“Portugal is such a welcoming country.”

Luís Giovani was 21 years old. He arrived to Portugal in October with the ambition to pursue his university degree in Bragança, a town of 35.000 inhabitants in Trás-os-Montes, in the North-East of Portugal.

There, he settled down, away from his home in Ilha do Fogo, one of the islands in the archipelago of Cape Verde, a former Portuguese colony.

He died in the evening of December 31, one week after being brutally spanked with chains, bats and metal bars by a group of men, outside a local club.

The right-wing politicians who shout in indignation about the crimes supposedly perpetrated by ethnic minorities which, according to mysterious and undisclosed survey results, are on the rise, are now silent. The public opinion too. No inflamed comments on social media asking for the “death” of his murderers. Just bland comments like “everyday there are murders taking place”, “why should this case deserve more attention than any other murder case?”, “no one knows what he did to be beaten up like that”.

This case brought to my mind the first and only time I visited Bragança. I was Luís’ age and I had just finished my degree in Anthropology. I was working closely with associations of immigrants in the area of Lisbon and my job was to create opportunities of interaction through art between newcomers and the local communities. I was supposed to accompany, for some days, a group of Cape Verdean women to Bragança, where they would be performing.

I remember a 12-hour bus trip to the sound of laughters, singing voices and Batuque, a traditional music genre fairly unknown at the time, long before being discovered by Madonna, during her stay in Lisbon. I had never been to that part of the country but, after 20 years, what I remember is an austere landscape in which green was scarce. A kind of platitude that contrasted to the blast that my travel companions seemed to be having .

To my surprise, while walking through the streets of Bragança with this group of Cape Verdean women, many people stopped to stare as if they had never seen darker shades of skin. Older and young neglected the most basic rules of social behaviour and just stared, not even bothering the slightest to disguise their awe. I remember one day, at the hotel, during breakfast, a child sitting with his parents at a table nearby asking them why those women were so dark. “Because they wash their face with coffee” was his mother’s answer. I looked at the woman right next to me, who had heard that answer the same way I had, but who had decided to ignore. Something in her eyes told me that such sentence hadn’t been the worst thing she had ever heard.

I remembered that trip again a couple of years after.

In 2003, also in Bragança, a group of women decided to come together for a common cause. It is not frequent for women to come together in a country where, despite the hype of feminism, it is still common for many women to say that “they’d rather be feminine than feminist”. But these women came together. And they came together against other women. Their target were tens of Brazilian women that were working in 4 local brothels.

“Mothers of Bragança” was the name of this feminine enterprise.

These women claimed that the Brazilian citizens were taking their husbands down sinful paths and, consequently, holding them responsible for preventing these starstruck family men from fulfilling their family duties. The virtuous mothers demanded the expulsion of these other women, all of them object of human trafficking, victimised both by their pimps and their “customers” and, then, by their wives.

The Brazilian women were all arrested and then repatriated. The “Mães de Bragança” movement did not target the pimps nor the traffickers. It targeted the foreign women who were accused of keeping the others’ husbands under control ” through charms or some sort of drugs”. The arrest of the exploiters of these women ended up being the collateral effect of an orchestrated racist attack to the weakest links.

According to Wikipedia, it is not known any case of divorce in the sequence of this scandal.

Bragança is just a town and, even though it is near the border with Spain, it is still Portugal. And the type of racism that transpierces people’s view of the world is not uncommon to observe in the rest of Portugal. Quite the opposite.

In 1995, Alcindo Monteiro, a 27-year old Cape Verdean was murdered in Lisbon, in the heart of Bairro Alto, by a group of 9 neo-nazis. One of the murderers was the founding leader of the Portuguese National Front, Mário Machado, who then received a sentence of 4 years in prison for Alcindo’s murder which then, was tried as an genocide.

The everyday racism and the institutionalized xenophobia remains under the placid surface of that country that everyone (that counts) loves. Their stories do not make part of official narrative of the “luso-tropicalism”. But that will be another story.

The best country in the world

Short stories about the country that everyone seems to love

I’m living for past few years away from my country, Portugal.

Unlike many of my fellow citizens who feel looked down upon when they say they are Portuguese, I’m always surprised at how foreigners seem to love Portugal. Everyone has been there at least once and keeps the loveliest of memories from their vacations.

The image created about Portugal abroad feeds all kinds of projections. They all seem to be romantically superficial enough to have in common the vision of a beautiful piece of land, home to poets and navigators, tucked into Europe and filled by people, mildly shy and charmingly reserved who are all so “nice”, and “warm” and ‘welcoming”. The short stay, massified tourism, inspired by advertising and opinions of strangers read on Trip Advisor, consolidates the collective imaginary.

No one seems to care about the truth behind sunny days at the beach, cheap seafood and smiling faces.
Perhaps due to that, expats consider that Portugal has the best quality of life worldwide. When it comes to tourism, it has received, last year, the tourism award for the best destination. Lisbon was awarded best urban destination.
As a Portuguese, I should be happy about it, right?
Maybe, if the truth that I know wouldn’t be so different and if the perpetuation of the myth didn’t prevent what is wrong to be changed.

“No place is perfect” – we might reasonably agree. Nonetheless, the place that I know is so far from its superb image that if its reality weren’t so offensive for the locals, it would be funny.

So, I’ve decided to take on the solitary and ungrateful role to show you the Portugal that I know and which led me to call another country my home. Once in a while, I will write a short chapter that illustrates a reality different from the Lonely Planet descriptions. Common statements about Portugal will always be the starting point for each story. Each story will add up to a quilt of memories and narratives that is, for me, my country of origin, for others, the best country in the world.

If you love Portugal to the point of wanting to know it beyond the tourism brochures and if your love endures after a few chapters then buy that Easy Jet ticket, book that Airbnb flat, pack your cabin trolley and go for it!

How bitchy are you?

Rage is a masculine concept. 

A real man expresses his rage openly. Some even use the excuse of testosterone to legitimise it. Others use passion. In some cultures rage-derived “passion” is still an excuse to commit crimes, namely, to kill women. “A man is not made of iron” is a Portuguese saying that justifies all kinds of male anger outbursts, namely towards women. An ancient and illiterate version of the self-not-so-helpful-idea that men are from Mars and women from Venus.

Histeria is, as the name shows, a female concept. It’s ontological, from a Freudian point of view, because it is then related to the ovaries. So, women should be naturally prone to uncontrolled emotional demonstrations, always inconvenient and always out of context. Men are often seen as the main victims. And children. 

“Bitching” and “nagging” are activities often attributed to women who dare to express their rage / disapproval / disgruntlement about whichever topic or person. “Embittered” and “emotional” are the labels that result from it. Men are never bitter. Men are never emotional. Men are temperamental. Men are outspoken. And all that is great.

Therefore and since the expression of rage, when it comes to male and female communication, has opposite connotations in our society, both sexes have developed their different ways to channel and communicate such a human (and non-human) emotion according to the demands of the community.

One of the most fascinating aspects of social interaction among primates is that individuals tend to adapt to the role that was collective defined by the group. That role depends on factual and perceived characteristics of the individuals but the main reason for its creation is the maintenance of the order within the group as well as the status quo of each one of the individuals that composes it. The same mechanism applies to humans.

Culture creates self-fulfilling prophecies regarding the identity of each one of us based on our sex, gender, appearance, family background, education level and other social variables. Women are supposed to take up as little social space as possible. Their needs are not a priority. Their duties are. That’s the core idea of female socialisation. So, at home, at the workplace, in all kinds of social circumstances, in almost every culture without exception, in order to be accepted, women develop such an ultra-filtered form of communication regarding sensitive topics and negative emotions that, sometimes, it is almost impossible to understand what they really mean. Women can gossip and criticise others aggressively among themselves (like men do) but as soon as they have the chance to make public their negative opinion on something or someone, the tone becomes contrastingly soft and the message, a blurred and vague version of what they really think.

If it is commonly accepted that female rage is eminently negative, obviously, women will develop other more socially acceptable ways of expressing that same rage, among themselves and towards men. It’s either that or social punishment, often manifested under the shape of disdain, criticism and other forms of social control, more or less explicit. And since women were taught that their value depend on others’ validation, they do not want to let anyone down. Moreover, in case women need anti-role models to inspire them to be soft and communicationally tamed, the eternally feminine Harpy and Witch will do the trick.

Carl Cauer

a rapacious monster described as having a woman’s head and body and a bird’s wings and claws or depicted as a bird of prey with a woman’s face.
a grasping, unpleasant woman.

Anyway, i am not making the public praise of aggression, meanness and lack of self-control over one’s emotions, no matter how justified they may be. All i am saying is that the socially established limits to female communication are nothing obstacles to clarity, assertion and self-awareness. The result of that is a much more limited social participation.

If women do not recognise themselves the right to, publicly or privately, speak up their own feelings, needs and opinions under the threat of seeming overly “demanding”, “bitchy” or even “nasty” – yes, Trump was not the first one to use this expression when talking about an outspoken woman-, they will never have the chance to explore other sides of themselves, find their own voice and get what is rightfully theirs.

In order to do that, women should quit:

  • Asking themselves if they were too blunt/ harsh/ aggressive while expressing an opinion during a meeting
  • All those mental reviews of conversations that took place during the day with friends and family
  • The self-castrating internal dialogues which always end up in zero ideas and zero communication to the exterior
  • Imagining castrastrophic reactions of others to their simple act of stating an opinion
  • Giving more importance to the manner in which they communicate and focus on the message
  • Looking at themselves from the exterior instead listening to their own thoughts
  • Last but not the least, asking internally if all those people who made bad judgements about them and their way of communicating were right, after all

It is that kind of agency that needs to be owned. However, lest we never forget that conquering such agency, will always be, for women, a work in progress because it completely goes against what women were raised to be and expected to become and, at the end, it will all play against them.

So, when it comes to the emancipation in the way women express themselves, they should expect nothing less than being their own biggest obstacle.

On why I avoid saying that I am a vegan

Posted by a “crunchy mom” on a Facebook vegan group

I am a vegan since 2012. 

I have made this decision, considered extreme by many, because I refuse to participate in one of th cruelest creations of Humankind : factory farming. 

We have reached such a high civilizational and technological degree that the exploitation of animals, which was the core of our evolution as human beings, is no longer justified. And even less justified is the insane level of cruelty with which we do it. 

I refuse to be an accomplice in the slaughter of 360 million pigs, sheep, goats and cattle as well as several billion poultry which are killed in EU slaughterhouses alone, e v e r y  y e a r. The European fur industry adds another 25 million animals to the figure. The carbon footprint and the environmental impact that derive from such habit is enormous, even higher than the one created by all all forms of motorised transport, private and public, put together. 

And why do we do it? 

Because we need that specific source of nutrients to live? 

Because there are no alternatives? 

Because that’s the cheapest way to assure our survival?  


Simply because we are used to do it. We mistake habit for pleasure and we think it’s all very good and tasty but it’s actually just a matter of habit. A habit which is reinforced by traditions, assured by social pressure, and pertuated due to a dissonance that creates an imaginary but insurmountable barrier between animals to cuddle and respect and animals to kill and devour. 

We do not hold ourselves accountable because the meat bought at the supermarket, which is sliced, smoked, and stuffed into sausages, does not seem to belong to an individual that once had a life of its own and which, just like us, wished to go on living, away from pain, fear and alienation. It’s proven that we share with all mammals and some of other species sentience and conscience. We know that but still we do not consider ourselves responsible for our choices. Under the cosy blanket of the majority’s prescriptions, we just reproduce what culture taught us to believe it was our “nature”. 

Refusing a complicity with such a monstrous crime that goes against my ethics and my view of the world is maybe the only irrevocable choice I have ever made in my life. 

However, I avoid using the word vegan to define myself. I do not have any vegan friends and I do not integrate any vegan group or association. Not anymore. 

Among all the vegans I had the chance to meet personally, and they were far from being few, I was unfortunate enough not to have met more than a couple of individuals who didn’t place themselves on a superior moral stance regarding all the other people who weren’t vegans. Such moral stance, based on pure subjectivity and self-adoration,  implies the use of a certain type of proselytism which can be very easily associated to a religious one.

The wildly vast majority of vegans I met ( and I am not being unfair by eventually forgetting lots of mild-mannered and reasonable vegan individuals ) opts to use a moralising speech to tell off all those who don’t integrate the vegan “woke’ cast.

Those vegans enjoy surveilling each other and keep a perennial score which aims to praise the “most vegan of them all” and punish all those regarded as being “less vegan”. This orthodoxy also reaches topics that are not directly associated to animal welfare.

Many vegans adopt anti-scientific and politically extreme positions and it is not uncommon to find among them anti-vaxxers, homeopathy and other traditional “medicines’ enthusiasts, irresponsible and hate-spweing “crunchy moms”, yogi “gurus” who combine veganism with “detox” practices, life-coaches who mix Buddhism with Hinduism and conspiracy theories and who are basically clueless about the core and implications of all those ingredients. 

Therefore, I soon realised that all those vegans actually didn’t care about veganism itself, nor about the animals and the planet. They wear the concept of “vegan’ as a good behaviour medal that makes them feel special, pure and part of an esoteric masterplan, only known by the illuminated and initiated members.

Mysantropy is often their main motivation and veganism is just an identity cane like any other. It happens that, by chance, those people became vegans first but they could also have become pentecostal, neo-nazi, communist, jehova witness or hare-krishna. It was just a matter of timing and opportunity. 

Unfortunately, my experience tells me that most vegans actually match the general stereotype of the “vegan”: stuck up, annoying, condescendent, and a blind follower of new age trends and blog literature to which they, arrogantly, call “research”. That’s why I hesitate to define myself as “vegan’ when I meet someone new. I would truly dislike to be mentally associated to that stereotypical vegan that inspires so many jokes. 

My choice doesn’t make me better than anyone else and surely doesn’t give me the right to offend anyone’s intelligence with primitive forms of manipulation and fallacies.

So, if you ever think about crossing out animal exploitation from your menu and shopping list, I strongly advise you not to think about the vegans that you met. 

Non-human sentience and conscience and the environmental toll of exploitation of non-humans are reasons enough, backed up by science. Those are facts. Not opinions nor ideologies. Not even a gospel that should be preached. Those facts are what veganism should be exclusively about and not the vegans who give it a bad name. 

On beta male mating behaviour

Saint Sebastian
Andrea Mantegna

Beta males are better than all the other males.

They listen, they care and beg for your trust. They carry your banner while all the others just want to use you. But deep down they wish they had the courage to be like the grossest of the alpha males. Their intentions when around women are basically the same but because they are weak, they choose to roll over on their backs and show you their belly. This pantomime is meant to lead you to believe that you are in control whether, in reality, it’s the other way around. 

Beta males are beta because they don’t want to be alpha.

They could never be leaders. They believe in equality as a value and they don’t bother to compete with other men for women. However, the problem is that they are not only shorter, skinnier and usually uglier but also lack the confidence and the vertebrally erect posture of their opponents, the alpha males. They know it well and they spend most of their time brooding over it. In a world where toxic maleness is standard, their adaptive mating strategy makes them appear kinder, softer and inoffensive. By not considering them a threat, you end up giving them more attention than the one they’d actually deserve, which is none. And, obviously, they’ll always make you regret it. 

Moby’s attitude towards Natalie Portman is a blueprint of beta male behaviour towards women

Beta males are there for you. 

They never let you down. Every time, they always have the right thing to tell you. That’s because they weave endless internal dialogues they repeat to themselves before daring to approach you. They are far too insecure about their own personal assets and their ego is too fragile for them to let you know about their true aim. They can fly around you in circles like tiny black vultures for a long time and always make up excuses to be near you. They tend to use intellectual baits to reach carnal goals and the prospect of having sex or, for the most modest ones among them, getting any kind contact with women is their main motivation for reading books and watching films. 

Beta males are your friends. 

Your friendship brings out the best in them and you are, definitely, one of their best buddies. Having the same thing in mind as all the other non-beta males but with less resources to reach it, beta males thrive in the friend zone. By leading you to believe that they are only interested in your amazing personality and charming wits, they won’t miss the chance to hold your hand to congratulate you or hug you when you’re sad and then masturbate over it once they get home. 

Beta males are feminists.

They have lots of female friends and women always played the most important roles in their lives. They are so feminist they can mansplain feminism to you. The reality is that they feel uncomfortable around other men. Also, they feel entitled to sex and female attention and stating they are feminist, vegan or politically progressive is just a way to be near feminist, vegan and politically progressive women while appearing unmenacing. They are actually misogynistic and they secretly hate you for not giving them the devotion they crave. Sooner than you think, they will make you pay for it. 

Beta males were victims of neglect by their mothers.

They collect lots of stories about how horrible their mother was and love to tell you how neglected they were. They use them to justify their self-loathe and to inspire pity and inject guilt in you. They actually have mommy-issues and because they feel their mother didn’t love them enough, all the women in the world should make up for it. The lack of physical contact with their mothers during the first years of their lives wired their brain to franticly seek female approval and/ or sex. In case it is not obtained or it is withdrawn – which happens often- they sulk and will seek revenge. They can simmer forever in their own negative emotions and blame you for it. You and all the other women.

Beta males love and admire their mothers.

They grew up listening to their mother saying how wonderful, smart and handsome they were. Unfortunately for them, all the other women do not share their mother’s opinion and that makes them all “sluts”. You included. They convince themselves that women only like men who mistreat them. Or men whom they can manipulate. And, obviously, they are nothing of that. They are precious gems that no woman but their mothers will ever be able to appreciate. Their mothers agree.

Beta males are nice guys.

They help you even when you don’t ask for help. They obsess over finding a solution to your problems. They ask you complex questions and listen to you until you finish every sentence. If they were honest, they’d tell you they’ve learnt  all that on those pickup artists’ videos on Youtube they eagerly consume. But if they were honest, they wouldn’t be beta and, if they were nice, they wouldn’t talk about you the way they do when around other men.

Beta males are pacifists.

They hate violence and conflict. They are all for universal love and peace. Anything which is not a passive-aggressive way to deal with their own disgruntlements  – which are always the fault of others’- is cruelty and hysteria. Their innate cowardice gives them – apart from a shiny aura – the appearance of harmlessness. The minute they’ll feel rejected by you, you’ll be surprised at how little enlightened they are.  

Beta males are flexible.

They insist, persist and, if you allow them, will forever hang around, making you believe that their companionship is fireproof. They pretend not to understand polite “noes” and make sure they always keep in touch, by sending texts and messages which periodicity is scientifically calculated. Never assume you were clear in your refusal. Their flexibility is a direct result of their lack of spinal chord and they are resistant to any kind of common sense. 

In conclusion, to live a happy and peaceful life, keep other kinds of toxic males far away from you but, when it comes to beta males keep them even farther.

Are privileged women turned on by sexual objectification?

According to a recently made survey which involved 25,000 people in 23 major countries, yes they are.

Roughly, the narrower the gap between men and women in economical and socio-political terms, the less the women of those countries embrace the importance of feminism in those achievements. 

As if this weren’t already bad enough, it seems they also romantize toxic masculinity. 

Let’s go down to numbers and sordid details:

– Only 1 in each 10 German women considers herself a feminist. In Turkey, for instance, that number doubles. 

– In Germany, 2 out of 10 women disapprove of the #metoo movement. The Danish women are the champions in this depressing panorama since 2 out of 5 fear that this movement against rape culture and sexual harassment creates obstacles to enjoyable relationships between men and women. 

– More than a quarter of German women think that wolf-whistling is acceptable. This number is only outranked by Denmark in which a third of the women are pretty much O.K. with this toxic male behaviour. On the other hand, in Turkey, only 5 in 100 women find the same sort of male entitlement acceptable. 

In conclusion: more women in Germany feel offended by being called a feminist than by being catcalled by guys on the street. 

And all these findings do not come as a surprise to me since they really do match my experience.

Me, as a woman growing up in southern Europe, who disliked being seen as an object on display and having judgements of strangers being thrown at, always found amazing how some female tourists from Central and Northern Europe found charming the toxic behaviours of Latin men.  During some “girl talks”, quite a few confided to me that, unfortunately, in their country men were not as “passionate” or “warm” like the Portuguese, Italian or Spanish ones. That German, Swedish or Danish men hardly ever told them how good they looked and seldom did they give them  compliments. Apparently and according to their narratives, hardly ever men took the initiative to courtship so, it was refreshing, for them, being in a country where women were “appreciated”.

Let’s talk then about female appreciation and focus on a survey made last year which included most European countries and focused on the time each gender dedicated to household chores. Let’s take the example of the forever masters of wolf-whistling, Italy!

In Italy, 81% of the women performed daily tasks such as cleaning and cooking. Only 13% of the men did the same. In all the other Mediterranean countries the numbers aren’t very different while, in Germany, the number of women in the same circumstances lowers to 72% and the percentage of men who seem to enjoy domestic chores raises ro 29%. Not surprisingly, that number of “cold” but highly active males when it comes to domestic tasks is even higher in Scandinavia. 

Yes ladies, to your disgruntlement, one thing does not seem to come without the other.

“Hot-blooded” guys who feel entitled enough to wolf-whistle strangers on the street but who are devoted parents and companions and who are equally fiery about sharing annoying tasks with their partners only exist in your minds. 

So, it seems that women who are for long exposed to more social equality between genders tend to mistake “appreciation” for objectification and submission. 

To make it simple, the traditional concept of seduction implies the active use of specific lines and codes which foresee the surrender of the target who is, naturally, the woman. Praising is the main tool. Praising her eyes, her lips, her body or her intelligence. The source of inspiration for the appraisal varies according to the level of  training and smartness of the seductive agent who is, obviously, the man. 

Therefore, in a culture where “decent” women have to be seduced, the charm of the seducer relies on his ability to praise the prey and his value is based on how successful he is in turning a “saint” into a ‘whore”.

The secret of seduction is never telling the truth, even less in a direct manner. Everyone sticks to innuendos. In order to get to the point of the whole seduction process, men and women play roles, cover their true intentions, send mixed signals and act according to a script defined by ancestral habits. The man is active, the female is passive. He plays to win and if he wins, she is taken and then becomes one of his “conquests”. These mises-en-scène take place on the street, at the working place, at the supermarket, at school, on the metro, at the doctor’s office.

With or without women’s consent.

Female consent isn’t even a variable to be considered in these equation. Because in a culture in which women have to play “hard to get” in order to be seen as “honorable” – even when they are interested in the man in question – what’s the real value of a “no”?

Thus, the questions that arise here are several:

Why do women who, through the feminist ideology, have achieved so many social and political rights, feel the need to be treated like a object, by being praised by stranger men? 

Why do they think that equality between genders is a threat to the relationship between genders?

Why can’t they conceive “passion” without subordination?

And most importantly, why do they show contempt towards feminism, the exact same ideology which grated them all the rights they now enjoy?

Is privilege creating a cultural retrocession when it comes to the way women see themselves in the world?

It is likely that the conquests achieved in the realm of female rights are too recent to contradict the solidly founded archetypes based on legends, fairytales and centuries of gendered-based narratives. In more equalitarian social circumstances, the need for men to play the male traditional role and the women to play their “feminine but not feminist” part tends to be less therefore, it seems that these women start missing being treated as subordinates.

Looking at the results of this survey, it seems there is no middle ground. As a woman, either you are treated like an object/ prize/ princess and praised, seduced, wolf-whistled or catcalled, or enjoy real social rights like smaller gendered gap, equal employment rights and universal nursery care.

In such dimension where women would prefer to be seen as objects of desire and take for granted the social rights feminists have fought for, there seems to be less and less room for healthy interactions between two adults who share the common goal of reaching whichever type of intimacy with one another and be clear about it, in a state of equality.

That’s why feminism is still necessary. Even if privileged women think it is not. 

For more details about the above mentioned surveys , check YouGov-Cambridge Globalism Project (https://yougov.co.uk/topics/international/articles-reports/2019/05/01/about-yougov-cambridge-globalism-project) and https://www.ine.pt/scripts/wm_v_final/index.html?lang=pt

Forever master and servant

Le déjeuner sur l’herbe
Édouard Manet

E.L. James has published another novel.

The formula used to engender “The Mister” repeats itself to a sickening exhaustion: rich, older man meets young, vulnerable girl and exchanges her rescue for sex. Therefore, the names and other details are almost irrelevant and E.L. James remains true to herself.

E.L. James’ work can be criticised in many ways.  We can torment ourselves over her poor mastery of the English language, we can address the flatness of the characters and absence of an actual plot, we can focus on the level of childish absurdity of the narrative, or on the outrageous amount of 125 million copies (and counting) sold worldwide . However, all those aspects are absolutely subjective and picking one of them to analyse the E.L. James phenomenon is not only far too reductive but also morally patronising with regards to all the faithful readers. After all, 125 million of them – as many as the inhabitants of the whole Russian Federation – cannot be wrong. When Fifty Shades of Grey came out, I remember seeing many of my co-workers, friends, and acquaintances, of all ages and with different social-economic backgrounds, becoming obsessed about it.

Needless to say, they were all women. And that is scary.

Scary because a book about bad sex, rape, harassment, stalking and humiliation of a defenceless girl by a powerful man is sold and bought as being sexually and romantically stimulating.

So, unless the 125 million readers are all inexperienced virgins like the heroines of her books, I assume that most of the women who read Fifty Shades of Grey are grown-ups and therefore had, at some point of their lives, sentimental/ sexual relationships. Then, it would be pertinent to ask how can fully grown-up women make romantic projections about the utterly nonsensical, mostly silly interactions between the two characters? And that question leads to others:

What kind of experiences with men did these women have?

If such sceneries are sexually arousing, how much in tune with their sexuality and libido are these women and what role their male partners play in the sexual and relational narratives of their lives?

Why is still female submission and sexual exploitation a turn on, not only for men but also, apparently, for women?

Scary is trying to imagine a cultural context in which all of those variables come together in a background that explains the success of this formula repeated to insanity.

But actually, we don’t need to leave too much to imagination. Factors that contribute to such panorama are far from being few.

In a culture in which porn is the replacement for sexual education as well as the subliminal inspiration for everyday sex, how cannot female sexuality remain anchored in the past?

In a culture that reinforces the gendered old clichés mistaken either with nature, either with sexual empowerment as the foundations of the relationships between men and women, how can mutual respect and understanding be promoted?

In a culture where the female body is devoid of humanity by being exposed and sold in every possible way, how can women connect to themselves and to their own biology?

Thus, the problem is not E.L. James but the culturally shaped sexual stereotypes that inspire her formula. The author would be a harmless, British middle-aged woman with unfulfilled writing aspirations and her novels would have remained unpublished in one of her drawers if massive cultural patterns wouldn’t give sense to the fantasies that inspire those same novels.

Therefore, bad sex is the norm. And by bad sex i mean submission of women’s desires to the male sexual prerogatives and the use of sexuality to reproduce and crystallize relationships of power between men and women and in which women and the mere objects of male sexual pleasure. Inevitably, the main ingredient of bad sex is inequality and inequality is synonym of disrespect and disregard for women’s needs and wishes. The obvious result becomes then the lack of recognition of women as social and sexual agents.

It is then that inequality becomes sexy. And sexy is women standing way below men: at work, at home, in bed, under their hand, their whip or their gaze. Looking up, in hope or dismay, but knowing our own place. That is our best side and the right perspective, the one that makes us look desirable before everybody’s eyes, including our own.

Pleasing men is still, whether we accept it or not, the main source for women’s validation and gratification, sexual or not.

An endless number of essays and reviews can be written worldwide about how outrageous the adherence of the public to monumental attacks to female empowerment is – like Fifty Shades of Grey, Twilight, Story of O and hundreds of years of more or less cheap romantic literary productions – but until inequality between sexes remains untackled, the same formula that enchanted our great-grandmothers will forever enchant us.

Lisbon by a Lisboner

“I can´t believe that you are from Lisbon and have decided to live elsewhere.” – I hear this sentence often and I have already learned to answer with a smile.

I never felt that Lisbon was my home, even though I was born and raised there and take pride in saying that I know it almost as well as I know myself.

From Lisbon, I keep glimpses of places that no longer exist and pictures that feel now so unfamiliar. My Lisbon is a patchwork of foggy memories like those kept as only remains of a relationship that never made sense, that definitely lasted longer than it should, but which also had its nice moments.  

And once, I thought I loved Lisbon. Now I know that I loved it with that kind of resigned tenderness that arises from conformity and feeds on the impossibility to avoid something. Therefore, in order to make it more bearable, one decides to focus on beauty rather than on everything that causes disgust.

Last time I went to Lisbon, I couldn’t find Lisbon anywhere. The ten million tourists – as many as the whole population of Portugal – that pass by Lisbon every year have managed to transform a shy and melancholic town pushed against the ocean into a chaotic theme park. The few old time cinemas that still existed were replaced by department stores, belvederes were privatised, markets from the XIX century were rebaptised by media brands. From the old “tascas” and “pensões” – which have become “gourmet wine bars”, “hostels” and “hotel-boutiques” – only the façades remain and the narrow and winding roads of the capital were flooded by “tuk tuks” which make the attempt of driving in Lisbon a Bangkok-like experience.

Every nook and cranny was overcrowded and everywhere, the prices matched the European average but not the Portuguese 900 euros average salary earned in Lisbon, the highest in the whole country. The stereotypes about Portugal have become brands and they are sold, shamelessly, as “authenticity”, the concept in every tourist’s mouth. The vintage is fake, the traditions are a pastiche ready to trade and the rule is the folklorization of us according to the projections of the others.

The real estate speculation and tension created by the local accommodation concept push the Lisboners outside Lisbon and the irresponsibility with which the local authorities handle the environmental impact of tourism massification in such a small city made it completely unrecognizable.

But somehow, some things hadn’t changed.
I confirmed the sociological assumption that cultural behaviours take much longer to change than the topography of a city.

I recognized the same long faces and half-depressed expressions on the metro and the schizophrenic attitude that inspires both a servil demeanour towards the foreigner and an extreme rudeness towards the fellow citizen. The general lack of respect for others and the constant absence of sense of responsability for a common well-being, which tends to characterize so many of people’s behaviours, remained untouched. Lisboners still hadn’t learned to give way to ambulances while on the road nor to smile at strangers for a matter of social politeness. But all that is invisible to the eye of the new Lisbon tourist. A tourist inspired by Lonely Planet guides, who flies Ryanair and hopes to know Lisbon in a couple of days, will be happy enough to discover that, after all, the whole of Lisbon can be contained in an Airbnb experience interesting enough to tell everybody back home.
Fernando Pessoa, Cristiano Ronaldo, Discoveries, fado, sardinhas e pastéis de nata are all part of the same package and in it there’s no place for anything that goes beyond the most superficial impression. There’s no time for more either.

“We’ll all get high and walk off
Into the country, ridiculous country
Where the blue sky will smother us” plays in my head and I can now make sense out of these lines.

Last time I went to Lisbon, I knew I wouldn´t ever go back.

Lisbon keeps remembering me why i left. We were once too irrationally close to be friends now. And Lisbon, you know you were never the one.

Not a mother. Just a woman.

Today, I came across a scientific study from 2017 that my Facebook feed decided to revive for some reason. That study departed from the analysis of the reactions of individuals from all over the US to voluntarily child-free people. According to it, most people not only find atypical that strangers choose not to reproduce but also feel morally outraged by their individual choice.

Based on that, it was observed that people hold the belief that voluntarily childless people are less fulfilled and happy than others who aren’t. Therefore, a bias is created and that same bias inspires differentiated ways of addressing those individuals, which may include discrimination and varied forms of mistreatment in different social spheres like the healthcare and the workplace ones. Even if this study doesn’t mention the variations on the level of disgust and outrage that most people feel towards a child-free man and a child-free woman, it is obvious that a child-free woman is the one that inspires the most temperamental and morally fuelled reactions.

As a woman who always had very clear her choice of not wanting children, I have seen this moral outrage in all its forms and demonstrations. From men, from other women, from doctors, from colleagues, from friends, from family, from partners, from bosses, from HR managers, from low educated people, from highly educated people and from people of all different nationalities and cultures. In all of them, I always saw that expression of puzzlement, more or less disguised by social politeness, that follows my answer to the question: “And you, why don’t you have children?”. People could deal with “because I can’t have them” or with “because I didn’t find the right person” and even with “because when I wanted it was too late” but never, I repeat, never with the straight answer “because I don’t want to”.

I didn’t want it at 20. I didn’t want it at 30 and I don’t want it at 41.

Due to the fact that most people cannot compute such an answer coming from a woman, a justification has to be found. Therefore, the quest for virtually hidden, dark and Freudian causes for such an outlandish behaviour begins. Some of them even ask, more or less directly, in an attempt to find if those causes lay, eventually, on a concealed dislike for children, or on the absence of father-like partners, or even on some dysfunctional family environment during childhood or maybe on a masked infertility. It is simply too hard to believe that a woman of sound mind, with appareantly all the necessary variables at hand, simply has priorities other than reproducing.

When I was younger such intrusions used to make me very upset. I used to get upset when my gynaecologist asked me, every year, starting at 18, when I wanted to have children (he only stopped asking when I was 35 maybe after concluding that, m a y b e, I was right when I answered, every time, that I really didn’t want them). I used to get upset when women in my family accused me of being loveless and selfish for refusing motherhood. I used to get upset when friends said that it was such a waste a potentially great mother like myself not wanting actually to be a mother. I used to get upset at people asking when my turn would be after my older sister got pregnant. I used to get upset at people’s interrogatories about when I would give my baby nephew a cousin for him to play with. I used to get upset at the shocked disbelief with which some partners faced my clarification that no children with me should be expected.  I used to get utterly annoyed and even enraged at such interferences, pressure and all those unrequested sermons about the wonders of motherhood and the absolute personal fulfilment  and the divine, undying love it involves. It was not only their moral outrage which annoyed me but also the obsessive insistence in pushing me into being someone and doing something that fell completely out of my plans. Especially, regarding something which i deemed to be an absolutely personal and intimate choice which was the use i decided to give to my reproductive system.

People didn’t seem to feel outraged when i decided to become an anthropologist instead of a journalist, nor when i decided to quit my Master and follow a path different from the academia. People werent’t shocked when i decided to settle in Brussels instead of Lisbon, in Guadalajara instead of Cancún or even in Germany instead of Switzerland. People weren’t offended when i decided not to follow any potential carreer in the areas of applied mathematics, space science, beauty industry or healthcare. I could have done all that but i have chosen not to. I simply did it and no one acted offended.

The problem is that motherhood is not seen as a choice for women. Actually, it is everything but personal.

Motherhood, as a cultural universal, is considered a defining aspect of femininity. More than a biological fate, it is seen as a social obligation thus, a woman who decides not to fulfil that social prescription can only be a freak, an outcast. In the case of a woman whose life circumstances are not those of an outcast nor looks remotely like one, this choice can be particularly hard to accept and definitely bewildering for most people. Interestingly, we are not speaking about more traditional societies. We are speaking about the free, western and progressive world. Actually, when it comes to this topic, the same level of moral outrage towards childless women can be seen coming from a young, tech-savy, urban scandinavian hipster or from an analphabet indigenous old woman from Chiapas. Neither of them can help that reaction therefore, i dare to extrapolate from the sample of that study and guess that the whole world is united in that way of conceiving the purpose of human existence: procreating. So, a women deciding not to have descendants is equivalent to breaking a tacit agreement accepted at birth.

It is the lack of compliance with such an essential matter that causes the uproar. Society can tolerate some levels of deviant behaviours as long as its pertuation isn’t at stake. It can be condescendent, even indulging when it comes to certain more exccentric behaviours as long as one does not refuse, plainly, to fullfil its most basic expectations. And reproduction is definitely one of them. It is considered upmost subversive not to procreate.

Now, after having seen hundreds of times that same expression of outrage on people’s faces and having heard all their questions and all kinds of monologues,  I no longer get upset. Not because i became blasée or developped some kind of emotional callus but simply because now i understand that motherhood is anything but a personal decision. Instead, it is a societal demand and a communitarian obligation. Women’s womb is anything but a private part. It is a public space about which everyone feels free to opinionate. So, i no longer feel outraged at the outraged people. I understand now how it all works and, because i have decided not to adopt for myself a destiny traced by others and because i insist that my womb is mine and mine alone, I am happy enough with following all the other plans I have for myself.

Furthermore, if I needed backup, I have decades of scientific studies that prove a negative correlation between the levels of happiness and parenthood. But I don’t even need them. Neither them nor any other kind of justification.

The victor and the prize

The kissing sailor – 1945

George Mendonsa has died.

George Mendonsa was the sailor who was immortalised by the photo of Alfred Eisenstaedt, in which he kisses a random woman that he grabbed and kissed in Times Square, after the surrender of Japan.

Quoting The Guardian : ,,The woman was Greta Friedman, a dental assistant wearing a nurse’s uniform. ‘ “He was very strong, he was just holding me tight,” she said. “It wasn’t my choice to be kissed. The guy just came over and kissed or grabbed.’- she told an interviewer with the Veterans History Project in 2005.”

On the other hand, Mendonsa, the sailor, told CBS news in 2012: “It was the moment. You come back from the Pacific and finally, the war ends. The excitement of the war being over, plus I had a few drinks. So when I saw the nurse, I grabbed her and I kissed her.”

So, they were perfect strangers.

She was minding her own business, walking down the street in her nurse uniform and a man felt free enough to grab her and kiss her. No questions asked, no introductory conversation, no seducing moves, no reciprocity, no consent. Just plainly using the alcohol and the celebratory mood as excuses to cross over all the boundaries that strangers’ bodies keep between themselves in public places. Just simple appropriation of someone else’s body. This male entitlement and this female objectification are so normalised in our culture that this photo is and was, for decades on end, a symbol of ecstatic celebration of the victory and safe return from war of the good guys. No one questioned it. After all, she didn’t struggle, she didn’t oppose therefore, not only did she like it but also felt flattered by the attention of the triumphant sailor. 

The Rape of Proserpina – Gian Lorenzo Bernini, 1621

The kipnapping of the Sabine women – Giambologna, 1583

In our collective imaginary,  rape and male violence can almost be seen as poetic forms of passion with which women are honoured. Art fuels these depictions of sexual assault and the numerous representations of the abduction and rape of the Sabine women by Roman men, or the abduction and rape of Proserpina by Pluto are perfect examples of that and very far from being the only ones. In all of them, the bodies of the assailants and the victims intertwine in a passionate dance of  ambiguous female gestures and savage male motions. To the eyes of the observer that witnesses these assaults, it all almost appears to be a fiery foreplay in which both parts play a role and from which both derive pleasure. Men in the role of victors taking their well-deserved trophies and women, as the trophies, with misleading body languages, somewhere between arousal and terror.

The photo taken of Mendonsa and Friedman is another example of that. Its name, “The kissing sailor”, defines who’s the main character. And because a photograph wasn’t enough to glorify his prowess, it is also possible to see in different locations in the USA, a collection of statues depicting the act. It has been properly named “Unconditional Surrender”.

Unconditional Surrender – Seward Johnson, 2015

Apart from some feminist uproar in the wake of the #metoo movement, most people don’t want to question the legitimacy of such kind of male attitude towards women. Maybe it would be too hard for some women to realise that that kiss stolen on the dance floor wasn’t consensual, that the touch on the train wasn’t unintentional, that the shoulder massage from that male co-worker wasn’t given out of kindness.

Maybe it would be too hard for some men to realise that they are not as nice and harmless as they think they are, that they have,  far too often, justified appropriation with alcohol, and mistaken self-confidence with self-entitlement and with being absolutely and utterly inappropriate towards a woman, stranger or not.

Better to go on using cosy euphemisms and legitimating disrespect through tradition. Better to go on considering that equality between both sexes is some sort of radical absurdity that kills all the beauty and magic between humans. And sometimes, all that is art and we all know how life can imitate it.