The Brazilian government department for policies for women took action this week against a series of lingerie ads starring supermodel Gisele Bündchen, which it deemed “offensive and sexist”. In the ads, titled Hope Teaches, the model gives her husband bad news such as “honey, I’ve crashed the car” or “honey, I’ve reached the credit card limit … both mine and yours” – first fully dressed (which they teach viewers is wrong), then wearing tiny lingerie (which, according to Hope, is right). Essentially, women are taught to use their charm and sexy lingerie to control their husbands. Sigh.
Former football blogger Lila Salles, 31, a translator from Rio de Janeiro, thinks the ad is quite funny, despite being extremely sexist: “I don’t think calling for it to be banned was the best way of dealing with it. Perhaps another ad with a heartthrob wearing trunks in the same situation would be a nice payback and a more effective response than censoring it.” I agree with Lila, but I agree with the government too.
When Dilma Rousseff, the first-ever woman to become president of Brazil, was elected in October last year I was incredibly proud. For the first time, the country where I grew up officially recognised the value, competence and ability of a womanby choosing her to be its head of state. It was, after all, the country where I grew up being told to refrain from making comments about football (“women had nothing interesting to say about it”) and witnessing men make the most appallingly offensive remarks to and about women. It is the country where other advertisements are generally populated with half-naked attractive women, where women are encouraged to wear almost nothing during carnival, and where they very much struggle in the workplace to have the same opportunities and salaries as their male counterparts.
More importantly, it is the place where recent research figures show at least 43% of women have suffered from domestic violence and where 70 per cent of murder cases where victims are female relate to domestic violence. It was under president Lula da Silva that the department for policies for women was created in 2003. Iriny Lopes, the minister currently in charge of it, was appointed by Rousseff at the beginning of her term in January this year. Lopes drafted the Maria da Penha law five years ago, to offer protection to women who were victims or likely to become victims of domestic violence.
Despite Rousseff not making any statements herself about the calls to ban the ad, Lopes, when notifying the National Council for Advertising Self-regulation – an independent advertising regulatory body with a statutory backstop – of her wish to have the ads banned, she was most certainly echoing the president’s thoughts on the matter. Unfortunately, for a government faced with such horrendous numbers in the fight against violence that specifically affects women, the sexist, belittling message the ad carries is no laughing matter. Couple that with Brazil’s desperate attempts to drop its status as a sex tourism haven, and you have a seriously bleak picture of the situation of many women in that country.
As a stark defender of freedom of speech, I found it harsh that the government called for the ad to be banned, despite understanding their reasons behind it. At the same time, my stomach churns when I think educated Brazilian men and women working for advertising agencies still feel the need to portray our women as being dependent or fearful of their husbands, giving them a “good-humoured” solution to avoid a bollocking. I would like to see less scantily clad women in Brazilian media in general, as I believe that could potentially help us display our other attributes and earn more respect from our society. After all, we can undoubtedly be great journalists, academics, traders, teachers or entrepreneurs without having to don nothing but sexy lingerie to get to where we want.
Interestingly, I talked to 33-year-old lawyer and magistrate Miriam Rodrigues, from Rio de Janeiro, who thinks the ads are not offensive to women. In fact, in her opinion, they just show how easily manipulated some men can be: “To watch Gisele showing clearly that a clever woman can get anything from a man just by behaving in a sexy manner shows a sort of caveman quality that some guys have, and that intelligent women know how to take advantage of it.”
I disagree because, in my opinion, women should never have to undress to make a point, whatever that may be.
This piece first appeared at The Guardian.