A few weeks ago I blogged about the stereotypes commonly surrounding crime in Brazil; and in keeping with the theme of Brazilian stereotypes, I plan to spend the next few blog posts focusing on another of Brazil’s enigmas…its women.
(Takes a deep breath, cracks knuckles and stretches)
Right, let’s do this!
My inspiration for wanting to write about Brazilian women came from a party I was at recently, where I was introduced to a friend of a friend. After she’d discovered I was from the UK, this woman was quite keen to tell me about her time studying in London. The conversation progressed from places she’d visited, to British indie bands she liked.….where she reeled off a list of bands that, unfortunately, I’d never heard of.
“I love Alt-J” she said with such a contagious enthusiasm that I found myself declaring my love for them too, despite having never heard of them. “Imagine naming yourself after two keys on a keyboard” I thought, as she then told me about other British bands she liked, many of whom again I’d never heard of.
The mood then became a little more serious when she explained that there was one thing she thought was strange about the time she’d spent living in the UK. “People were often surprised when I told them that I was Brazilian. ‘But you’re so pale!’ they used to say. One guy even made me show him my passport to prove I really was from here. He thought I looked too white to be Brazilian”.
I’m gonna hold my hands up now and admit that I can understand why someone from the UK might have wondered this. As I looked at her again, one thing that struck me was that she really didn’t look like those images of the Brazilian woman we are offered in the media back home. In fact, her dyed black hair really seemed to accentuate the marble whiteness of her skin to such an extent, that she looked more Morticia Adams than she did carnival queen.
After sighing, I asked “they really didn’t believe you?”
“That’s right” she confirmed, “it’s true”. Finding I’d done right with my first sigh, I did it again, which encouraged her to continue. “I suppose I just don’t look look Brazilian to some people abroad”.
Before coming here, I too assumed women would adhere to the stereotypical image the world is offered around carnival time. This is when the media bombards us with images of sun kissed, curvy women walking along the beaches in Rio; and these images are often posted alongside near-naked carnival queens dancing on top of floats. Do many other types of Brazilian women filter through into our media during the rest of the year, like pale Brazilian girls in their sweaters in the middle of winter? Well none that I remember, but of course…these women still exist here.
|“I wish they’d just put some samba on already!”
And this conversation got me thinking; what a shame some people had challenged her on whether she was Brazilian or not.
One thing I appreciate about living here is that the country is so multicultural. It doesn’t really have a single ethnic identity because it is made up of a mixture of so many different races and cultures. So for my fellow Brits not to have realised this when talking to this woman is quite disappointing. But is it entirely our fault?
No. I really don’t think it is. Especially when you consider that sometimes even Brazilians have trouble picking out other Brazilians from a crowd.
According to one of my Brazilian students of Japanese heritage, down the road in Rio she often encounters locals who assume she’s not Brazilian. “Andrew, whenever I go there so many Cariocas (people from Rio) assume I’m not from Brazil, they speak to me in English and try to charge me extra for things because they think I’m foreign. But then to them I guess I don’t look Brazilian, I look Japanese. But not so many Brazilians of Japanese descent live in Rio”.
This really baffles me because the city of Sao Paulo is home to the largest population of Japanese outside of Japan and is just 220 miles away from Rio.
|Liberdade, known as the Japanese district in Sao Paulo.
But then when you look at where immigrants have settled throughout Brazil, they haven’t spread evenly throughout the country. For example large communities of Brazilians of African descent can be found towards the north of the country, Brazilians of German descent tend to gravitate towards the south and there are also (to name just a few) pockets of Italians, Portuguese and Bolivians scattered around Brazil too.
So with such an array of ethnicities then, it goes without saying that women in this country are going to look different depending on where you are.
A few weeks ago I heard about another difference between the Brazilians in different regions. It was one that I’d not really given any thought to…their height.
Tall Brazilian Women
So I was at my friend’s wedding where I got talking to a tall, beautiful woman, with long, dyed-blonde locks. After asking her where she worked, she told me that she spent most of her time in Manaus (a city in the north of Brazil). “ I’ve been single for so long, and I’m not really in Sao Paulo for long enough to be involved with anyone here. But of course, there’s little chance of me meeting a guy in Manaus…I’m seen as a bit of a freak over there”. At this she tossed her hair over her left shoulder and looked down at the floor, obviously waiting for me to enquire a little further.
I didn’t get it, why would this attractive, tall Brazilian woman find it difficult to find a man to date in the north of the country? Was she looking down at her webbed feet? Was she about to tell me that she was actually a man? Intrigued, I naturally dug a little deeper….in the most subtle way I could think of.
“Eeeeeer….what do you mean?”
“Well” she began without a seconds hesitation, “it’s because I’m so much taller than the majority of the women up there. In fact, the guys in the office have a nickname for me because of my height”. She then paused to look at me with eyes I’d seen once before…on a wounded puppy on the TV show Animal Hospital.
Her voice lowered as she continued, “they call me…the Avatar”.
Fast forward a few seconds later and I really felt bad for laughing. In an attempt to redeem myself though, I immediately managed a serious expression which I felt helped me to look a little more sympathetic.
|“Hiya lads, anybody want to take me out
this Saturday night!?! I’m still free!”
“They don’t do they?” I asked sounding quite concerned, with only a hint of amusement still audible in my voice.
“Yes, ‘the big Avatar from Sao Paulo’ is my nickname over there. So it’s easier for me to find someone down here, where I’m not so tall”.
I’ve not had many dealings with people from the north of Brazil, so I’d not really thought of them as being any smaller than people from the rest of the country.
So next time you hear about a ‘Brazilian woman’ and the image of a certain type of lady pops into your head…stop for a moment. Brazil is such a huge country with such a rich and diverse ethnic tapestry that although that woman you’ve just thought of probably lives here; she is likely to be just one of a very large number of women calling Brazil their home.