On Brazilian porn (part 1)
Many thanks to Christian Madsen, without whom this article would still be a draft.
If you are a woman, just mutter the words “I am Brazilian” and watch as heads turn and people look at you under a different light. There is no escape: Brazilian women are regarded differently from any other nationality when it comes to sex, and the reason does not rest on Brazilian porn. Or does it?
One of the first porn films I watched was one of Buttman’s adventures in Rio. I remember back then – still a teenager and with no idea I would somehow work with the porn industry – to be uncomfortable not with the sex, but with the way Brazilian women were portrayed in the film. The scenes bordered women abuse not in the nature of the sexual content presented, but in the positioning of the performers in relation to each other and to the roles they were developing. There was some kind of veiled violence that had nothing to do with the roughness of the sexual act, but still underlined all movements, utterances, and visual aspects of the film. It looked as if the women were being punished for being Brazilian, as if they were being treated as less than, say, American counterparts would be under the same circumstances.
It wasn’t until I started reading about post colonialism and subaltern colonization that it all made sense to me. Social constructs that go back to the colonial era are strongly influenced by the phallocentric prejudice that classifies “native” women as passive and inferiors. In fact, many of the representations of the female “native” figure in literature and art perpetuate the myth of the erotically overcharged female: the exotic gives room to the erotic, and the unknown, dangerous body represents a threatening jungle that contains too many dark secrets and must be ravished. Add to that the correspondence between the land and the female body – where invading the latter would consolidate conquering the former, a common practice with the invasion of a land eventually leading to the raping of its women – and you have “the parallel between the relationship man-woman and the relationship empire-colony or colonizer-colonized [which] has often been cited in postcolonial theory as well as the “double colonization” of women in colonial situations.” (VIJOEN, 1996).
We must recognize that imperialism is essentially a form of patriarchy that diminishes any opportunity for identity formation in its subjects. In other words, the vertical structure of a patriarchal structure limits action of any Others – women, mostly. However, the subjugation generated in that kind of pornography blurs gender and race borders: it involves both racial inferiority and the belittling of female sexuality. In Gayatri Spivak’s terms, epistemic violence results when in (post)colonial discourse, the subaltern is silenced by both the colonial and indigenous patriarchal power. (SPIVAK, 1992) In the neocolonialism practiced inside the adult industry, the female indigenous body is suppressed by both a masculine and a colonizer’s body; that is to say, the double oppression gender – race places her on the lower hierarchical levels, reducing her to an object which would lose to no other in any rank – not even to the American woman herself.
My question is: WHY does this happen? Is it just a consequence of the economic differences between countries, or is it a result of a way of perceiving sexuality, and mostly, Brazilian female sexuality? Is there any possibility of re-inscription as a subaltern to the female agent, or is she doomed to be under dominance of both male and white race forever? By inhabiting a space which is violent and marked by ultimate physical degradation, could the Brazilian woman speak?
In Foucault’s analysis of power/knowledge dynamics, an episteme consists of the “unitary body of theory” which tends to privilege some knowledges while it subjugates certain others, ranking them low in its hierarchical paradigm. These disqualified knowledges pose challenges to the power and organization of the dominant episteme by claiming attention to their oppositional emergence. As Hayden White, in his interpretation of Foucault’s tropology has explained, the dominant discursive metaphor of a given community determines both “what can be seen” in the world, as well as “what can be known about it”. Therefore, the results of what can be seen and known about the Brazilian woman is filtered through the Eurocentric patrilineal white male eye.
It was, then, epistemic violence what I saw in that Buttman video. The question of epistemic violence is related to issues such as who produces knowledge, or how power and desire appropriate and condition the production of knowledge. The exploitation of the female body as it is constructed by patriarchy, together with patriarchal values aimed at the victimization of women and the destruction of a female sense of selfhood, has led to the double erasure of the female persona in this kind of adult films because it justifies the permanence of established moral codes which, if shaken, might deconstruct not only social but also economic relations. It is, then, reinstating the colonization process by reinforcing the idea of inferiority based on two axes: one, the female identity; the other, the racial/ethnic difference.
But how does all this play out in films produced in Brazil, by Brazilian directors?