGOs, she formalized a report against Brazil to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights of OAS because of psychological damage and an unfair trial. Thus, Brazil’s government was found guilty of negligence and omission by the Committee and paid her an indemnity of $20.000,00. To simplify the process and reduce the time of future domestic abuse trials, Brazil passed the Maria da Penha Law, that theoretically encourages women to report and ask for help.
Domestic violence is still a huge problem in our society, since women are often not protected by authorities who do not follow the law as they should. 20% of the women suffering domestic violence, in 2014, did not seek help neither with the police nor with family and friends. Many women fear to speak up because the abuse has become a part of their lives, and telling anyone might break the family or the harasser might violate one of her kids or loved ones. In 43% of the cases registered in 2014, the abuse happened daily and in 35%, weekly.
There is no way to talk about the rape culture and bigotry here without understanding its inner connection with Brazil’s systemic racism, LGBTQIAphobia and economic inequality. From women of all social spectrums, WOC (women of color), LGBTQ+ women and poor/homeless women are the ones who suffer the most with this system of constant gender oppression, for their voice is marginalized and degraded more than anyone else’s. Furthermore, 68.8% of the women killed of gender-based violence and 59% of the victims of domestic abuse are black women. Police and local authorities often disregard reports coming from those minorities, ergo, it is urgent that they know their rights and are indeed protected by them.
Brazilian women are not sexual objects. Brazilian women are not submissive, although society has taught us to be. Brazilian women do not have to fit your unrealistic beauty standards and, most important of all, Brazilian women are always deserving of respect regardless of ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation.
My name is Ilana Zelmanovitz Axelrod, I am a 17-year-old Brazilian women’s rights activist who seeks to reduce gender-based violence amongst marginalized communities. I have created a non-profit group at an international NGO, WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organization), with which we have gathered many young women to volunteer in shelters and NGOs for disabled women, victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. I study in a small school in Porto Alegre, where many students barely have contact with poorer neighborhoods and the realities of discrimination and violence often faced in Brazil. To that end, last year, as I was elected president of the Student Council, I organized a TEDxYouth Event to raise awareness on the importance of inclusion and visibility in our society today.