Women in Brazil Are Footing Too Many Bills -- And Not Writing Enough of Them

Women shout slogans against possible changes in abortion laws as Congress debates a new abortion bill in Rio de Janeiro, Braz
Women shout slogans against possible changes in abortion laws as Congress debates a new abortion bill in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015. The proposed bill would make it a crime to induce or assist a pregnant woman with an abortion. Currently, only women who were raped, whose life is in danger, or whose fetus is gravely deformed can legally have an abortion. The new law, if passed, would require a rape victim to get a forensic exam and file a police report to prove they are the victim of sexual violence. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

Over the last few weeks, Brazil has experienced a flurry of activity that does women no great service.

Valentina, a 12-year-old star of a kid cooking reality-show, received a ton of unwanted sexual attention. The first instigating tweet asked, " Is it rape if there is consent?"

On the political sphere, Brazilian congress is currently assessing two bills; the most ludicrous one is the amendment that criminalizes heterophobia. Preposterous in its very nature, this is a transparent attempt to derail congressional attention from the bigger fish we have to fry: the ever pervasive, gargantuan corruption scandals that plague so much of Latin America and for which Eduardo Cunha, the proponent of this bill, is under investigation.

Heterophobia is a productive idea though. It has produced some of the funniest memes on social media: empty cliffs or tumbleweeds where the captions read "number of people who've lost a job to heterophobia."

The more profound x-ray of our gender troubles is called PL 5069: this bill narrows the definition of rape to a single act and makes neither HIV testing kits, nor day-after pills available. Adding insult to injury, it criminalizes medical assistance lent to victims of sexual abuse who wish to abort. Rape has been the sole exception that allows legal abortions in Brazil.

This bill generated a huge outcry on my timeline, sadly, far too few from my male friends and colleagues.

The predictable thing here would be for me to bemoan that in my country this is still a woman's problem. But that too would be inaccurate. It is a poor woman's problem, because wealthy abuse victims can still afford these treatments.

In this context, being a woman is a liability, being a poor woman is more like being a sitting duck, while being a man is being a man. Except of course, if you are gay, effeminate or trans. Then you go back two squares and revert to sitting duck.

Brazil has the highest rate of hate crimes against LGBTs in the world, surpassing the far more populous U.S. by 30 percent, according to research by Grupo Gay da Bahia. It is harder to laugh at the notion of heterophobia in light (or rather, darkness) of this data. So you see, you don't even have to own the lady parts to be denigrated, just the semblance or association will do.

Sure, there are sympathetic men who are genuinely egalitarian at heart, but their silence puzzles me. I do not see them catapulting into action in sufficient numbers when that is pertinent. Proof: abortion is still illegal in Brazil. Unplanned pregnancies, there's one thing women are incompetent at accomplishing by themselves.

Why this lethargy? Is it because we are saturated with everything that is going on politically? Is it a momentary lapse in our civic well being given the strident resurgence of the right wing?

From where I stand, it looks like he-for-she campaigns have yet to gather momentum. We have to stop seeing egalitarianism as an act of largess on man's part, a concession. Maybe we have failed to quantify and sufficiently show Brazilian men that it benefits everyone to live in a society where women have more of an equal footing. Even the IMF has stated that empowering women is just smart economics.

Sadly, empowerment is the opposite of what happened to Valentina. After the producers got tired of fielding the controversy, she was expediently kicked off the show.

But it's not all bad news: Our SAT equivalent (ENEM) gave us a valiant nod. Seven million students had to spend a Sunday afternoon chewing on hefty issues. One of the reading comprehension questions asked students to ponder Simone de Beauvoir's assertion that one is not born a woman, but becomes one. Later, students were asked to write a composition on the following theme: the persistence of violence against women in Brazilian society.

The reaction came at full-throttle: Upset students started trashing Ms. Beauvoir's Wikipedia entry, calling her a nazi communist and other such generic hissy offenses to the extent that a ban was issued to Brazilians, as Wikipedia claimed excessive vandalism.

A kind initiative by a few male columnists followed. They conceded their press space to women writers for a week. While I appreciate the effort, I wonder how much longer women will need to rely on the charity of a few good men to be heard.

Two female characters from Casa Grande, the feature film I co-wrote with Fellipe Barbosa, come to mind: the vapid housewife turned income earner and the coy teen who matures into sex-positive behavior.

The latter is met with disappointment when she finally takes the helm (or to use the Nabokovian metaphor for male anatomy, the scepter) of their puppy love into her hands. The former is the one supplying the household by selling cosmetics.

It is 2015, and women in Brazil are footing some bills, while writing far too few of them.