Feminism, both as a movement and as identity, is experiencing a resurgence in Brazil. “From January 2014 to October 2015, the number of searches for the term”feminism” in Google rose 86.7% in Brazil—going from 8,100 to 90,500 searches.” A simple search for the term does not capture the transformative belief behind the word or the controversy this has created. Some celebrities and politicians say feminism is a partisan (socialist/communist) scheme that functions as religious doctrine and/or is an intolerant movement that promotes abortion and polygamy. For Tamires, a 22 year native of São Paulo, her feminism has been a part of her identity since birth and is intimate; she has no need to impose her beliefs on others. Feminism was the way she preserved herself in a world that explicitly told her that she was not equal to men, both professionally and personally.
“I decided I wanted to engineer very early, like when I was 10 years old. I wanted to be one; I had no idea (what it was) but I wanted to do that. Maybe because my father always told me that it was a discipline that wasn’t for women. He never said that I could study engineering, for several chauvinistic reasons.” One of his arguments was the fact that she had no practical experience with the engineering world. “It’s true, my cousins had a lot more experience. They played games and did things that involved logic, they helped my uncles at home (with construction and technical activities).”
Even without access to the activities and the preparation that the boys had, she did not give up the dream. By telling Tamires she couldn’t do it, her father thought he was preparing Tamires for a harsh reality, but for her it was offensive. She insisted that she would be an engineer. Her father’s attitude was a personal challenge to try harder. When she passed the college entrance exam for engineering (after years of study) and was only the second person in her family to enter a public university (which are free in Brazil), his response was to say that it was easy to enter but graduating was something else, implying it would be too hard for her. Four years later she is on track to graduate and prove him wrong, again.
As she resisted her father’s insistence about her limitations, she also fought against a similar mentality at her church. “I was never apart of a church, and then suddenly as a teenager—around the time that my parents split up—I joined a church for five years. I enjoyed being there because I had friends, there was a group of young people and structure, but none of it made sense to me. (Women) had a dress code: we could only wear skirts, we had to have long hair, we couldn’t dye our hair, we weren’t supposed to wear a lot of makeup, and we weren’t supposed to wear revealing clothes so as to not tempt the boys.
There was a belief that we (women) shouldn’t date a lot, but the boys dated a ton, with girls from all the churches. They wanted to hook up with all the girls because they were young and teenage boys (typically) want to kiss lots of girls. Only teenagers of the church should not kiss a lot of girls (according to the rules), but this rule worked only for girls. Why? Because the church taught us that we were objects of desire and that no serious boy would want to date us if we dated a lot of boys. It was sexist, in the most cliché form of machismo. A woman can’t go out with a lot of men because she’d be considered loose and no one would want to be with her, even though they could date as much as they wanted and that was normal.
I would have had to…I don’t know…live in my husband’s shadow. What I could do with my life was limited because I was a woman and the man is the head of the family, he does everything and you (his wife) support him. Our role (as women) was to support and love our husbands above everything, unconditionally. (My presence) was very shocking in the church because I was in all the discussions (and) I was a feminist and I couldn’t be a feminist and be in the church. It didn’t fit with that structure. It was too contradictory.”
Even though she never heard the word feminism when she was a teenager, today she believes she was born a feminist. “I remember that I was always so sure that I could do anything, regardless of being a woman. It was obvious that the boys, even without knowing or accepting it, were privileged. We didn’t use those words, we weren’t aware of that concept, but we had the feeling that they were privileged in relation to us. I was always very determined and wanted to be better than the boys (get better grades). I’ve been competitive with boys from an early age, whether I liked it or not. I think it’s because I had no idea that what I really wanted was my own space.”
She identifies her search for her own space, where she can be who she really is, as her greatest success. “I’m at my best, today. I’m at my best when I love myself more, when I love my neighbor, when I do what I love and believe in. The Tamires I am today is closer to Tamires I want to be and the Tamires I’ve always been, but before I was the Tamires stifled by circumstances (the challenges with her father and in the church).”