Among the deluge of advice I got before departing for Brazil, one common piece was to beware of the Brazilian men. I brushed it off along with “strap your passport to your body at all times!” but I realize now that the first piece of advice is more relevant than I ever could have anticipated.
On the beach, we now know not to look over even at an extraordinarily riotous sneeze. If a guy whispers “gostosa” directly into your cochlea, keep right on moving. If you feel a strong hand pulling on your arm, pull back with as little force as possible and pump those legs until you reach a safe distance. If a homeless child spanks you as you walk away, shrug it off. I have never considered myself a wilting flower, but the invasion of space and boundaries that all the girls here have experienced has elicited a response from me that I’m not proud of: one of cautious embarrassment and dread.
Salvador is a brilliant city with a wealth of culture and history, which I love to hear about when we tour around and hear from professors. The incongruous skyline of favelas and high rise apartments paired with the bright blue coastline incite a yearning to dig deep into every pocket of the city, which is only increased every time I learn something new about its glory days in the 1500s or its diverse modern population.
But after a month here, one cannot gaze at Salvador’s many qualities through rose-colored glasses. Just like the United States, its past is not spotless. As late as the 1990’s, sterilization campaigns were led to forcibly prevent women from reproducing. As a University of Salvador professor told us, we are now living in a society of machismo, where men rarely wash their own dishes. The term “date rape” doesn’t exist in the Brazilian culture, let alone the legal system. The laws for divorce do not allow women to immediately remarry which is not true for the men. And of course, it is completely normal for men to voice their opinions on a woman in public, be it from across the street or right in what Americans call our “space bubble”.
I don’t take the catcalls as a personal affront and I no longer flinch when I walk with another fellow who is the subject of a male’s exclamations. My safety has yet to be compromised, my limit is far from being reached. For now, I’ll just keep my sunglasses on and keep moving.