A couple of days ago I was alerted to a ‘news’ story claiming that Brazilian women were celebrating a World Cup bonanza of men.
The report – published by reputable news agency Associated Press, and re-printed by renowned British broadsheet the Daily Mail (yes, I’m being ironic) – claimed the influx of foreign football fans had piqued the interest of Brazilian’s female population because they’re not as macho as local men, and also suggested a financial incentive to getting off with a gringo.
The 'logic' to this purported behaviour was that there are slightly more women in Rio than men; but it also pointed out this is the case in New York, but there are no anecdotal tales of American women hovering around tourists like bees around honey.
I’m not sensationalising the title or content – both stories can be viewed here for your leisure:
I found this story to be both offensive and weak: offensive because it reduced Brazilian women to a singular, sexualised entity that exists solely to pleasure rich men from Europe and the USA; weak because it was based on two conversations with named but faceless individuals who were selected because they were snogging foreigners at a FIFA Fan Fest.
I’ve been in Brazil for a month, and – as the ‘360’ title of my blog states – have spent much of that time speaking to locals and fans of every background and persuasion about their experiences, not just at the World Cup but in general, with relation to football and the social impact of this tournament.
Yes, it’s no secret that some Western men travel to developing nations with the intent of exploiting their heightened economic and social status to enjoy the company of women who would probably be unattainable in their homelands. Those men have places to go, and they are legal and regulated here in Brazil (and in Thailand).
But Brazil – a nation as diverse culturally as economically – simply cannot be reduced to a binary system of ‘poor desperate locals’ and ‘rich exploitative tourists’.
Additionally, having spent many an evening with supporters (male and female) of most nations here, I have only seen the occasional anecdotal example of cynical local women targeting a visitor on the basis of their nationality. Indeed, when I’ve been in bars or clubs, most Brazilian women appear content to stay within their social group, and some have run a mile when a group of pissed-up, marauding, kit-wearing males stumble on to the dancefloor. Who really likes a sausage fest?
The gringo exploitation analogy can be applied to taxi drivers or waiters ripping off tourists – yes, it happens on occasion, but most locals have been welcoming, friendly and not remotely interested in earning illicit gains, with exceptions proving the rule. Indeed, I have found FIFA to be the only culture specifically geared towards harvesting profit, with both locals and foreigners the victims.
Instead of mouthing off in the style of an outraged Twitter lefty, I elected to show the aforementioned article to a more representative selection of Brazilian women, to harvest their views on a. the perception that Brazilian women find local men too macho, and b. the perception that ‘gringos’ are an economic resource to be exploited.
Because Brazil’s national football team was again getting torn to pieces by those pesky northern Europeans, it was actually quite easy to draw the attention of local women to this article.
“Come on that’s bullsh***!”, “Rubbish!”, “Who is this journalist?”, young drinkers Julianna, Gabriela and Camilla chorused as they gawped at the article.
“That’s terrible reporting. Most Brazilian women are with Brazilian men, not because they are ‘better’ than foreigners, but because we live here, and culturally we have more in common,” Gabriela added.
“Some Brazilian men are promiscuous and macho, but plenty are not, and plenty of foreign men have old-fashioned ideas about women.”
“It’s not fair to generalise every Brazilian woman on a couple of girls trying to pick up gringos at a fan fest. Why are they at a fan fest in the first place?
"Did the journalist speak to any women who weren’t trying to pick up gringos? It’s like judging every Argentine on the guys making a mess in Rio right now. It’s worse actually.
“Yes, there are poor people in Brazil. And you can’t blame some for wanting a way out. But to say ‘Brazilian women’ are excited by all these foreign men turning up is stupid. Actually, a lot of us find the big groups of guys quite annoying.”
Another trio of Brazilian women were even more outspoken about this stereotype – they had actually seen the article beforehand, and it had been a topic of discussion prior to our conversation.
Carolina, a lawyer from Belo Horizonte visiting Rio de Janeiro to “have a party for the final”, called it “judgemental and prejudiced”.
“Brazil is a huge country. There are poor people; working class people; middle class people; upper class people.
“Me and my friends are what you would call ‘middle class’. I can understand if a girl from the favela wants a gringo man because it may be a route out of poverty, but most already have a man thank you very much, and are you telling me you don’t have that in Europe or the USA?”
(It is worth pointing out that the term ‘gold digger’ is not a Brazilian idiom)
“Yes, we have more people in poverty than we should have. Yes, this must change. But are we going to judge all Europeans on the behaviour of their poor?”
Tatiana, a travel agent, was even angrier.
“They’re suggesting that we are desperate for a nice European or American man to take us to heaven. I don’t want their f***ing passport. I have my own passport!”
Finance worker Juliana said nationality was irrelevant to most women – common ground was the key.
“Yes, if there’s a nice foreign guy, you talk to him; likewise a Brazilian. There is good and bad in every country, and there are good guys and bad guys everywhere.
“Maybe Brazilian guys are more promiscuous in general – but maybe other men would be if they looked like Brazilian men! But you could also say that European guys are cold emotionally. But you also have promiscuous men, right? Both are stereotypes.”
I pointed out that the journalist responsible for the original article was previously a fashion correspondent.
That elicited laughter. Fashion – where women dissect the looks of other women for the approval and money of men.
Carolina was happy to speak further on the matter.
“This article is unbalanced. The journalist has spoken to a couple of women and a guy, at a fan fest, where big groups of foreign men go to watch the game, and spoke to three people on the basis of their experiences with foreign men and local women.
“Why didn’t she come to a Brazilian bar and talk to people like us? Why did she speak to people at FIFA fan fest only?
“It’s not like we’re ‘high society’ – we are middle class women who work to earn a living.
“And you also have to remember, the stereotype of Brazilian women as being ‘easy’ is also nonsense.
“The majority of working class Brazilians are conservative, religious. They would not behave in this way.
“It’s a fantasy.”
Any Brits or Americans reading this article know full well that the same could be applied to their countries, as a college Frat Party or a night out in Newcastle’s Bigg Market or London’s Shoreditch would tell you.
I also spoke to a Brazilian who knows both cultures inside out – advertising worker Fabiana, born and raised in Rio but living and working in London for 12 years.
“If we're going to stereotype, Brazilian men may be more ‘macho’ than European men, but they’re also more relaxed. Some Brazilian women may see all foreigners as rich and a solution to their problems, but most know they would just be a holiday fling and that the man will go back to his wife or girlfriend.
“Everyone knows that the real way out of Brazil – if that’s what you want – is to study, work and get a job abroad. That’s less complicated than chasing tourists and hoping they’ll marry you – and if that’s what you want, there are websites for it.
"If you want to generalise about Brazilians, you see the majority as conservative Catholics looking to earn a living."
I spoke to several other Brazilian women over the course of the evening. Some told disparaging tales of gold-diggers seeking a way out; others pointed out that, despite having a female president, sexism is deeply entrenched in Brazilian street culture and they could see why some girls are drawn to 'gringos'; others said they preferred the macho Brazilian male "because he's better in bed".
There’s a difference between a journalist speaking to a couple of locals, and gauging local sentiment by interviewing a cross-section of society.
If a journalist is going to speak to one or two people to get a wider view of cultural practices, at least get a back story, a personal history, an understanding of why such behaviours exist. Talk to a sociologist. An anecdote will not suffice.
But to generalise an entire nation’s women on the basis of a sweaty, drunken clinch with an Italian football fan, or to dismiss a country's dating culture because a local didn't want fancy going Dutch on an American's restaurant bill?
Leave it on the catwalk.
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- Rio de Janeiro