Cover story June 95

Throughout the world the Brazilian woman has
earned a reputation for sensual indulgence and has been repeatedly
portrayed as exuding sensuality and being easy to get while at the same
time loyal and submissive. Those who have accepted this image might be
in for a shock. More and more the so-called fragile sex in Brazil is
asserting its rights and righting some wrongs.

Elma-Lia Nascimento

Throughout the world the Brazilian woman has
earned a reputation for sensual indulgence and has been repeatedly
portrayed as exuding sensuality and being easy to get while at the same
time loyal and submissive. Those who have accepted this image might be
in for a shock. More and more the so-called fragile sex in Brazil is
asserting its rights and righting some wrongs.

Elma-Lia Nascimento

It wasn’t until the 1934 Constitution that Brazilian
women won the right to vote. In that same year the first female was
elected to the Congress. Now, 50 years later, there are 119 women in
Congress and in state assemblies, including Carioca (from Rio) senator
Idalina da Silva, the first black woman senator in Brazilian history.

And the first woman governor in Brazilian history was
elected in last year’s November election. Her name is Roseana Sarney,
daughter of former President José Sarney. She is now the governor of
Maranhăo, a northeastern state with a population of five million. Ruth
Cardoso, the new first lady, is light years away from the first
lady-image of Nancy Reagan or Imelda Marcos. In many ways, Ruth Cardoso
is the Brazilian version of Hillary Clinton.

The 1991 Census shows Brazil with 74,381,317 women
versus 72,536,142 men. What this means is that they represent 50.63% of
the total population. This disparity, however, is bigger in the
Northeast and Southeast (with the exception of Santa Catarina state).
The lack of men is particularly dramatic in the big cities, where there
are 3.5 million more women than men.

The city of Săo Paulo has 7.9 million women for 7.5
million men. In Rio, women outnumber men by about 320,000. Regions with
a predominantly male population are those in the North and Center-West
areas, which have drawn large contingents of men looking for job

Adding to this dearth of men, Brazilian women have
also become much pickier than their mothers or grandmothers. In a study
about the female population, Elza Berquó, from CEBRAP (Brazilian Center
for Analysis and Planning) found out that women today “want a complete
relationship in all aspects: affective, sexual and intellectual.”

“The age of a woman is still very important,” notes
Berquó, analyzing what she sees as a dramatic shrinkage of the
“marriage market”, “when she turns 30, her chances of getting a partner
are reduced.” The most common age for Brazilian women to marry is 23.

The disparity between the male and female population
has been a godsend for the matchmaking industry. At Săo Paulo’s Happy
End, for example, 63% of the 3,000 plus registrants are women. The vast
majority of applicants have a college degree and belong to the
so-called A & B classes, the most affluent.

In Belo Horizonte, capital of Minas Gerais, the lack
of men is so acute that even matrimonial agencies are not able to
survive. This city with a population of 2 million has an excess of
100,000 women. Olympia Gazel, a radio personality, founded a
matchmaking agency in 1982, but closed two years later due to the ratio
of men to women on her books: 20 women for every man. She reopened the
business in 1992 and now has a more manageable figure: four women for
each man. But to get to this point she had to start recruiting males
from other Brazilian states, especially from Bahia. In Belo Horizonte
women as young as 15 are having trouble finding someone to date.

It hasn’t always been like this. During the 1870’s
the lack of women was so dramatic that in places like the state of
Minas Gerais where there was gold fever, the authorities appealed to
families to not send their daughters to convents or even to other

After 30 or so, never-married single women are called solteironas (spinsters). In a slightly more compassionate sense they are referred to as the “as que ficaram para tia
(the ones who will be aunts). To cope with the present situation,
however, women seem to be overcoming the stigma tied to growing old
without marrying. And they are marrying less and less. While the state
of Săo Paulo registered the marriages of 207,089 women in 1980, this
number fell to 196,231 in 1990, even though the state population
increased by two percent during that period.

Sociologist Rosa Maria Vieira de Freitas from SEADE
(State System for Data Analysis) says that the marriage document has
lost much of its appeal and that the terms single and married don’t
mean what they used to. “Thanks to sexual liberation, women don’t need
to be married to have sexual relations,” she explains.

A new way to marry – About 25% of marriages in Brazil
end up in divorce. In order to deal with conjugal unions in a more
businesslike matter, Congress is seriously studying the introduction of
what is being called “office marriage”. According to a bill already
approved by the Senate’s Constitution and Justice Commission, a couple
would be able to get a valid marriage contract without any interference
by the state. This contract can be converted into a civil marriage, but
the law doesn’t impose any deadline.

The concept is nothing short of revolutionary. If and
when approved the office marriage will make obsolete the present system
of civil marriage or any other kind of cohabitation. Presently, a woman
only acquires rights as a spouse after living together for five years.
In the office marriage these rights start immediately.

Before the 1977 legalization of divorce in Brazil all
marriages were in the so-called universal communion category. Nowadays
people automatically marry in a category called partial communion, in
which all possessions acquired before the marriage belong only to the

Even though most Brazilian jurists believe that
possessions acquired after marriage should be considered common
property, law scholar Priscila Corręa da Fonseca would like to see
total separation of all assets all the time. Now, to be able to do
this, couples have to enter into a pre-nuptial agreement in which they
present a complete list of earnings and possessions of each of the

All this new independence, however, hasn’t changed
macho attitudes and sexual harassment continues to be a common fact of
life. Even though more women have been reporting these assaults to
authorities, there is still a very small number who actually takes this
step. In Săo Paulo, the State Counsel for the Female Condition has
determined that 60% of the women who report sexual harassment never
take the next step and register the same complaint with the Women’s
Bureaus which have the power to make a police investigation. For the
most part they consider the official denunciation to be more
humiliating than the offense itself. And since sexual harassment is not
considered a crime under Brazilian law, it is very rare that somebody
accused of doing it is condemned.

The new penal code being written defines sexual
harassment in its article no. 195 as: “To annoy someone with proposals
of sexual content using relationships that involve work, family or
friendship ties with the victim.”

Those convicted of the crime would be condemned to a prison term of between six months and one year.

As in the US and many other so-called civilized
countries, physical abuse against women is still rampant. It’s
estimated that at least two women are assaulted every hour in Rio. On
average, Rio’s police receive complaints from 540 physically abused
women and 40 who are violated, every month. About 40 others are killed
during the same period. Police statistics show that for the most part
those women who are victimized are between 25 and 36 years old, have no
source of income and no place else to go. They present their grievances
and go back to the home in which they are being abused.

Young blood – In a recent interview with the weekly
magazine Isto É, Moacir Costa, a Paulista (from Săo Paulo) sexologist
said that by the year 2000, half of the Brazilian women will be
romancing young studs no more than 25 years old. Wishful thinking?
Costa, who is the author of Sexo: o Dilema do Homem (Sex:
the Man’s Dilemma), a book already in its fourth edition, believes that
this revolution has already started because a woman in her 40’s is in
her sexual prime while men of the same age are already “stressed out
and without energy”.

The scene of older women being escorted by younger
guys is becoming more and more common in Brazil, with some well-known
personalities leading the way. Actress Lady Francisco, 55, for example,
who is a connoisseur of younger men, can’t stand old fogies, calling
them “grumpy”. As for the under 30 crowd, she classifies them as “more
attractive”. Older men are also accused of working too much, being too
prejudiced, and not interested in having fun.

“This new behavior,” says Escola Paulista de
Medicina’s psychologist Maria Aznar Farias, “is part of the space
conquered by women.” Some men who’ve opted for romancing older women
say that they are much better at being independent and going directly
to the point, without “the circuitousness of a Forrest Gump”, as
expressed by Victor Martuchelli in the Isto É article.

Older women are also frequently credited for being
more caring and attentive to their partners. Some themes as anal sex
are still taboo among these mature Afrodites, but they don’t seem
afraid to chase pleasure in all places. They frequent single’s bars,
pay for sex, and carry condoms together with their make-up.

About 90% of all advertisers at a Folha de Săo Paulo
classified section called “Over 50 looking for over 50” are women.
Among the most cited attributes they look for in a prospective
candidate are sincerity, financial stability, readiness for commitment,
willingness to travel and have fun, culture, good humor, and no vices.

On another front, many women are still dying from
preventable causes such as gynecological diseases, parturition (there
are 150 maternal deaths for every 100 thousand births), pregnancy, and
certain curable cancers. Only 10% of women have periodical Pap smears,
a procedure that might prevent cervical cancer. As for birth control,
tubal ligation seems to be the method of choice. A 1986 study by IBGE
(Brazilian Institute for Geography and Statistics) has shown that while
41% of women take the pill — generally without medical supervision —
other 44.4% opt for the surgical tying of their fallopian tubes.
Abortion — an illegal practice — is also frequently used as a
contraceptive measure. It’s estimated that every year there are 1.5
million abortions in Brazil and that 10,000 women end up dying from the
operation. The complications of badly done abortions are the fifth
largest cause for hospital admission in the country and represent
almost $26 million a year in expenses to the state.

Officially 72 women die for each 100,00 live births.
Some doctors say the real number is closer to 150 deaths for 100,000
newborn children. The World Health Organization accepts no more than 20
deaths for 100,000 births.

The causes of this high mortality rate are toxemia
(53%), hemorrhage (21.4%), infection (17%), other direct complications
(14.8%) and abortion (9.7%).

Despite opposition by the powerful National
Conference of Brazilian Bishops (CNBB), Congress is studying a bill
that would give free access to men and women to procedures like
vasectomies or tubal ligations. This last operation, however, wouldn’t
be allowed before the woman is 30 years old.

Numbers from IBGE’s National Research by House Sample
show that about 15.8% of women between the ages of 15 and 54 are
sterilized, this amounts to around 6 million Brazilians. By comparison,
this rate is about 7% in developed countries.

Some experts, however, believe that there are at
least 10 million women sterilized in Brazil. One of these scholars is
Ana Maria Costa, a doctor specializing in the area of reproduction.
“There is an absurd amount of misinformation,” she says. “Women don’t
know about diaphragms, IUD’s, condoms or other alternatives, and end up
considering tubal ligation as the only safe method to avoid children.”
Costa observes that the absence of the State and the pressure of
international organizations interested in zero growth, have established
a sterilization culture in the country. The fertility rate among women
has fallen from 6.5 children for every woman during the 1940’s to 2
children nowadays. In the past the incentive to have children was
considered a national security issue by the military. On the other
hand, advances in medicine have allowed women who have ended their
fertile years to have children. Dozens of them, many older than 50, are
trying to have a child right now through less conventional methods.

Killer on the loose

Some murders of women in Brazil became international causes célčbres and have been used as examples of the lawlessness in the country. Among the most famous cases is the murder of Mineira

(from Minas Gerais) socialite Ângela Diniz who was shot and killed in
Búzios (Rio) in 1976 by Raul Doca Street, her boyfriend. Thanks to the
defense who turned Diniz from victim into defendant, and to the
argument that it was a crime of passion, Doca was condemned to only two
years in prison. The sentence so outraged women that they were able to
organize and force a second trial which ended up condemning the killer
to 15 years in prison.

Another infamous case where justice hasn’t prevailed
involved Rio’s Cláudia Lessin Rodrigues a student, who was raped and
then murdered during a party at the apartment of young millionaire
Michel Frank. Once more the defense was able to turn the situation
around insisting that Lessin Rodrigues in some way called death upon
herself by being in a place in which she wasn’t supposed to be. When
weeks after the murder the law finally decided to detain Frank, he
already had left the country.


Tubal ligation 44.4%

Pills 41.0%

Rhythm table 6.2%

Coitus interruptus 1.8%

Condom 1.8%

IUD 1.5%

Other 2.6%

In the mirror

Asked by polling company Datafolha to indicate what
part of their own body they appreciate the most, 21% of Brazilian women
chose their breasts. Judging by the number of plastic surgeries
performed it seems that this is the body part they are most worried
about. Contrary to American women, however, Brazilian women are more
likely to reduce their breasts instead of enlarging them when they look
for a plastic surgeon. Only two in ten breast operations are
enlargements. Curiously, even though the buttocks are the part most
valued by the Brazilian man in a woman (due to the American influence,
breasts are rising fast in popularity) only 8% of women consider this
their most valued body part, after legs (17%), face (14%), and “all
parts” (9%). But which are the parts women like the least in
themselves? The belly was chosen by 27%, followed by legs (12%),
breasts (11%), none (11%), and feet (8%).

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