Edited By Kelda Fontenot
Corossacz, Valeria Ribeiro. White Middle-Class Men in Rio de Janeiro: The Making of a Dominant Subject. London: Lexington Books, 2017. Hardcover. 140 pp.
Brazil is a special land of contradictions, especially among social classes. The richest pastor in the world, Edir Macedo (who just happens to be the uncle of current conservative Rio de Janeiro Mayor Marcelo Crivella) lives there (Berta 2017; Nwachukwu 2017), while the average Brazilian evangelical Christian has the lowest income in the country (Chesnut 2017).
Brazilian-Italian anthropologist Valeria Ribeiro Corssacz offers an interesting glimpse into white privilege in her book White Middle-Class Men in Rio de Janeiro: The Making of a Dominant Subject. Corssacz interviewed twenty-one upper-middle-class men, each who defines himself as white, to create an ethnographic study.
Anyone interested in Brazilian studies likely knows the ideas of “black” and “white” in Brazil are supposed to be different than those of the United States. Brazil has such a mixture of African, European, Japanese, and indigenous cultures that it is often hard to determine who is “white,” who is “black,” and who is something in between. White Middle-Class Men in Rio de Janeiro: The Making of a Dominant Subject provides more detail on these issues. Seasoned scholars will know most of the concepts reviewed; however, it is important to at least attempt to define skin color for the purposes of Corossacz’ ethnography.
In most of Corossacz’ interviews, the men seemed more aware of their class standing than their supposed “whiteness”. In fact, many of the men interviewed spoke derogatorily about “white” women from northeastern Brazil. Severe poverty is common among women who move from that part of the country to Rio, and they all too often end up in domestic household jobs. In Brazil, a domestic worker usually lives with the family. Generally, all meals are included as part of her salary. Until recent years, it was uncommon for housekeepers and maids to have any days off of work or receive tangible financial compensation. (Labor unions formed, and activism helped improve the working and living conditions of most domestic workers in Brazil.)
Most of the men had their first sexual experiences, which Corossacz translates from Portuguese as “sexual initiation,” with a housekeeper. When freely discussing these experiences — virtually all of which Corssacz defines under the rape or sexual harassment umbrellas — these men did not generally use racial or skin color terms.
Only a few of the men implied or admitted to rape or sexual harassment, but none used those terms or their Portuguese equivalents. The one man who admitted (it was) rape has been homosexual for many years.
All the heterosexual men who initiated forced or coerced sex seemed to believe it was expected of them and the housekeepers expected it of the men in the house. Corossacz appropriately draws many comparisons to slavery. It is interesting to note that Brazil, in 1888, was the last Western country (in the world) to abolish slavery.
Many of the men interviewed were teenagers right before the global sexual revolution. Some of the men who were fathers said they did not want their sons involved in so-called “sexual initiation” with domestic workers(,) because it was wrong, and they regretted their past actions. However, such remorseful expressions were almost always tempered by rationalizations. Aside from the usual master-servant justification, the men complained it was difficult to find sex with girls their own age from their own class standing back in those days. Comments about the more freely available sexuality of modern girls and women were occasionally made.
Some of Corssacz’ interviewees openly admitted visiting prostitutes during their early teenage years. However, in many cases, it was male relatives who facilitated these visits. In one case, a man asked his fourteen-year-old grandson a rather personal and crude question. When the boy answered he had not had an actual sexual experience with (another) woman, just himself, the grandfather proudly took him to a brothel and told him to pick out his favorite. The boy eagerly complied. Once the boy and the prostitute entered a room, she took off her blonde wig and took out her dentures. Regardless, the boy said he was still very excited and slept with her.
White Middle-Class Men in Rio de Janeiro: The Making of a Dominant Subject also offers a number of theories related to race, gender, and class. Unlike some authors, Corossacz relies on more than the late Gilberto Freyre’s work. (Freyre was a Brazilian anthropologist, sociologist, and writer and is still known worldwide.) It is also interesting to see some works in the Italian language cited in the bibliography; most ethnographies from Brazil rely on Portuguese sources, with the occasional English or Spanish work is thrown in.
Overall, White Middle-Class Men in Rio de Janeiro: The Making of a Dominant Subject is a relatively short yet thorough read. It would especially appeal to students and academic professionals interested in anthropology, sociology, gender studies, ethnic studies, Latin American studies, Lusophone studies, or African diasporic studies. Corssacz’ work does not use much academic jargon and is written in a manner that students of all levels can grasp.
Berta, Ruben. “Sob Crivella, Rio faz convênio com banco de Edir Macedo.” The Intercept. September 07, 2017. Accessed March 20, 2018. https://theintercept.com/2017/09/07/prefeitura-do-rio-faz-convenio-com-banco-ligado-a-edir-macedo/.
Chesnut, R. Andrew. “The Spirit of Brazil: Charismatic Christianity among the World’s Largest Catholic and Pentecostal Populations.” In Handbook of Contemporary Religions in Brazil, edited by Bettina E. Schmidt and Steven Engler, 76-94. Leiden: Brill, 2017.
Nwachukwu, John Owen. “Seven Nigerians make list of top 20 world richest pastors [See list].” Daily Post Nigeria. July 31, 2017. Accessed March 20, 2018. http://dailypost.ng/2017/07/31/seven-nigerians-make-list-top-20-world-richest-pastors-see-list/.