Aggressive Wife, Caring Mother: Representations of Gender and Violence in the Biographical Narrative of an Incarcerated Girl in Brazil

Tuesday, 17 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Natalia OTTO, University of Toronto, Canada
This paper analyzes the biographical narrative of Helena, a 17-year-old girl who, at the time of the research, was incarcerated at a Juvenile Detention Center due to the homicide of a girl from her neighborhood, who allegedly had an affair with her husband. I interviewed Helena in 2015 at the Center for Social and Educational Services for Teenage Women in Porto Alegre, Brazil. In my analysis, I aim at understanding how Helena’s representations of gender and physical violence (both suffered and committed) intersect in her narrative. I investigate the connections she establishes between violent practices and the positions she occupies as a young woman in her social space. I aim at understanding under which conditions the practice of physical violence is regarded as coherent with her representations of femininity, and under which conditions it is not. I identify three elements that are central to her narrative: i. the construction of an aggressive and invulnerable personality and, hence, the refusal of victimization; ii. the justification of the use of violence to preserve the stability of heterosexual relationships; iii. the notion of motherhood as a possibility of redemption. Her aggressive personality is narratively coherent with many aspects of her femininity, but incoherent with her role as a mother. To her, aggressiveness is acceptable in a context of “survival of the fittest”. Such “survival” strategies, however, were not employed for self-preservation, but to defend her social role as a wife. Notwithstanding, by doing so, she jeopardized another feminine role she expects to play: that of the mother. Thus, the same violence that defies some aspects of her femininity is mobilized to reinforced another facet of it. This reveals the ambiguous and nuanced patterns of gender socialization within contexts of family and urban violence.