Carmen Miranda (b. 1909–d. 1955) was a Brazilian singer and actress who made her debut on the radio in the late 1920s and soon became one of the most popular voices in Brazil. She recorded close to 250 singles, many of which were major hits, starred in five films (four with the Cinédia studio and one with Sonofilms), and gave innumerous performances on the most elite stages of Rio de Janeiro, such as the Urca and Copacabana casinos. Her signature look was a stylized version of the typical Bahian woman’s outfit, known as the baiana, complete with an abundance of bracelets and necklaces, platform shoes, and a whimsical turban that served as a base for all kinds of adornments. In 1939, she was invited by the Broadway impresario Lee Shubert to perform in his musical review The Streets of Paris and moved to New York with her band Bando da Lua to bring authentic Brazilian music to North America. A success overnight, Miranda would then be invited to star in her first US film, Down Argentine Way (1940), with 20th Century Fox, and would be cast in thirteen subsequent films. Carmen Miranda’s iconic look was immediately recognizable and became prime material for imitations by both male and female impersonators in theater, film, and cartoon media. Her excessive femininity, imbued with style, exaggeration, and playful deception, and her inclusion in musicals governed by theatricality and artifice, made her a productive site for camp interpretations that have remained in vogue to this day.
Sueann Caulfield and Cristiana Schettini
Over the past forty years, increasing attention to gender and sexuality in Brazilian historiography has given us a nuanced understanding of diverse ways in which women and men in Brazil’s past experienced patriarchy, racism, and other forms of oppression. As gender historians have shed light on how racialized and patriarchal gender and sexual roles have been reconstituted in different historical contexts, empirical studies in the field of social history have focused primarily on the historical agency of women, particularly non-elite women, who lived within or pushed against the confines of prescribed gender roles. Pioneering histories of sexual minorities have accompanied this trajectory since the 1980s, although this subfield has grown more slowly. A few nodal themes help to explain transformations in gender relations during each of the major periods of Brazil’s social and political history. Under the empire (1822–1889), honor is the entryway for analysis of gender and sexuality. Gendered standards of honor were critical tools used to mark class and racial boundaries, and to traverse them. Historians of the imperial period also stress the centrality of gender to the social, cultural, and economic networks built by members of various occupational, familial, and kinship groups. During the First Republic (1889–1930), the focus shifts to state vigilance and social control, together with debates over modernization of sexual and gender norms, particularly regarding urban space and prostitution. In the Vargas era (1930–1945), patriarchy and racialized sexuality formed the core of intellectual constructions of the nation’s history and identity, at the same time that homosexuality and women’s and worker’s rights generated intense debate. A new emphasis on domesticity emerged in the context of developmentalism in the 1950s, helping to spur a reaction in the form of the counterculture and sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. The dictatorship (1964–1985) went to great lengths to suppress challenges to gender and sexual norms as part of its broader strategy to demobilize society and repress oppositional political movements. These challenges reemerged in the 1970s, when feminists and sexual minorities gained much greater visibility within a new wave of social movements. The 1988 constitution articulated these movements’ aspirations for social justice and equality through its foundational principal of human dignity. Significant legal changes followed over subsequent decades, including recognition of equal labor rights for domestic and sex workers, affirmative-action policies, and the legalization of same-sex marriage, in 2011. Despite notable setbacks, the momentum toward gender and sexual equality at the start of the 21st century was remarkable. This momentum was halted by the political coup that ousted the first woman president in 2016. The anti-feminist mood that accompanied the impeachment process underscored an overarching theme that runs through the historiography of gender and sexuality in Brazil: the centrality of gender to the major legal and political shifts that mark the nation’s history.
The topics of gender and sexuality in Brazilian historiography, though available from colonial chroniclers to the present, were notably absent in 19th-century historiography, which was constrained by the moral taboos and racial prejudices of that age. This was true until the early 20th-century turning point represented by the works of Paulo Prado with regard to language, and of Gilberto Freyre with regard to content, in their pioneering attempts to address the issue, emphasizing how interracial procreation and sexual desires shaped Brazilian history. Historical research at universities began in the 1980s, based on unpublished sources and international scholarship on new topics. This resulted in studies on marital relations, misogynist patriarchalism, accepted models of licit sexuality, and various other transgressions such as adultery, concubinage, male and female homosexuality, sexual imagery, libidinous behavior by members of the clergy, and acts considered deviant behavior or associated with heresy. Recently, sources have come into use from the Ecclesiastical Court and the Portuguese Inquisition, which assumed jurisdiction over accusations of bigamy, sodomy, priests who took advantage of the confessional to molest their parishioners, and declarations that contradicted Catholic moral theology with regard to chastity, celibacy, and fornication or were suspected of being heretical due to their association with Protestant doctrines. Additionally, there are important works inspired by French scholarship on the history of mentalities and the historical and philosophical contributions of Michel Foucault.
James N. Green
An Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer (LGBTQ) movement emerged in the late 1970s during the Brazilian military dictatorship (1964–1985), as the country slowly moved toward democracy. The “Homosexual Movement,” as it was called at the time, along with feminist and black organizations that formed during the same period, fought for an end to discrimination, equality, and full rights. Since then, LGBTQ activists have challenged stereotypes about lesbians, gay men, and trans people and won some important victories, such as same-sex marriage, legal recognition of trans people’s rights to legalize their gender identity, and constitutional protection against hate speech, although discrimination and violence against LGBTQ people is still widespread. The movement challenged traditional Catholic Church notions of homosexuality as a sin, medico-legal discourses that considered same-sex and nontraditional gender performances as sicknesses, conservative political ideologies that privileged the heteronormative family, and sectors of the Left that considered homosexuality a product of “bourgeois decadence.” Built upon a long history of resistance to impositions of compulsory heterosexuality and normative gender roles, lesbians, gay men, and trans people formed diverse communities during the second half of the 20th century that offered important support networks. They also appropriated public spaces for dissident sexualities and gender performances. Carnival became a privileged site for subverting traditional gender roles. Gay activists pushed the government to change initial conservative policies dealing with HIV/AIDS, and Brazil became an international model for effectively combating the disease. Lesbians fought within the feminist movement for acceptance and against social norms that marginalized them. Trans people gained considerable respect and certain rights. The LGBTQ movement remains diverse in practice, composition, and ideologies. A recent reactionary backlash, which has united conservative Catholics, evangelical Christians, and right-wing political forces, is trying to undo the advances made since the late 1970s in favor of social toleration, respect, and equality.
Kelly E. Hayes
Belief in the power of feitiçaria or black magic has both endured and continually changed over time in Brazil. However, black magic is a peculiar and protean thing. Rather than defining a specific set of ideas, practices, and objects, or a systematic body of knowledge, black magic is better understood as a type of discourse the social function of which is to stigmatize its referent as maleficent, immoral, or evil. Because of its negative connotations, black magic typically is a discourse of accusation rather than self-affirmation: People accuse others of practicing black magic rather than describing their own practices this way. Nevertheless, the dangerous potential attributed to black magic means that some people openly claim it as a source of power in certain circumstances. Focusing on the various intersections of black magic and sexuality in Brazilian history reveals aspects of social life and categories of persons that elite authorities, in the effort to civilize and reform Brazil, identified as problematic. Because these shifted over time, different constellations of black magic and sexuality emerge as especially salient in different historical periods. In the colonial period (1549–1822), women’s love magic troubled ecclesiastical authorities as the Catholic Church struggled to establish its patriarchal vision of social and moral order over an unruly colony. Under the empire (1822–1889), black magic was associated particularly with the threat of black sorcerers whose perceived promiscuity and primitivity threatened the civilized society that elites envisioned. During the first Republican period (1889–1930), public officials used black magic as a catchall designation for a broad range of popular spiritual practices deemed illicit by the state in its struggle against social degeneracy and other ills. The first few decades of the 20th century saw the consolidation of the Afro-Brazilian spirit entities Exu and Pombagira as distinctive apotheoses of black magic and sexuality in the Brazilian cultural imagination. Forged in the conjuncture of African and European traditions, these controversial yet extremely popular entities are said to work with both the “right hand” and the “left hand” and are called upon in situations marked by moral ambiguity. Their prominence in Candomblé and Umbanda is one reason that evangelical Protestant churches like the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (IURD) consider Afro-Brazilian religions to be instruments of the devil and target Afro-Brazilian religious practitioners, objects, and spaces in their campaigns of spiritual warfare. More recently, discourse about black magic among evangelical Christians has centered on the violence and sexual immorality associated with the drug trade that has flourished in many Brazilian cities. As a moral discourse that defines the licit by identifying the illicit, black magic is used in situations marked by struggles for social legitimacy and the access to resources and influence that such legitimacy enables. The protean nature of black magic means that it is endlessly adaptable to different social realities, from the struggles of Portuguese colonists in a new land to the urban violence associated with contemporary drug trafficking. And because questions of power are deeply embedded within the term, accusations of black magic seem to burgeon precisely in moments of social transformation when the status quo is in flux, centers of influence are being formed, and new patterns of social division or alignment are being established.
Maria Lygia Quartim de Moraes
In the early twentieth century, Brazil depended on coffee exports, its slave regime had just been abolished, and most of its inhabitants lived in the countryside. The Catholic Church exercised the moral direction of society, and White landowners virtually established the rules of sociability and controlled economic and political life. A woman’s social position was fundamentally determined according to their social class. Wealthy and White middle-class women had access to some form of education, and when they left the family home, it was to marry and raise a family, being completely dependent on their husbands, with no political rights, and only allowed to work upon marital authorization. With rapid urbanization, wretched working conditions, as either a domestic servant or a textile worker (the two female labor niches), worsened the lives of poor women in the city. Access to education, the struggle for labor rights, and the right to vote were the pillars of the long women’s emancipation process that was in progress. In 1964 a military coup plunged Brazil into a long dictatorship that only ended in 1985 with the return of democratic institutions and the election of a civil president. The conquest of democracy was made with the broad participation of the various women’s groups and movements, especially the feminist movements.
Carole A. Myscofski
Women in colonial Brazil (1500–1822) were affected by the presence of the Portuguese Roman Catholic Church in nearly every dimension of their lives. The Catholic Church dominated the colonial religious and social world and, with the imperial government of Portugal, set and transmitted gender expectations for girls and women, regulated marriage and sexuality, and directed appropriate education and work lives. Even with the harshest restrictions, women were able to develop an independent sense of self and religious expression both within the Catholic Church and outside its reach. Native Brazilian women felt the impact of the new faith from the earliest days of conquest, when their opportunities for religious influence expanded among the early colonists and missionaries. After the 1550s, however, new rules for belief and behavior gradually replaced indigenous culture. Offering the Virgin Mary as the ideal woman, the Church expected that indigenous women convert to Catholicism, work for the colonists, and marry according to traditional canon law. Portuguese immigrant women also faced the constraints of the early modern gender roles, with chastity, modesty, and submission deemed essential to their feminine nature, and marriage, domestic labor, and childcare their fate. Enslaved African women were compelled to accept Catholic teachings alongside the expectations of servile work and marginalization in colonial society. For each segment of colonial society, religious rules barely acknowledged the real abuses that afflicted women through the personal and sexual domination of colonial men, and women found little consolation in the ideals set for elite women. Religion itself presented women with opportunities for personal development, and women found spiritual expression through votive prayers, cloistered convents, membership in religious brotherhoods, and covert religious and magical practices. European women used magical rites in defiance of Catholic teachings, while indigenous women preserved elements of their own healing traditions, and African women and their descendants created charms and celebrations that secured their separate religious identity.