I often wonder where the Weapons Convention is being held. There are so many of them: barely pubescent, fledgling girls, all of them strapped to the nines. Their weapon of choice? Their own sexuality, seemingly ready to be used at a moment’s notice. Micro shorts, meaty thighs, bare midriffs, an unadulterated sway of the hips. Considering their age, the only thing missing is their innocence.
All it takes is that “olhar 43”, to use a somewhat antiquated slang term that means a desiring glance in a fleeting moment. In the favela, it’s the moment that matters and it begs to be taken advantage of. In the same way that a chair might be seen as inviting one to sit on it, that look (that a teenage male from the favela learns early on) is an invitation to employ their bodies in what lies just around the corner. That is, some excitement along with the unspoken acceptance, or reaffirmation, of that which makes her desirable.
Many times the discharging of the weapon they carry results in a paradox – the ‘loss’ of a life (hers) and the gain of another life (her babies’). No longer can she reach the point where every young adult begins to question their place in the world and what they want from it (“Who am I?”, “What am I here for?”, “Where am I going?”). Instead she gets pregnant because she trusts the guy who says it feels better without a condom and thereby continues a long-held cycle of babies having babies. Of course, this isn’t always the case, as the instigator can also be the young girl who believes it important to secure social status and financial stability. The result, as I witnessed on a daily basis, means one sees at least two dozen pregnant 12-16 year olds per day in the larger favelas.
Coming from sunny California, my own privileged view of these aspects of life are not lost on me. I grew up, like many of my fellow “United-Statesians” (as Brazilians sometimes like to point out), with the belief that the sky is the limit. From a Western viewpoint, I’ve lived most of my life on the poor side of the economic tracks but that doesn’t mean I don’t have the choice to live well, I do. It’s just that consumerism confuses me and makes me uneasy.
In the favela, one can’t always consume things, thus they consume moments and, inevitably, each other. In my year living in these Rio favelas (I only recently left), I got the sense that the day was just a break from the night and work was a break from partying. In my imagination, the favela comes carpeted and the youth walk around rubbing their sock-wearing feet on the ground. While the sparks are just a touch away, I wonder when the shock becomes less attractive.
In the dozen years that I’ve spent studying Brazil, the desire to refute one oft-repeated stereotype has waned. In terms of it being a highly-charged sexual culture, I’d say that it is (at least amongst the youth), both on a personal level and in social settings. Like the lyrics of one popular funk song say, “senta, senta, senta, senta” (“sit, sit, sit, sit!”), the proverbial chair doesn’t just invite one to sit on it once. It either makes you sit or it tires you until you do.
(As for the first photo, it’s from a favela beauty contest but it’s pretty close to the typical way of dress for teen girls)