NPR Oddly Asks: 'Which Place Is More Sexist, The Middle East Or Latin America?'

March 16th, 2014 8:24 PM

NPR prides itself on being globally sophisticated. So why on Earth would one of its correspondents ask “Which Place Is More Sexist, The Middle East Or Latin America?”

On NPR's "Parallels" blog, Lourdes Garcia-Navarro suggested Brazil is just as oppressive for women as Egypt or Iraq, in a different way. She concluded: “Activists often target the Middle East for its policies towards women. But as living in Brazil has taught me, for women, even having all the freedom in the world can be its own cage.”

This all carries the scent of making excuses for oppressive Islamic regimes. It’s not just a matter of what a woman wears:

As a woman and a foreigner who lived in Baghdad and Cairo and worked throughout the Middle East for years, I always felt the need to dress modestly and respectfully. Frankly, my recent move back to Latin America was initially a relief. Brazil is the land where less is more — and it was wonderful to put on whatever I wanted.

But underneath the sartorial differences, the Middle East and Latin America's most famously immodest country both impose their own burdens on women with the way they are treated and perceived.

On a recent balmy afternoon, I was sitting at a seafront kiosk watching Brazil's carnival coverage on the biggest broadcaster here, GLOBO. Suddenly, a naked woman pops onto the screen during a commercial break. She is wearing nothing. Literally nothing except a smile and some body glitter. Called the "globelleza," she is the symbol of GLOBO's festival coverage and she appears at every commercial break.

The NPR reporter acknowledges on one level that this is not a close comparison, but she wants to keep shaming Brazil. Brazil “has a female president and women are well represented in the work force. This isn't Saudi Arabia where women cannot drive or Afghanistan under the Taliban where women could not study. And yet it is one of the most dangerous countries to be female.”

She reports “about every two hours a woman is murdered in Brazil, a country with the seventh highest rate of violence against women in the world.” This, apparently, is due to the sexualized culture, and it takes a hard-left turn into slavery analogies:

This juxtaposition of sex and violence isn't new, according to Rosana Schwartz, a historian and sociologist at Mackenzie University. Brazil imported more slaves than any other country in the Americas, and slavery was only abolished in 1888.

"The female slaves were used as sexual objects to initiate the master's son's sexuality or to satisfy him. And the result has been that until today, Brazilian women are seen in a sexist way, in a more sexualized way because she was used as a sexual object for so long," she said.

The legacy still effects women of every class and race here.

Then it veered into discussing how pressured Brazilian women feel to conform to an ideal of beauty, and how much plastic surgery they seek. "Women want to adapt to what they think men want," one woman told Brazil's Glamour magazine. Somehow, in NPR-land, that is roughly comparable to Islamic regimes.