Why do many foreigners see Brazilian women as sexual objects?

Note from BBT: Once again I’m taking a dive into the question of the image of Brazilian women outside of the country. My first exposure to Brazilian women, like probably millions of other males around the world were the images and videos that I saw coming out perhaps the country’s biggest yearly event, Carnaval. I can’t even say with any certainty when the images came into my consciousness, after all, before the year 2000, I didn’t really even quite understand the difference between Brazil and other countries in Latin America. It’s for this reason that I don’t trip when I come across Americans who still don’t know that Brazilians don’t speak Spanish. The way America’s education system works, I think most of us will just see most countries in South America as one big region without much distinction between each individual country.

I think that what gives Brazil a bit more of an identity, depending on what types of things you’re into, are its history as a soccer powerhouse, its beautiful beaches and the images of the sensuous, scantily clad, gyrating women that are broadcast all over the world. It would only be years later after my official introduction to Brazil that I would discover that this was no accident.

Brazilian women have actually been promoted by the country as one of the greatest attractions. This happened through not only Carnaval videos, usually from Rio de Janeiro, but also advertising campaigns that used bikini clad Brasileiras on tourism brochures in European countries. To add to all of this, because of the globalization of music, nowadays those who enjoy music outside their country are now also exposed to a new generation of funkeiras (funk singers and fans) who are quick to show off the Brazilian version of ‘twerking ‘.

Brazilian women dancing funk

All that aside, the reason that I wanted to discuss this a little more is because of the recent interest in Brazilian women in online communities, particularly the internet space known as the ‘man-o-sphere’, specifically, the ‘black man-o-sphere’. There have been a number of years now that African-American men have been traveling to numerous countries outside of the United States, sometimes participating in sexual tourism, other times genuinely searching for love outside of US borders.

Now, I could spend a lot of time analyzing the reasons leading black American men to search women in other countries, but that’s not the reason for my interest in diving into the topic. I will be exploring that in future videos, but I will simply acknowledge the rift between black American men and black American women as one of the primary reasons that’s leading perhaps thousands of black men to apply form their passports and head to other countries, one of which is Brazil.

Another reason I wanted to explore this topic has been the reaction that many African-American women have had when the topic is the so-called ‘passport bros’ community. This has been the nickname bestowed upon this segment of African-American males who have grown frustrated with trying to develop long-term relationships with African-American women with little success. In fact, Frustrated was the name of a popular 2011 documentary that explored why black American men were exporing other countries for female companionship.

In reaction to this, many African-American women have expressed disdain at seeing the rise of the ‘passport bros’ community. For a number of them, black American men who didn’t date black American women and chose to try their luck overseas were ‘losers’, men who couldn’t ‘handle’ black American women, men who were ‘dusty’, didn’t have the resources to give them the lifestyles they desired or were just plain ‘weak’ men that nobody even wanted. A number of these women have expressed their views that women in other countries were just cheap whores who were in search of an easy ‘ticket’ into the United States and who would deal with all of the BS that black men were serving up in the US.

From my 20 plus years visiting and living in Brazil, I can attest to the fact that there is far more to Brazilian women than the opinions of women who probably, in reality, know nothing about Brazil, much less Brazilian women. I won’t attempt to address this in just one video, but I will get more into this little by little. Today, I want to focus on a question that Brazilian women themselves have asked for awhile. Why is it that many foreigners see Brazilian women as simply sexual objects? There are numerous ways that this question can be discussed and debated. On the one hand, there are plenty of Brazilian women who live and fully participate in the stereotype. On the other, there is another side of Brasileiras that vehemently reject the hypersexual image associated with females that happened to be born in Brazil.

In my own experiences, I can tell you, as I have in several articles on the blog, there are all sorts of women in Brazil. After all, with more than 50 percent of the population being female, there are somewhere between 105-115 million females in Brazil and among them you have middle class, rich and poor, women with doctorate degrees as well as those who never finished elementary school, women who are very shy around men as well as those turn tricks for a living. So the first thing to know is that it’s not a good idea to typecast an entire country of girls and women, even if there is a certain type that seems to be portrayed in the media.

Why do many foreigners see Brazilian women as sexual objects?

“Are you Brazilian? Ah, I love Brazilian women,” says Santarosa Barreto’s work in English, made from the artist’s discomfort with the foreign view

By Aline Takashima for Universa

On a bright pink sign, a text in English outlined in neon says: “Are you Brazilian? Ah, I love Brazilian women.” The Instagrammable work by artist Santarosa Barreto, 34, was a success in the exhibition “Feminist Stories: artists after 2000”, at the São Paulo Art Museum, MASP, last year. The phrase, well known by Brazilian women who live abroad or have traveled abroad, sounds like a kind of flirtation. But it is more than a game of seduction.

The idea for the work came up when Santarosa was doing an artist residency in Paris in 2016. As the only Brazilian woman in the group, she noticed how men reacted when she told them her nationality. “The reactions were quite similar, most of them would say ‘Ah, I love Brazilian women.’ And, as much as I had seen this kind of response in other situations outside Brazil, it started to bother me deeply. It was visible how all the men said it as if it were a compliment.”

If the image of Brazilians outside the country is of a happy and friendly people, the image of women takes on erotic contours, often related to the sex market. This is why the artist chose to use neon, a light often used on the facades of prostitution houses in Paris.

“Frequently, Brazilian women are seen as prostitutes by foreigners. To exercise sex work is to exercise a job, of that I have no doubt, and I respect sex workers a lot. But I see that this association made by men from outside Brazil is full of prejudices, generalizations, and a lot of machismo.” The color pink, on the other hand, was chosen to make mention of the flattering, almost affectionate tone that contaminates these harassment situations. “It’s a pink, let’s say, ironic,” she summarizes.

For Beatriz Padilla, a PhD in sociology, professor at the University of South Florida and specialist in immigration and gender, Brazilian women are often seen and treated as being totally available to men abroad. “Some men don’t even consider that Brazilian women don’t belong to them.”

The Universa website addressed the issue by reporting that a group of Brazilian women in Portugal had banded together to denounce episodes of moral and sexual harassment abroad. After that, the report decided to look into the topic in search of the roots of this stereotype.

Tourist advertisements featuring Brazilian women

Woman as a tourist product

Between the 1960s and 1980s, the Brazilian government itself disseminated the figure of the sensual woman as a national tourist product. In a study based on the advertising campaigns of Embratur, the federal agency responsible for tourism, researcher Kelly Akemi Kajihara indicates that the government contributed to a collective imaginary of a sexualized Brazilian woman.

Posters and postcards showed women with shapely bodies, in bikinis on the beach, or half-naked, dancing the samba at Carnaval. The images didn’t always accompany the models’ faces. Many times only a butt illustrated the campaign.

One point that is quite problematic is the promotion of sexy women as a tourist product to be consumed like the beaches, landscapes, and popular festivals. Until today they are seen in many situations as easy, sensual and provocative Kelly Akemi Kajihara, researcher

These imaginaries generate a variety of social consequences, from unwanted compliments and sexist comments to cases such as child prostitution and trafficking of Brazilian women abroad. “This government incentive has contributed to Brazil entering the sex tourism route, and the most serious point is sex tourism with underage girls,” explains the researcher. Of the almost 2 million boys and girls who are victims of sexual exploitation worldwide, approximately 10% are Brazilian children, according to the Unicef (United Nations Children’s Fund).

According to the study, as of 2003, the Brazilian government definitely stopped using the figure of sensual women in its tourism advertising campaigns. However, Kelly says that the current government makes no effort to combat the stereotypes of sexualized Brazilian women.

She recalls a line by President Jair Bolsonaro, said at the Planalto Palace in April 2019: “Whoever wants to come here and have sex with a woman, be my guest. Now, [Brazil] cannot become known as a paradise of the gay world, of gay tourism.” The researcher points out that “such disservices are serious from a social point of view and make it even more difficult to deconstruct stereotypes.”

How a stereotype is born

Brazilian women, just like Brazilian men, are in every corner of the world. But in Portugal, it seems that the prejudice is clear, reports the group of women who created the group “Brasileiras não se calam”. Researcher Beatriz Padilla recovers the colonial imaginary to explain. She cites the novel “Iracema”, written by José de Alencar in 1865, which represents this image in a kind of foundation myth of the Brazilian people.

In the plot, the Indian Iracema seduces Martim, a Portuguese colonizer who explores the lands of the state of Ceará in the 16th century. She is described as the “virgin with honey lips”. In one episode, Iracema leads the Portuguese man into a sacred forest and prepares a hallucinogenic potion for her lover. Martin soon falls unconscious. Iracema then lies in his arms. Afterwards, a subtle indication in the text indicates that they had sex: “Tupã no longer had his virgin in the land of the Tabajaras.”

Iracema (1884) painted by José Maria de Medeiros and inspired by Alencar’s novel

The figure of the seductive Indian woman is soon replaced by the black woman, in an idea of mestiço harmony. “It’s an idea out of context. Men used women to satisfy their needs, especially black and indigenous women, who would originate the ‘mixed Brazilian people’,” says researcher Beatriz.

Gláucia Assis, a professor at the Santa Catarina State University, a specialist in emigrant women and gender relations, agrees with Beatriz: the colonizers beat and violated black and indigenous women. These past imaginaries are being updated. “Today, this idea that Brazilian women are prostitutes, sinners and available for a sexual encounter is present in the literature and advertisements that circulate in Portugal,” she says.

Based on this imaginary, women are divided between the good and the bad: “The colonizers’ wives are the good ones and the other enslaved and indigenous women are the bad ones,” Beatriz summarizes. Brazilian women, in turn, are seen as mixed women, categorized as “mestiço, mulatto, and non-white,” that is, the bad ones.

“In this sexist and racist culture that exists to this day, Brazilian women are disadvantaged abroad.” It is a common idea that men cannot resist Brazilian women. And, in their eyes, it is the women’s fault. “When the Brazilian woman resists this sexualized image, many times the Europeans don’t recognize their own discrimination.”

Popular funk singer Anitta

What does singer Anitta have to do with it?

As an export product, the rhythmic beat of Brazilian funk appeals to many countries. The United States, Portugal and Argentina are the places where the style is most listened to outside of Brazil, according to Spotify data. But, according to researcher Kelly Akemi Kajihara, funk – and its greatest expression, the all powerful Anitta, is not responsible for the stereotypical image of Brazilian women abroad.

“The sexuality of funk singers goes to a female empowerment side, like ‘I can be sexy, I can have sex if I want to’. It’s different from the image of the easy, eroticized woman seen in tourism campaigns, which has a very macho character and conveys the message that women are a product to be consumed.” (1)

Professor Gláucia Assis endorses Kelly. “The musical genre is a cultural expression of urban popular groups that is seen with many prejudices. Women abroad are definitely not discriminated against because of funk, but because of the stereotypical colonial imaginary of Brazilian women.”

Abroad, gender differences deepen. “These stereotypical views of an imagined Brazilian woman exoticize and insert Brazilian women in a position of inferiority. The sexualized gaze abroad is of a man from the north [hemisphere] to a woman from the south.”

Source: UOL Universa


  1. I DO take issue with this sort of argument. If I as a male directed a video by Anitta in which I requested that she show her ass to the camera and gyrate as much as possible, or Anitta herself directed the video and did the same, either way, she becomes sexualized. I’m just curious; if the male gaze is the same in both scenarios, how is there a difference?
About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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