Anyhow, there is one thing that drives me INSANE about Brazil. Particularly interior Brazil, and that thing is the availability of tampons (or lack thereof) and the role of women in society.
Anyhow, whenever I need to go to the store to pick up tampons, it's always an adventure. They are (that is, if the store actually carries them) usually hidden on the bottom shelf behind a bunch of other things, out of view. To make matters worse, they are absurdly expensive (pads are about R$2 while tampons are about R$9 for the same quantity). And finally, as I make my way around the grocery store finishing up my other purchases and finally making my way to the checkout, I feel like I am doing something wrong. The lady (god forbid I choose a lane with a male cashier) always looks at me like I am sinning and quickly hides them in a bag, or multiple plastic bags, to save me from the shame of being seen with tampons.
In a more than a few conversations with my female friends I've come to the conclusion that women here don't use tampons because they simply don't know HOW. I had a friend tell me she thought it made no sense to use tampons because you had to take them out every time you needed to pee. She also told me that it hurt to use and she was terrified that it would get lost inside of her the few times she tried so she completely abandoned the idea altogether. This whole conversation worried me more than a little bit because 1) she doesn't know her own body... she thought her urethra and her vagina were the same thing 2) because she was obviously using the tampon incorrectly due to the pain and 3) I have no idea why she thinks it will get lost inside of her as in all my years of using tampons, I have never had a string break or have one go missing.
This leads me to the second part of this blog entry, the role of women in society.
These three problems that I have just highlighted are due to lack of INFORMATION! I get so irritated when things like sex and menstruation are simply avoided in schools and mother-daughter conversations because they are essential for women to have self-worth and feel reassured that they have a strong place in society. This obviously doesn't just happen in Brazil but also in the United States, but I feel that it is much more taboo in Rondônia than in Pennsylvania.
I took this moment to sit down and have a few important conversations with my 20 something year old Brazilian friend about her body, about how it's totally OK to use tampons and how it doesn't take away your virginity (she's married, but I still thought it was important for her to understand this point) and I gave her step-by-step (verbal, of course) instructions on how to properly use tampons, including the fact that you CAN PEE when you are wearing one.
I'm lucky to have had a mother who explained everything to me without imaginary stories of storks and was not afraid to help me to learn about my own body, my sexuality and even bought me my first box of condoms which were hidden in the back of our bathroom cupboard (obviously accompanied by a loooooong talk about healthy relationships, how sex, even with condoms, is risking your health, how its a BIIIG decision, etc....). It is because of these open and frank discussions, I believe, that I was the only girl out of my group of friends who did not smoke, who didn't drink, who didn't use drugs, who didn't have sex (until I was muccch older) and usually was the one everyone confided in when their boyfriends beat them or demanded sex when they didn't want it.
I continue to remind myself, however, that I live not only in a country that still is a bit "behind" as far as society roles go, and to make matters more complicated, I live in a very conservative, rural area in which women are expected to cede to their husband's orders and there is more than one church that says that women who wear shorts or pants or cut their hair are sinners. Brazil has come a long way (there are women as business owners, politicians, school directors, doctors, lawyers, etc...) but the country still has a long way to go, especially in the frontier zones.
It's moments like these that help me to stop and appreciate how lucky I am that my husband lived in the US for long enough that he realizes it's OK to let your wife go out with her girlfriends for a drink (which I do not have ONE male relative that thinks that is even a possibility), that it's OK to let her go to the gym on her own (I have a friend who's husband won't even let her go unless it's a 100% female gym....) and that its OK for men to cook and clean (which most of my male relatives here scoff at the idea at even being asked to wash a dish.) Although H has learned a lot as a result of his time abroad, he still is at heart, Brazilian, and this causes tension in our relationship from time to time. Interestingly, I have found the more I stand up for myself, the more respect I get in return (even though it may cause a bit of a quarrel at that given moment). That being said, I have been learning to pick my fights carefully when in pubic in order to respect the local culture as much as possible, thus avoiding embarrassing moments for both H and I, and I we choose a better moment to discuss what happened, what either one of us didn't like and try to come to an agreement on how to handle such instances in the future. This is a HUGE exercise of patience and humility for the both of us but it's worth every tongue-biting second of it.
So, even though these two things bug me about Brazil, tampons and the role of women in society, I still love life here. I take advantage of every opportunity to talk about respect, love and following your dreams, especially to young girls. I talk about the importance of healthy relationships and waiting to have sex, but not MAKING THEM FEEL BAD if they choose or have already chosen to. Girls (and boys) need a healthy environment to make their own decisions and healthy environments are created as a result of open conversations with real, unbiased information. It's obvious my mother did not want me to have sex, but as a result of her openness, I waited. It's obvious she didn't want me smoking marijuana, and as a result of her openness, I didn't become a user. Even when the majority of my friends were. She taught me how to use tampons and birth control instead of avoiding those discussions.
Looking back, I still didn't make all the right decisions, but I sure learned a lot and I didn't spend a lot of time lamenting the bad decisions I did make. I took care of myself and encouraged others to do the same. And, you know what, I'm feeling pretty good about where I am in life.
Thanks, Mom. :)