This week, two of the t-shirts presented by Adidas were removed from the market for promoting sexual tourism in the country which will host the World Cup, or at least for corroborating with the idea that Brazil is a land of free sexuality and vast prostitution. One shows a cartoon woman with open arms on a sunny Rio de Janeiro beach under the word-play “Looking to Score.” The other has an “I love Brazil” heart resembling the butt of a woman wearing a thong. This hit Brazilians as reinforcing the stereotype of Brazilian sexuality and going against the country’s efforts to distance itself from idea of sexual tourism paradise. President Roussef herself, on her Twitter account, stated that “Brazil is happy to receive tourists for the World Cup, but it is also ready to combat sex tourism.”
But what makes sexual tourism so bad, and why are Brazilians so adamant in advocating that their women are not prostitutes? To which extent is the limit of representability (Zizek, 1989) of the Brazilian female exuding nothing but sexuality, and who is to blame for this? Why does the country refuse to be recognized as a market example of sexual trade, and how does it impact its true economy?
Sex as commodity bothers humanity since the capitalistic criminalization of sex (Foucault, 1976). In an economical transaction where the object is the service and the labor at the same time, and in which seller and commodity are one, nothing is left for the latent exploitation of the economic value of the transaction and/or object. It is important to remember that sex as a mode of production leaves no traces of ownership: what is traded is the service, not the possession of the body – which eliminates the basics of capitalist models of exchange and profit. Brazilian female sexuality as something possible to be purchased may not be perceived as similar to the several other ongoing marketing transactions that happen around the country on a daily basis – with foreigners or locals similarly – but in nothing differs, technically speaking, from other business negotiations. But sex is to be performed for procreation only, within the sanctified realms of marriage. Once it can be traded for money, it threatens not only the institution of marriage but also the entire economical system which is based on the triad producer – object – seller.
The fact that prostitution blurs the realms of market and intimacy still determines the impossible end of obscenity proposed by Rembar in 1969: it remains embedded with pre-capitalistic notions of ownership, lineage and heteronormative monogamy as a means of control and propagation of capitalist ideas. This agenda is hidden under false assumptions that prostitution equals slavery, trafficking, and violence against women – this way totally eliminating any possibility of recognition of sex workers as agents and in control of their own economic operations. By equating prostitution to the sexual exploitation of women, we are denied the concept that it is a viable commercial avenue to women who – and some may find this surprising – choose to embark in this endeavor instead of being coached or forced into it.
The stereotypicalization of Brazilian female sexuality as a commodity should not offend the country since it is, without a doubt, a potential means for economic improvement. If removed from the obscurity and stripped from the label of obscenity, it might even guarantee better and safer working conditions to all sex workers in the country. If only we let it.