So I was asked to speak about the position of women in Brazilian society last week. The talk was to serve as an introduction to a play called A Voz Humana, directed by an Amsterdam-based Brazilian director named Marcos Rabello. In light of International Women’s day, the author and director of the play thought it would be interesting to have someone contextualize the reality that Brazilian women live in. I was asked to keep the talk under 15 minutes, which I think was a good exercise because I actually managed to do it without having to simplify what I wanted to say too much.
It was my first ever public lecture (!). I studied sociology in my undergrad and am now following an urban studies research program in grad school. I have always been interested in questions of gender and sexuality and I actually specialized in those themes during my undergrad. It changed my world completely.I had always been sensitive to these issues, but I had no idea what I had coming to me when I signed up to my first gender class in the political sciences department.
See, I was forced to look at myself in a way I had never done before. Biases, prejudices, sexism, privilege. I thought being a woman and an immigrant from the global-south as well as a sociology student pretty much meant I was saved from being an asshole. But here’s the thing: we all live in the same twisted society. And, as much as I tried to deny it, I was no exception. I grew up watching the same Disney movies and romcoms and action films and reading the same glossy magazines that cloud everyone’s better judgement. I learned to hate my body and think in a dichotomy of men-versus-women my entire life. And, not at all unimportant: I’m a fairly middle-class, educated girl who has traveled the world. I was just as susceptible to becoming an opinionated yet somewhat ignorant shit as the next person. Slowly, and god-awfully painfully, all of this started to change.
I like to think of gender studies as the study of diversity. It’s almost like a pair of glasses that you put on that make everything so much clearer, brighter and real.The only problem is that often the real is pretty ugly and let me tell you, try as you may – mostly to keep yourself from hating the people you love who say pretty fucking offensive shit all the time – those damn glasses do not come off.
This talk was particularly special to me because never before had I had the chance to be the one to expose people to these ideas about gender equality that had changed my life years earlier. Terrified as I was about whether I would be able to keep my nerves under control and deliver my message, doing it was an absolutely empowering experience. Standing in front of some of the people I have known my entire life and saying “I’m a feminist” leads to enough hostility sometimes. Still I felt that saying it in front of this group of strangers was absolutely necessary. Firstly because no, I was not trying to play the tiresome role of the unbiased scientist on that occasion. I was stepping out of academia for the night and I was just going to be Laura the girl for once. But secondly because people need to stop thinking of feminism as a dirty, uncool word. Women need to start having some courage to admit to themselves and the world that equality has not yet been achieved and that we still think that’s some seriously unacceptable bullshit! Whatever stereotypes people have developed around feminism should really be set aside because, frankly, so long as there are people telling women to ‘go make a sandwich’, we really (yes, you too) do still need feminism.
The YouTube link below has a short introduction in Dutch but the talk is in English: