One of the greatest challenges in life is to identify your limitations and question whether they are externally imposed or manifest from who you are. It’s hard to find the balance in this exercise of self assessment. In response to the complexity that this presents, some deny they have flaws and/or blame others for their failures. At the other end of the spectrum, some are excessive in identifying their errors and blame themselves for everything. Renata, a thirty-four year old paulistana, lawyer and lover of philosophy knows how difficult it is to engage in this type of self questioning. She has been doing it since birth.
Renata spent her first year of life hospitalized, which meant that she did not adequately develop during that critical phrase. Her motor skills suffered and to this day she has muscular malformation. The hospitalization had an impact not only in her motor skill development, but also on her perspectives for life. The doctor told her family that “she would either be very smart or retarded”—in those words. From that time, she felt more tested than normal, more observed. She always felt she had more limitations. “I never knew if these limitations were real or if I entered into a mindset where I became more limited. It was always very clear to me that no matter my limitations I would have to overcome them somehow. I don’t give up.”
Her persistence was essential when she started working in family law, specifically with same sex couples. When she entered the field, same sex couples had to register their biological children as a pre-adoption, and not as their natural children. She fought for couples to have the right to register their biological children as their own, a concept known as duplo registro. Everyone involved in this area of law said it wasn’t possible. She insisted, legally assisting over twenty registrations and participating in the creation of a legal thesis to challenge the practice in the judiciary—in the hopes of generating national repercussions. Her desire was make herself obsolete and that’s what happened. “It (the judicial challenge) reached the National Council of Justice and there is now a resolution in regards to what we proposed.” Her persistence enabled a systemic change, and she considers it one of the most tangible successes of her life. Her work in this area led many people to label her a lesbian, which always puzzled her. Her interest was to fight against injustice, not personal.
That was not the first time she was judged by the stereotypes and prejudices of others. It also happened when she was twenty years old and job hunting. She was in the last round of the hiring process, and ultimately a man was chosen. The person responsible for the selection clearly stated, “I selected the man because you are female, and the likelihood of you getting pregnant is great.” She was shocked. It was the first time she realized she was woman, and that fact signified there existed limits imposed by society.
Currently, she identified as a wife, a lawyer, sister and aunt. They are all very important roles for her, but sometimes they act as masks. She is very shy, so to have the courage to face judges and other authority she wears the mask of her professional identity. It is with her husband at home that she feels most like her true self—Renata, unmasked. “I can express exactly what I’m feeling, even if it is something nasty that I could never express before. I can show my shadows to him. That is the moment I’m most Renata. ”
A relationship that frees a woman to be her true self is Renata’s desire for all Brazilian women. She realizes that some women are “very concerned with their own appearance, but do not feel worthy. They are willing to suffer in oppressive relationships just in order to be with someone. This is a common thing, no matter their social class. They are willing to work less to care for children. Maybe there is a lack of self-respect that doesn’t allow you to look at yourself and know that you can achieve greatness.”
Amazingly, she feels that she has failed a lot in life. She does not say this as a complaint; it’s her insight. “It (life) taught me to fail. When I was young, (I believed that) failure was ugly, bad and would destroy me. Today I realize that failure is a process like any other.”