On New Forms of Feminism and Ongoing Prejudices in Brazil

I previously wrote about the political meanings and potential of street painting in Brazil, but in addition to providing a means for popular artistic expression, some are using street art to express another political vision in Brazil: feminism.

Anarkia Boladona has turned the streets of Brazil into billboards against domestic violence. As a self-titled feminist political graffiti artist, she represents a new trend in women’s rights that seeks less academic and more daring and popular avenues of expression.

As the interview begins, Boladona, born Panmela Castro, is painting a mural in front of a municipal school in a Rio de Janeiro suburb, along with other young people. […]

The graffitist chose to “work” with her art, with the walls as her instrument. She uses them to portray the tragedies suffered by millions of women. Sometimes graffiti begins with a theatrical play. […]

The mural that she is doing is against violence toward women. A telephone number indicates where to turn for help.

The issue of equal rights for women, not just politically but socially and culturally as well, is part of the new struggle of what the article calls Brazil’s “new feminism.” Certainly, there had been previous generations that worked towards equality: Bertha Lutz played a key role in fighting for women’s suffrage in the first part of the 20th century, during a period when the government also increased the punishments for “crimes of passion” that men committed; a new generation of feminists began to organize in the final years of the military dictatorship, pushing for greater civil equality as Brazil prepared to write its new constitution in 1988; and in 2006, Brazil finally passed the “Maria da Penha” law that increased penalties for domestic abuse (named after a woman whose husband shot her in 1983 while she slept, leaving her paralyzed, and then tried to electrocute her two years later; he remained free for 2 decades while the case made its way through Brazil’s infamously-slow legal system).

While legal and political equality have improved through these struggles, this new wave of feminism in Brazil pushes for equality beyond political realms, arguing that real equality has to address real lived social and cultural experiences. Thus, it is not enough for women to have the right to vote; they should be able to use their bodies and minds as they wish, without restrictions from patriarchal norms; they should be equally respected for their cultural and social contributions; the abuse and denigration, physical or verbal, of women in society should be abolished. While generalized, these goals of this new generation of feminists like Boladona does point to a subtle-but-significant shift in how women are mobilizing for equality in Brazilian society.

Of course, in addition to dealing with the struggles women continue to face in Brazil, the article also ends up tapping into the latent classism and prejudice against those associated with the streets:

Silvana Coelho, 23, is involved in the mural. In an atmosphere considered revolutionary like that of the “pichadores”, she knew this to be a cultural struggle.

“It’s a man’s world. I suffered a lot of harassment from the artists themselves. Sometimes they called me to paint, with ulterior motives. But I got angry and told them: ‘I am an artist of the street, I’m not any one of those street women, I’m here to do my art,’” she tells IPS.

Coelho’s statement is a complicated one. On the one hand, it works further towards pushing for the acceptance of street art as a “legitimate” art-form, and not a meaningless criminal activity (as arbitrarily defined by political and cultural elites). At the same time, the fact that she insists she’s an “artist” and not a “street woman” [i.e., homeless] sets up a clear dichotomy where her activity is justified because she’s not a member of the urban poor, in turn reinforcing the cultural and social prejudices against the urban poor in Brazil. It provides a powerful reminder that women are not the only group who continue to face inequalities and prejudice in Brazil, and that the inequalities facing the urban poor, including women, are also a real issue, even among some who claim to fight for equality in other arenas.

About Colin M. Snider

I have a Ph.D. in history, specializing in Latin American History and Comparative Indigenous History. My dissertation focused on Brazil. Beyond Latin America generally, I'm particularly interested in class identities, military politics, human rights, labor, education, music, and nation. I can be found on Twitter at @ColinMSnider.
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