Sunday, February 03, 2008

Carnaval, Fitness, and Gender

This article at the NY Times really does a fine job of detailing how much preparation goes into Carnaval at the individual level, involving improved diets, more exercise, and even (ugh) plastic surgery. It also reveals how gender-biased the process is against women. For the major Carnaval parade (tonight and tomorrow night in Rio), it is only the scantily-clad women who have to work out and make sure they are in shape. The article pays no attention to the men, who also are put through the physical wringer - samba schools have to perform for an hour and a half, and, among other things, men have to sing the same song, usually of 10 lines or so, for an hour and a half. Just last night, during the parades in São Paulo, they were showing the heart-rate of one of the samba school's singers, and it was 154 beats per minute, and he had to keep that up, in a huge, heavy costume, dancing around and leading the singers, for an hour and a half. Nor does it pay attention to the music, the songs, or the schools' themes (which, in São Paulo, included one school focusing on education, and another with the theme of global warming, including alas dressed like fish, polar bears, and icebergs).

Yet the article only mentions the women. It is true that much of the focus in the media and internationally falls on the scantily-clad women, who have come to embody the image of Carnaval worldwide. But it is so much more, between the parades, the different "alas" (sections) in their various outfits, such as the baianas, and numerous other sections that aren't nearly naked. Yes, Carnaval is a blast for Rio (though, as someone who hates dancing AND crowds, I stay away from the blocos), and it is one of the strongest, most popular, and best-known cultural expressions Brazil has. But with all of the debauchery and celebration, the role of objectifying young women still remains extremely high, to the point that, again, many see the need to get plastic surgery just to look "perfect". I think this is a bit of a shame (and probably tied to the commercialization of Carnaval in the past couple of generations), but it is important to keep in mind as Carnaval is celebrated.

And for images of São Paulo's carnaval (including pictures of the floats and other sections of the samba schools that aren't just the rainhas), see here and here, as well as the links included in those stories (it's in Portuguese, but the images speak for themselves).