The freedom gained by women and the ensuing network that they were able to establish were addressed by São Paulo State researchers, whose work has received FAPESP funding during the 50 years of the Foundation’s existence. The 1960s and 1970s concern for women’s conditions , focused on the effects of domestic violence and labor market inequalities, expanded during the subsequent decades to encompass gender relations, the bonds established between men and women (and within the same gender) in various strata of the human condition.
In 1963, Eva Alterman Blay, a sociologist and pioneering researcher of the subject of women in Brazil and a well-known name in the feminist movement, received a grant from FAPESP to work on her Master’s degree on the status of women in domestic work, at home and in industry. She had graduated and was invited to work as a volunteer instructor, without pay, at the social sciences department of the School of Philosophy, Sciences and Languages at USP. “I had been a good student and the professors invited me to teach and do research. But, as there was no vacancy, the work was unpaid,” she recalls. Azis Simon and Ruy Coelho, two of her professors, were uncomfortable with the situation and suggested that she ask the newly created São Paulo Research Foundation for a scholarship. Eva presented her project to conduct studies on working women and was called for an interview with FAPESP’s scientific director at the time, the geneticist Warwick Kerr.
“He treated me very well and must have liked the project because I was given the grant. He seemed to have difficulty, however, in understanding why I wanted to study women’s status. I explained that there was a lack of data on women, that society was divided between men and women, adults and children, and each of these categories awakens sociological interest. He asked questions in a good-humored way and I didn’t feel uncomfortable at any point in time. As no one studied this topic at that time, he, like many others, found it difficult to understand the importance of the issue,” recalls Eva Blay also citing fellow student Heleieth Saffioti (1934-2010) as another example of a researcher interested in theme at the same time. ” Simone de Beauvoir’s book circulated in the 1950s in Brazil, but it didn’t have the impact that is ascribed to it today,” recalls the teacher, who was strongly influenced after reading a French version of the book by feminist Betty Friedan (1921-2006), La femme mystifiée. “I remember reading the book while breast-feeding my son in 1964 and deciding that I wanted to study,” she says.
The scholarship resulted in a Master’s dissertation presented in 1969 on the Industrial High School for Girls in São Paulo. Even before completing it, she was already giving graduate students guidance. At that time, she offered a graduate sociology course about women. “No one signed up,” she says. She received another FAPESP scholarship to do a PhD on women in the industry of the state, which she completed in 1973. “It was tremendously difficult to get data, because until that time the IBGE did not distinguish between men and women in industrial censuses. I just wanted to know who the head of the family was, assuming as a starting point that the man was, even if it wasn’t the case. The topic was ignored.” As one of her research findings, she showed that skilled women were clearly underutilized in the São Paulo state industry. “The salary was slightly more than half of the men’s. Even though they had medical or chemistry degrees, they were given menial tasks in industry, such as translating manuals or working as secretaries,” she recalls.
However, the novelty of her research and the progress of feminism in the United States and Europe drew attention to the topic and resulted in a number of lecture invitations. “At first, some unions reacted poorly to my research results. I got a letter from the chemical union saying that I was hurting the image of the sector. Others complained about the critique of women’s lower wages. I would give examples: if a woman earns 50 and a man 70, someone is getting the 20 difference. Then they understood and resistance decreased,” says Eva Blay, who created the USP Women and Social Gender Relations Studies Center (Nemge) in the 1980s and became a well-known feminist. She even became senator of the Republic between 1992 and 1994 when she took over Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s position, as he had been named Minister of Foreign Affairs and Finance. Soon after, Eva Blay, other researchers got involved with the issue of women in the labor market. For example, the sociologist Cristina Bruschini (1943-2012) finalized her Master’s degree at USP about women in higher-level positions in 1977 with a FAPESP grant, and explored the topic in numerous articles and books throughout her career as a researcher at the Carlos Chagas Foundation.
Although the Brazilian studies about the status of women were influenced by American and European academic publications, in one aspect, research on violence against women, they developed in a particular way in Brazil, driven by the somber reality. An anthropologist from the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), Mariza Correa’s book Morte em família [Death in the Family] (Grall, 1983) was an important milestone. It looks at homicides and attempted homicides in Campinas between 1952 and 1972 and the legal representations of gender roles – justice focused more on the roles of men and women rather than on the crime itself. “Basically, what was judged was whether the victim was a good wife or not and whether the husband and killer was a good provider,” says anthropologist Guita Grin Debert, a professor at Unicamp. Until the 1970s, “legitimate defense of honor” was a common argument in court to absolve husbands who killed their wives. “When I moved to Campinas in 1970, there had been a famous trial of a prosecutor who killed his wife, who was cheating on him, and was eventually acquitted. The headlines read “Campinas saved your honor,” said Mariza Correa in an interview with Jornal da Unicamp [Unicamp’s Newspaper] in 2004, referring to the murder of actress Maitê Proenca’s mother, killed by her husband. Socialite Angela Diniz’s murder by her boyfriend Doca Street in 1976 was a turning point. The killer was acquitted in the first trial, a verdict later annulled, but convicted in the second one. The advent of female police stations was a result of the feminist movement’s mobilization, but can also be seen as one of the effects of research about violence against women applied to public policy.
In the second half of the 1970s, a change took place in the theoretical focus of studies on the situation of women, underscored by a new nomenclature: research on gender relations. “At a given point, it became clear that the status of women doesn’t exist as a research topic in isolation: what we have is a social relationship, a relationship between men and women,” explains Eva Blay. “It was found that the concept of women that was researched until then was restricted. It was only concerned with white, heterosexual women of reproductive age. Girls and elderly, black or homosexual women were not part of these studies,” says Guita Debert. “The idea centered more on how the differences arise, challenging the issue of the universality of male domination,” she says.
The publications of the Pagu Gender Studies Center, established at Unicamp in 1986, show just one example of the complexity of this new theoretical approach. The center carried out studies on the relationship between male and female characteristics and body-related conventions, medical interventions such as a rejuvenating plastic surgery or sex change operations, the artistic and scientific production of men and of women, the sociability of aging homosexuals, sex trade and pornography, among others topics. A thematic project funded by FAPESP between 2004 and 2009 helped to consolidate multiple lines of research within the group. “The project was the Center’s most important one in terms of bringing together research interests and subjects that had been developing since its formation,” says Maria Conceição da Costa, a professor at Unicamp’s department of scientific and technological policy of Unicamp’s Geosciences Institute and the current Pagu Center coordinator. Her study focus is the interface between gender and science.
Former Pagu Center coordinator Guita Debert dedicates her research to the study of sexuality in old age, with a focus on cosmetic surgery used to camouflage the effects of aging, among other topics. One of her contributions was to show that cosmetic surgery does not enhance the capabilities of the body, in contrast to common perception. “Quite the opposite – plastic surgery limits this potential because it represents an aversion to differences. People know they will not turn into Gisele Bündchen. But they want to erase the features that are outside of the norm and be accepted,” said the teacher, who is a member of FAPESP’s Coordination Office for Human and Social Sciences. In operations used to remove signs of aging, the situation is even more complex. “Gerontology emphasizes the idea that you need to age with quality of life, or that sex has no age, but the surgeries try to get around nature. There is no old age aesthetic to guide them,” says the researcher, who currently also works on a project involving public policy for the elderly in connection with sexuality, gender and violence.
A researcher and former coordinator of the Pagu Center, Adriana Piscitelli studied the globalization of the sex trade, diving into the world of sex tourism in Fortaleza. She followed the paths of Brazilian women who migrated to Italy at the invitation of foreign tourists, leaving the sex industry to marry them, and of Brazilian women who went to Spain to work offering sexual services. The results of her research question the texts that consider all of these dislocations as trafficking in women for sexual exploitation. The Brazilian migration to work in the sex industry in Europe has to do with the pursuit of economic and social opportunities, as is common in migration. According to Adriana, work in the sex trade is often a temporary strategy that enables migration, which may involve the intention to marry and start a family. “I found numerous cases of women who left the sex industry to get married while staying in Europe. And the weddings aren’t a front,” she said. In Spain, she noted that the sex trade entrepreneurs had a demand ranking, which favors Eastern European professionals, merging Brazilians into the Latin American prostitutes category – still esteemed more in the sex industry than a third category, the Africans.
Gender studies in Brazil have become more sophisticated in recent years. Just to give an idea of the diversity of the projects currently supported by FAPESP, there are projects about health care with male and female inhabitants of the city of São Paulo (School of Public Health, USP), the social role of female architects (Mackenzie University), the division of chores between men and women in a paper collectors’ cooperative (School of Education, Unicamp) or women’s difficulties in gaining access to justice (Law School, USP, Ribeirão Preto campus). “The country’s leading universities have dedicated gender research groups,” says Eva Blay. “The progress has been extraordinary: there is no legislation on health, education, or violence that does not take gender relations into account. There is an exchange between the university reports and public policies, ” said the professor.