The uses of silence: Researching sexual harassments against female domestic workers in Brazil

Valeria Ribeiro Corossacz


In this paper I discuss the experiences of silence related to two fieldworks in Brazil, during which I was investigating the topic of sexual harassment against female domestic workers by male employers. In the first fieldwork I interviewed a group of upper-middle class men self-identifying themselves as white. With the aim of investigating their apprenticeship of whiteness and masculinity, I asked them to talk about their first sexual experiences; some of them talked with ease about their «sexual initiation» with female domestic workers. Men presented these «sexual initiations» as a form of «normal» violence, well known in Brazilian society. Even if for those men it was easy to name these harassments, I had to face the way they silenced the multiple forms of domination included in them (sexual, racial and class). In the second fieldwork, I interviewed female domestic workers and union organizer (most of them black) asking them to talk about the problem of sexual harassments by male employers. Contrary to the men who had practiced this violence, for female domestic workers it was much harder to talk about it: silence was the main code to relate to this experience, and I had to find out the right words to approach the question. Comparing these two fieldwork experiences I will consider how silence can be at the same time a way to legitimate power relations and to contrast them. I will also reflect on silence’s role in the ethnographic relations.

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