Sisters, you CAN have it all.

A Vida Boa

I have a Brazilian friend (actually she’s a friend of my mother-in-law, but we’re all friends here in Brazil), let’s call her Sylvia. She, after many decades, reconnected with a boyfriend from her teen years. He living in Israel, and she in Brazil, they began a long-distance romance. After some time, she finally decided to take the leap and go to Israel to be with him. She sold her business (but not her apartment – Brazilian women are no fools), gathered her belongings, and headed to the promised land to take her relationship to the next level.

Six months later my mother-in-law received a call from Sylvia. She was coming back to Brazil. “But why,” we implored. Sylvia could not even speak of it until her feet were safely back on Brazilian soil. Of course, we wondered, what atrocities had become our friend. Could this lover have a dark side? Did he get wildly drunk and lock her in a closet each night? Our minds wandered with frightening possibilities.

Upon her arrival in Rio de Janeiro, she stumbled off the plane, her hair not “made,” her nails unpolished. A total wreck in Brazilian terms.  She kissed the ground. And she told her story.

Every day Sylvia cooked and cleaned. She made everything in the house beautiful for her man. Her boyfriend came home from work, ate his dinner, watched television and went to bed. Sex was scarce to say the least, and apparently, not very romantic.

It was bad enough that she must take care of the home on her own, but to have a man that didn’t fall over himself, and her, appreciating it was… absolutely and totally unacceptable. This was not her life!

However, this is the life, I’m estimating, of about 95% of women in the Western world. And most have full-time jobs on top of it. Even many of those that have the means to have a staffed house feel that if they are not the one who is changing the diaper or serving the meal, they are lacking in wife and mother credits.

But in Brazil, a woman of moderate to extensive means is not expected to clean. She’s not expected to cook, not expected to take on any of the particular unpleasant aspects of childcare. And in the case that perhaps her man can’t maintain this standard of living (though significantly less taxing on the family budget than in Western countries) or he doesn’t support these ideas? Well, in the words of my mother-in-law, “she don stay.”

If this Brazilian woman works, often times it’s something that she loves, like running her own shop or planning parties.  At the very least, she does something she’s passionate about or extremely good at. If a woman is interested in power, she runs a department or a business (or runs for President).

Not only are there standards for woman’s quality of life inside the home, but these also extend to public places. Establishments such as banks, grocery stores and post offices have special lines in which women who are pregnant or have small children are priority patrons, along-side the elderly and disabled. It’s the LAW. In other words, Brazil is an absolute, unpublicized, utopia for career-mothers-wives. In Brazil, YOU CAN ACTUALLY HAVE IT ALL.

The fabled Amazons, female warriors of ancient Greek mythology who developed their own self-sufficient society, using men only when needed to procreate more women, were no legend. They simply migrated west and south (perhaps tromping along the Amazon River on their way to Sao Paulo?) These assertive and cunning females secretly folded themselves into history, adapted their surroundings to their own modern needs and formed a sisterhood of power and pleasures – the society of Brazilian woman.

Of course there is another side to this story, and I don’t mean the man’s. It’s not an army of Brazilian androids, created by some mad (but genius) Brazilian scientist, that clean the bathrooms, prepare the coffee and style the hair. Women and men from outside the city travel hours and hours everyday, via three different buses sometimes, to serve the upper classes, for a salary that is less than what we would spend dining in New York restaurants. Or they live in small, windowless caverns carved out of the laundry rooms of big apartments.

So the familiar ethics question rears it ugly, fire-breathing head. The intersection of supply and demand currently hovers at a certain price, but what if it were forced higher? Would fewer of the more fortunate members of Brazilian society employ, or afford to employ, these people? Would life be quite worse for them? Would they then starve? Or would demand remain and they eventually folded into a middle class society?

Or perhaps the cost of good and services where the maids and doormen and nannies live is economically adjusted to their smaller salaries, and they too, are enjoying the good life.

As soon as I learn Portuguese, I plan on discussing this with my maid. (After, of course, she’s finished cleaning my bathrooms.)

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