Words and photos by Gaby Caplan
It just so happens that Rio Carnival and International Women’s Week coincide this year . If you are unaware of what Rio Carnival is, imagine New Orleans’ Mardi Gras celebration, Gay Pride, and an Olympic opening ceremony shoved into one massive, over-the-top event attended by over two million people. However, Brazilian locals know that the most fun happens during ‘blocos’, street parties held throughout the country for weeks both before and after the famous carnival samba parade.
Carnival is an escape from the everyday worries and troubled lives of most Brazilian people. Undoubtedly, a group of people needing an escape from a life that is oftentimes dangerous, violent and difficult, are the women of Brazil.
I had the surreal experience of attending a feminist themed bloco, an unusually safe space to celebrate Brazilian women of all shapes and size, most of whom were in extremely revealing costumes. Feminist blocos involve all-female musicians, garments which read ‘my breasts, my rules’ and promote several campaigns to report and crackdown on harassment, encouraging women to take control of their bodies.
These female-centered parties challenge traditional gender roles, and even make fun of derogatory names. At one feminist-themed block party this year, hundreds of women dressed up as animals they said they had been called on the streets by men: cows, piranhas, hens and cobras, among others, a hilarious middle finger up to common chauvinistic attitudes and a rebuttal to the constant derogatory attitudes of many men throughout the year in Brazil.
Flavia, who runs The Explorer Hostel in Santa Teresa says that, “Carnival marks five days off for Brazilian women.”
“They can wear what they want on the streets and not be bothered by men. There is a newfound respect for women during carnival which is absolutely nonexistent during the rest of the 360 days of the year… women become simply Brazilian.”
Carnival is, for Brazilian women, what football is for men; a chance to get in touch with their truest human characteristics and have free reign over freedom of expression. Throughout the parties as women embrace their beauty, men gaup in awe. The shift in power is palpable. Women accentuate their female aesthetic, whilst most men dress in typically female garments such as tutus or fairy costumes, and some attend in full drag.
Yet year round, Brazil is one of the countries with the highest prevalence of femicide (the harshest manifestation of violence against women), and an estimated 15 women are killed by men every day in Brazil (FLACSO). However, despite these shocking statistics, the liberated attitude of women and men alike during carnival is shocking. Carnival has become a wonderful vehicle for change and protest, which sparks debate and real lasting social shifts.
Thus, while it is true Brazil has a long way to go to addressing gender inequality, glimmers of a potentially bigger movement in the public dialogue are visible during Carnival. Hopefuls (myself included) believe that carnival is a good time to focus on gender equality, the question of female respect is posed amid partially dressed partygoers making it a lighthearted but topical conversation to be had, whilst also taking advantage of the ‘togetherness attitudes’ that surrounds the country during this special week.
By opening up the debate during carnival, it has far reaching consequences for women’s movements throughout Brazil and for the rest of the year. Although currently Brazilian women see carnival as their “5 days off a year”, I have a feeling this vacation period for them may extend itself, until it is never again a holiday but a way of life… ah, gender equality bliss!
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