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Memoirs of a Brazilian reveal country's inhibitions

By Larry Rohter The New York Times

THURSDAY, APRIL 27, 2006


SÃO PAULO She goes by the name Bruna, the Little Surfer Girl, and gives new meaning
to the phrase "kiss and tell." First in a blog that quickly became the country's most
popular and now in a best-selling memoir, she has titillated Brazilians and become a
national celebrity with her graphic, day-by-day accounts of life as a call girl here.

But it is not just her canny use of the Internet that has made Bruna, whose real name is
Raquel Pacheco, a cultural phenomenon. By going public with her exploits, she has also
upended convention and set off a vigorous debate about sexual values and practices,
revealing a country that is not always as uninhibited as the world often assumes.

Interviewed at the office of her publisher here, Pacheco, 21, said the blog that became her
vehicle to notoriety emerged almost by accident. But once it started, she was quick to
spot its commercial potential and its ability to transform her from just another program
girl, as high-class prostitutes are called in Brazil, into an entrepreneur of the erotic.

"In the beginning, I just wanted to vent my feelings, and I didn't even put up my
photograph or phone number," she said. "I wanted to show what goes on in the head of a
program girl, and I couldn't find anything on the Net like that. I thought that if I was
curious about it, others would be too."

Pacheco parlayed that inquisitiveness into a best seller, "The Scorpion's Sweet Poison,"
that has made her a sort of sexual guru. A mixture of autobiography and how-to manual,
her book has sold more than 100,000 copies since it was published late last year, and has
just been translated into Spanish.

At book signings, Pacheco said, "80 percent of the public is women, which I didn't expect
at all," because most of the readers of her blog appeared to be men, including customers
who "wanted to see how I had rated their performance." As she sees it, the high level of
female interest in her sexual experiences reflects a gap here between perceptions about
sex and the reality.

"I think there's a lot of hypocrisy and a bit of fear involved," she said.

"Brazilian women have this sexy image, of being at ease and uninhibited in bed. But
anyone who lives here knows that's not true."

Carnival and the general sensuality that seems to permeate the atmosphere can give the
impression that Brazil is unusually permissive and liberated, especially compared with
other predominantly Roman Catholic nations. But experts say the real situation is far
more complicated, which explains both Bruna's emergence and the strong reactions she
has provoked.
"Brazil is a country of contradictions, as much in relation to sexuality as anything else,"
said Richard Parker, a Columbia University anthropologist who is the author of "Bodies,
Pleasures and Passions: Sexual Culture in Contemporary Brazil," and has taught and
worked here. "There is a certain spirit of transgression in daily life, but there is also a lot
of moralism."

As a result, some Brazilians have applauded Bruna's frankness and say it is healthy to get
certain taboos out in the open, like what both she and academic researchers say is a
national penchant for anal sex. But others decry her celebrity as one more noxious
manifestation of free-market economics and globalization.

"This is the fruit of a type of society in which people will do anything to get money,
including selling their bodies to be able to buy cellular phones," said Maria Clara
Lucchetti Bingemer, a newspaper columnist and professor of theology at Catholic
University in Rio de Janeiro. "We've always had prostitution, but it was a hidden,
prohibited thing. Now it's a professional option like anything else, and that's the truly
shocking thing."

But Gabriela Silva Leite, a sociologist and former prostitute who now directs a
prostitutes' advocacy group, argues that such concerns are exaggerated. "It's not a book
like this that is going to stimulate prostitution, but the lack of education and opportunities
for women," she said. "I don't think Bruna glamorizes things at all. On the contrary, you
can regard the book as a kind of warning, because she talks of the unpleasant atmosphere
and all the difficulties she faced."

Part of the controversy stems simply from Pacheco's forthright and unapologetic tone
about her work. Traditionally, Brazilians feel sympathy for the poor woman selling her
body to feed her children; she is seen as a victim of the country's glaring social and
economic inequalities.

But Pacheco does not fit that mold. She comes from a middle-class family and turned to
prostitution, she said, both as rebellion against her strict parents and because she wanted
to be economically independent.

That a woman is now talking and behaving as Brazilian men often have may also offend
some. Roberto da Matta, a leading anthropologist and social commentator, noted that
even though role reversals were an important part of Carnival, other areas of Brazilian
life, including sexual relationships, could be quite rigid and hierarchical.

Under the system of machismo that prevails in Brazil and other Latin American countries,
"only a man has a right to command his own sex life, and that control is seen as a basic
attribute of masculinity," he explained. "So when a young, attractive, intelligent woman
appears and says she is a prostitute, you have a complete inversion of roles, leaving men
fragile in a terrain where she is the boss, not them."
For all her willingness to break taboos, though, Pacheco's current life plan is
conventional. She has a steady boyfriend and hopes to marry him, and is studying for the
national college entrance exam, with a mind to majoring in psychology.

"Being Bruna was a role that left its mark on me, but I can't abandon her," Pacheco said.
"There are people who still call me Bruna, and I don't mind, but I wouldn't want to be her
for the rest of my life."

Nor is Pacheco immune to the influence of pudor, a concept important throughout Latin
America that combines elements of modesty, decency, propriety and shame. In her book,
rather than write out the words commonly used on the street to describe sexual acts and
organs, she prints only their first letters, with dots indicating what everyone already
knows.

"I think it's quite vulgar to say the whole word," she explained. "But I didn't want to be
too formal, either."

SÃO PAULO She goes by the name Bruna, the Little Surfer Girl, and gives new meaning
to the phrase "kiss and tell." First in a blog that quickly became the country's most
popular and now in a best-selling memoir, she has titillated Brazilians and become a
national celebrity with her graphic, day-by-day accounts of life as a call girl here.

But it is not just her canny use of the Internet that has made Bruna, whose real name is
Raquel Pacheco, a cultural phenomenon. By going public with her exploits, she has also
upended convention and set off a vigorous debate about sexual values and practices,
revealing a country that is not always as uninhibited as the world often assumes.

Interviewed at the office of her publisher here, Pacheco, 21, said the blog that became her
vehicle to notoriety emerged almost by accident. But once it started, she was quick to
spot its commercial potential and its ability to transform her from just another program
girl, as high-class prostitutes are called in Brazil, into an entrepreneur of the erotic.

"In the beginning, I just wanted to vent my feelings, and I didn't even put up my
photograph or phone number," she said. "I wanted to show what goes on in the head of a
program girl, and I couldn't find anything on the Net like that. I thought that if I was
curious about it, others would be too."

Pacheco parlayed that inquisitiveness into a best seller, "The Scorpion's Sweet Poison,"
that has made her a sort of sexual guru. A mixture of autobiography and how-to manual,
her book has sold more than 100,000 copies since it was published late last year, and has
just been translated into Spanish.

At book signings, Pacheco said, "80 percent of the public is women, which I didn't expect
at all," because most of the readers of her blog appeared to be men, including customers
who "wanted to see how I had rated their performance." As she sees it, the high level of
female interest in her sexual experiences reflects a gap here between perceptions about
sex and the reality.

"I think there's a lot of hypocrisy and a bit of fear involved," she said.

"Brazilian women have this sexy image, of being at ease and uninhibited in bed. But
anyone who lives here knows that's not true."

Carnival and the general sensuality that seems to permeate the atmosphere can give the
impression that Brazil is unusually permissive and liberated, especially compared with
other predominantly Roman Catholic nations. But experts say the real situation is far
more complicated, which explains both Bruna's emergence and the strong reactions she
has provoked.

"Brazil is a country of contradictions, as much in relation to sexuality as anything else,"


said Richard Parker, a Columbia University anthropologist who is the author of "Bodies,
Pleasures and Passions: Sexual Culture in Contemporary Brazil," and has taught and
worked here. "There is a certain spirit of transgression in daily life, but there is also a lot
of moralism."

As a result, some Brazilians have applauded Bruna's frankness and say it is healthy to get
certain taboos out in the open, like what both she and academic researchers say is a
national penchant for anal sex. But others decry her celebrity as one more noxious
manifestation of free-market economics and globalization.

"This is the fruit of a type of society in which people will do anything to get money,
including selling their bodies to be able to buy cellular phones," said Maria Clara
Lucchetti Bingemer, a newspaper columnist and professor of theology at Catholic
University in Rio de Janeiro. "We've always had prostitution, but it was a hidden,
prohibited thing. Now it's a professional option like anything else, and that's the truly
shocking thing."

But Gabriela Silva Leite, a sociologist and former prostitute who now directs a
prostitutes' advocacy group, argues that such concerns are exaggerated. "It's not a book
like this that is going to stimulate prostitution, but the lack of education and opportunities
for women," she said. "I don't think Bruna glamorizes things at all. On the contrary, you
can regard the book as a kind of warning, because she talks of the unpleasant atmosphere
and all the difficulties she faced."

Part of the controversy stems simply from Pacheco's forthright and unapologetic tone
about her work. Traditionally, Brazilians feel sympathy for the poor woman selling her
body to feed her children; she is seen as a victim of the country's glaring social and
economic inequalities.
But Pacheco does not fit that mold. She comes from a middle-class family and turned to
prostitution, she said, both as rebellion against her strict parents and because she wanted
to be economically independent.

That a woman is now talking and behaving as Brazilian men often have may also offend
some. Roberto da Matta, a leading anthropologist and social commentator, noted that
even though role reversals were an important part of Carnival, other areas of Brazilian
life, including sexual relationships, could be quite rigid and hierarchical.

Under the system of machismo that prevails in Brazil and other Latin American countries,
"only a man has a right to command his own sex life, and that control is seen as a basic
attribute of masculinity," he explained. "So when a young, attractive, intelligent woman
appears and says she is a prostitute, you have a complete inversion of roles, leaving men
fragile in a terrain where she is the boss, not them."

For all her willingness to break taboos, though, Pacheco's current life plan is
conventional. She has a steady boyfriend and hopes to marry him, and is studying for the
national college entrance exam, with a mind to majoring in psychology.

"Being Bruna was a role that left its mark on me, but I can't abandon her," Pacheco said.
"There are people who still call me Bruna, and I don't mind, but I wouldn't want to be her
for the rest of my life."

Nor is Pacheco immune to the influence of pudor, a concept important throughout Latin
America that combines elements of modesty, decency, propriety and shame. In her book,
rather than write out the words commonly used on the street to describe sexual acts and
organs, she prints only their first letters, with dots indicating what everyone already
knows.

"I think it's quite vulgar to say the whole word," she explained. "But I didn't want to be
too formal, either."

From International Harold Tribune / Americas


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