Geisy Arruda made history this week in Brazil, but for all the wrong reasons. What began as a poorly planned fashion statement has become a worldwide tale. Geisy decided to wear a pink mini-dress to her private college in São Paulo state, and after that, all hell broke loose.
As with most titillating stories these days, her activities were captured on youthful cellphone cameras and displayed on YouTube. As is typical with the viral nature of these sagas, not to mention that lawyers are now involved, I can’t tell for sure exactly what Geisy did or didn’t do. Other than her dress, it’s come down to a battle between her lawyers and her university.
Outside of Brazil, little would have been made of Geisy’s behavior had her university not elected to expel her just before the final exams of her freshman year. According to the university, much soul-searching was done on their part before such a grave decision was made. The search included hours of interviews with fellow students and teachers, as well as Geisy herself.
Geisy pleaded with university elders to be allowed to return to take her exams and thus get credit for completing one year of her tourism program. She promised she would then withdraw from Bandeirante University and take her pink fashion statement elsewhere. The university said they feared for her safety and in fact police had to be called in to escort her from the campus on the day of the “event,” October 22.
As a tourism student, Ms. Arruda is no doubt familiar with the customs of the US, which is probably the most litigious country on the planet. Following her expulsion, Geisy held a press conference, accompanied by seven lawyers, where she claimed if a security guard or professor had informed her of her inappropriate clothing, she would have immediately gone home and changed.
She denied the school’s accusations that it was not only her dress that caused a near riot but her “behavior and attitude.” She also denied another reason given for her expulsion – that this was not the first time she’d flaunted the dress code and been warned about it.
I was proud to see Brazil’s Education Ministry as well as the Minister of Women’s Policy voice their support for Ms. Arruda, or at least demand an explanation from the university for her expulsion. Brazil is not exactly famous for its women’s liberation.
Lo and behold, thanks to YouTube, Geisy’s seven lawyers, and the Education Ministry, Geisy’s pink voice was heard round the world, and the university has backed down and agreed to reinstate her. I would call that a major victory for mini-skirts. Twiggy would be proud. Recently, several Brazilian celebrities showed their support for Arruda by using the color pink on the frame of their Twitter photos, as well as writing messages of support.
As an American male, I’m personally in support of Ms. Arruda and pleased to see she will be returning to school. On the other hand, she may want to reconsider her next outfit, for her personal safety if nothing else. I have to imagine she would be nervous about returning to campus, and no matter what she wears, she’s going to be recognized and in need of friends, if not her own security team. I would also suspect her school intends to hold her to her verbal agreement to withdraw next month at the end of the school year, and they will breathe a sigh of relief when she does.
Several questions come to mind over this incident, and I wish I had answers for them. First, if Ms. Arruda is Brazilian and grew up in Brazil, which I presume she did, she must have known her attire was not appropriate. Where I live, in Curitiba, women and girls do not wear skirts or dresses to college or high school or even to work at their companies.
Pants are the customary dress code for women. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me if Geisy’s university had no officially printed dress code, as many schools, even in the US, don’t. But if anyone thinks young females are not aware of what other girls are wearing, they don’t live on this planet.
I also wonder if it’s true that Geisy had exhibited this lack of fashion sense in the past. If so, perhaps it was her intention to attract attention, and she’ll soon be looking at job offers or queries for a reality TV show.
It’s also fascinating to note, as was mentioned in the Associated Press coverage of the story, that there is a contradiction in the Brazilian dress code mandates, e.g. thong bikinis, which are rare in the US but popular in Brazil, are the norm for the Brazilian beach, but in college, it’s jeans and a T-shirt.
Here’s another example: Although mini-skirts are considered inappropriate in Brazil for the office or school, they are quite commonly worn in the evening at parties, restaurants, and clubs. Additionally, although skirts and dresses are not often worn by professional women at work, it’s not considered inappropriate for a woman to wear a transparent blouse in the office and to display cleavage, certainly a lot more exposure than I’ve seen in the American workplace.
Certainly every country has its unwritten societal rules of behavior and who knows where they come from. Suffice it to say, Brazil can’t be the only country where there are contradictions.
Not only is it interesting to observe the contradictions, it’s also worth noting the rigidity of these rules. From my personal observations, the conformity to fashion codes is more rigid in Brazil than in the US. In Curitiba, for example, not only is long hair on men out of fashion, but so is facial hair. With a metropolitan population of nearly three million, I have not seen men with beards or moustaches anywhere. Similarly, long hair on women is in fashion, and I never see women under 60 with short hair.
Another element I find interesting in Geisy’s story is the peer pressure angle. When I was a teenager, I remember my parents and teachers telling me that if someone didn’t like me, I should ignore him. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me,” the saying went. However, the reality is peer pressure is impossible to ignore; it can be life altering.
Teens who are shunned by their peers may grow up to be suicidal or even homicidal. In this regard, I have to come down on Geisy’s side. I think she was brave to stand up to the boys who were calling her a whore for violating fashion rules. And the macho/sexist element is only part of the story: According to a source listed in a news story on this website, the first signals of distress on October 22 came not from male sexual harassment but from other female students.
A still deeper element that has yet to be discussed is the possibility that Ms. Arruda had other things on her mind besides studying or attracting attention. It is common knowledge among Brazilians that many college coeds work for escort services in their spare time. Women who work for escort services are by definition young, and college women are often in need of money to pay for their education. It’s a perfect match.
High-class prostitution is common all over the world, but I’d venture to say it’s less stigmatized in Brazil than most other places. Again, why that is, I have no idea. However, if you ask any Brazilian college student who these girls are, they will point them out. They’re the girls who drive expensive cars to school instead of taking the bus, and wear $300 pairs of jeans and nice jewelry.
They are hardly inconspicuous. I have no evidence to suggest that this after-school activity applies to Ms. Arruda, and I don’t mean to suggest that it does. And even if it did, that is not cause for her expulsion or even moral condemnation. But if nothing else, perhaps it explains her clothing, whereby she had a “date” after class.
Needless to say, Geisy, or her lawyers, have won the first round in a battle that may not be over yet. She has already been offered full scholarships to attend two other colleges, and who knows what she’ll wear on her first day of class there. Perhaps the schools welcome the additional publicity, and she’ll become a feminist celebrity.
I would also add if Bandeirante University or the Education Ministry of Brazil thinks the fashion wars are over, they need only to look at France’s battles with Muslim girls wearing chadors to school. Or how will Brazil react when it is faced with the challenges occurring in US schools? For example, there is the 15-year-old American boy who wants to wear a skirt to school. He has already told his parents and friends that he’s gay but admits privately he’s never had sex.
I certainly don’t fault Geisy’s university for expelling her, as her presence raised, and now with her reinstatement, will continue to raise security issues. Nor do I fault Geisy for daring to break the fashion taboos. She may have been ignorant and foolish, but she certainly had courage, Madonna kind of courage.
However, I still want to know what Geisy was thinking on October 22, assuming this was the only time she jumped the rigid wall of acceptability. Had she been in regular attendance for an entire school year and not noticed that all the other girls only wore jeans?
Geisy would have been even more courageous, in my opinion, although probably dishonest, if at her press conference she claimed her pink transgression was a test for the university, a provocation to rigid unwritten fashion codes that often don’t make sense, a wake-up call to women all over Brazil who were locked out of the feminist revolution that swept the US in the 1970s when Brazil was under a military government. American feminists may enjoy dressing in pants, but they enjoy even more breaking the rules of oppression.
I will be interested to see where Ms. Arruda turns up next year for her second year of college. Perhaps she should consider the US, where mini-skirts are acceptable college attire, and at the same time, if she were so inclined, she could start another fashion revolution with a beach thong.
Michael Rubin is an American living in Curitiba, Brazil. He can be contacted at email@example.com.