Brazil Opens Its Doors to Black Feminist Literature

Literature BELatina

In the midst of the rise of the so-called Third Feminist Wave, literature and art have been fundamental means for the transmission of challenges such as the right to abortion, equal pay, and the fight against gender violence.

While in countries such as Argentina the academic debate on gender culture has been made famous by scholars such as Dora Barrancos and Rita Segato, in Chile, for example, performance and interventions in public space have done their part to bring to the public stage the rejection of epidemics of violence that have been normalized over the past centuries.

However, in countries like Brazil, feminism has not had as much room.

A country deeply marked by the dictatorship of Humberto de Alencar Castelo Branco between 1964 and 1985, they relegated discussions of women’s rights to a secondary plane, associating any progressive debate with communism and, therefore, with the enemies of the government.

“There is a certain discomfort,” say Heloisa Buarque de Hollanda and Sandra Lorenzano, “a kind of impression when groups and study groups on women are formed.”

In their article El extraño horizonte de la crítica feminista en Brasil (The Strange Horizon of Feminist Criticism in Brazil), the two authors explain the academic and popular panorama in the South American country when it comes to talking about feminism.

“For example, it is often very difficult for women to identify themselves as feminists, even among professionals, intellectuals, artists or politicians with free access to public spaces and decision-making centers,” they explain, arguing that this is “the specificity of power relations in Brazil.”

The feminist movement in the country, although it emerged during the 1970s, was especially linked to left-wing parties and associations, as well as to the progressive wing of the Catholic Church. In this way, women became inevitably associated with political struggle and resistance, which encompassed many aspects such as civil rights, political freedoms, and the improvement of social living conditions, leaving little space to really talk about women’s urgencies.

Brazil is also one of the most conservative countries in the distribution of family roles, with the reduction of women to the role of mother and head of household.

Despite the fact that Brazilian literature has famous and forgotten names such as Júlia Lopes de Almeida, Hilda Hilst, or Jarid Arraes, the barrier to international feminist literature has been, to say the least, impermeable.

However, this seems to be changing.

2019 was the year when works by women authors of color such as Patricia Hill Collins, Audre Lorde, and Angela Davis were published in Brazilian for the first time in history, as reported by the Huffington Post, “more so three decades after the Works first entered the feminist canon.”

“We shouldn’t need to be Michelle Obama to have our books published,” Collins told HuffPost Brazil, alluding to the global popularity of the former first lady’s memoir, Becoming.

Collins was not only the first black woman to preside over the American Sociological Association, but she has a body of work that highlights the intersectionality in the feminist movement, echoing how race, gender, and class oppression are interconnected.

In a country today led by one of the most radicalized presidents in right-wing ideology, this kind of literature is more important than ever.

Bhuvi Libânio, who translated hooks’ classic Ain’t I A Woman?  into Portuguese, explained the importance of race to the Huffington Post by quoting Afro-Brazilian writer Conceição Evaristo:

“Conceição Evaristo said: ‘Because of racism, the Brazilian imagination can’t recognize that black women are intellectuals,'” she said. “The publications we have today are just the beginning. We need even more books.”