RIO DE JANEIRO – Ana Lobo, who is six months pregnant, was at a pre-Carnival street party last weekend when a man started yelling and calling her names.
“Whore!” she remembered him saying, apparently because she was wearing a revealing top.
“Some men have this feeling that they can do whatever to your body,” said Lobo, a 29-year-old artist who later that night attended one of the many feminist-themed parties. “It’s time for women to take advantage of this moment” to push back.
Many women in Latin America’s largest nation are doing exactly that during this year’s Carnival celebrations, with block parties of all-female musicians, shirts, necklaces and crowns with messages like “my breasts, my rules” and several campaigns to report and crackdown on harassment.
The #metoo movement against harassment that is roiling the U.S. has yet to catch on in Brazil, which has one of the world’s highest homicide rates for women, according to the Brazilian non-profit Mapa da Violencia.
But while women’s groups say that Brazil has a long way to go to address inequality and ingrained machismo, they see glimmers of a potentially bigger movement in the public dialogue about harassment during Carnival and what authorities and several organizations are doing to crack down on it.
The massive party officially begins Friday and goes through Wednesday, but in some cities, such as Rio de Janeiro, it’s a multi-week event. The hundreds of block parties often include heavy drinking and round-the-clock samba dancing and they come during the Southern Hemisphere’s sweaty summer month of February, when the heat drives many to wear few clothes.
Debora Thome, who in 2015 co-organized a block party called “Mulheres Rodadas,” or “Women Who Get Around,” says Carnival is a good time to focus on fighting harassment because it forces the question of respect amid scantily dressed partygoers.
“A woman can be naked in the street and nobody should be allowed to touch her,” said Thome, a former reporter currently working on a doctorate on female participation in Brazilian politics.
Mulheres Rodadas began as a reaction to photo that went viral on Facebook of a man holding a sign in Portuguese saying he “didn’t deserve a woman who gets around.”
Thome and co-founder Renata Rodrigues announced plans for a block party protest as a joke, and within 24 hours more than 1,000 women said would attend. They knew they had struck a nerve.
“Carnival is just a small piece of a much larger problem,” said Rodrigues.
Since then, several other feminist-themed street party groups have been formed in cities nationwide.
They include all-female bands and edgy themes that push back at traditional gender roles and even make fun of derogatory names. At one recent feminist-themed block party, hundreds of women dressed up as animals they said they had been called on the streets: cows, piranhas, hens and cobras, among others.
Roma Neptune, a 29-year-old high school sociology teacher, says learning to play the agogo — a percussion instrument that, like all others during Carnival, is usually played by men — has been empowering. However, she is disillusioned by men who claim to be supportive but are not.
“They say they are against machismo but won’t put their hands in the fire when a woman is in dangerous situation,” said Neptune, who dressed as a cow and played in the band.
Anderson Semme, one of a few dozen men at the same block party, agreed.
“Men’s role is to recognize we were wrong for a long time and now do the right thing,” said Semme, a 34-year-old computer technician.
As she listened to the music with her 3-year-old daughter, Maria Marzal reflected on why she wanted to join the party. The emergency room nurse said that every shift she sees at least one woman who has been raped.
“It’s a real fear, a cruel fear,” said Marzal, 27.
Last year, military police in Rio received 2,154 calls about violence against women during Carnival. Noting that figure means one woman was assaulted every few minutes, security officials and several non-government groups that have launched campaigns against harassment.
Thousands of stickers are being handed out with messages like “‘No’ is ‘no!'” and “Grabbing me won’t get you a kiss!” websites encourage women report harassment and direct them to police stations.
Maj. Claudia Morais, a Rio police officer who focuses on crimes against women, says the discussion is a step in the right direction, but that women must go beyond that and make reports when incidents happen.
Recent changes in the law have made it easier to prosecute aggressors for rape even if there wasn’t intercourse, added Morais, who gave the example of a man who has been charged with rape for recently ejaculating on a woman in a public bus.
“At the very least, a guy who gets arrested and goes before a judge will think twice” about assaulting a woman in the future, she said.
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