Bitches Unleashed

Performance and Embodied Politics in Favela Funk

by Raquel Moreira (Author)
Textbook XVI, 246 Pages

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Advance praise
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Figures
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introducing Bitches Unleashed
  • Chapter One: Femininities, Agency, and White Feminist Failures
  • Chapter Two: “I Don’t Depend on Men for Shit!”: Favela Funk as Industry and Funkeiras’ Autonomy
  • Chapter Three: Femininities on Display: Transgression and the Body in Performance
  • Chapter Four: Negotiated Femininities: Relationships with Men and Other Funkeiras
  • Chapter Five: Anti-Blackness and Racial Consciousness among Funkeiras
  • Chapter Six: “Sit Down and Observe Your Own Destruction, Macho!”: Travesti Performances in Favela Funk
  • Beyond Survival: Funkeiras, Embodied Politics, and the Future of Feminism
  • Index
  • Series index

←viii | ix→


Cover: Deize Tigrona live performance

Credit: Vincent Rosenblatt

Figure 1: MC Carol posing

Credit: Fernando Schlaepfer/I Hate Flash

Figure 2: C Kátia, posing

Credit: Brenda Barbosa

Figure 3: MC Xuxú posing

Credit: Marina Costa

Figure 4: Linn da Quebrada posing

Credit: Gabriel Renne

←x | xi→


I have been meaning to write this book for at least the past five years. Countless people have helped me find the courage and time to finally do it. The process of finding courage and time to do it has been influenced by countless people. I am grateful for their support during this demanding and all-consuming process.

First and foremost, I would like to thank my partner, Isaac Pressnell, who has been my emotional pillar during this taxing time. Thank you, my love, for caring for our daughter, Isadora, our dog, Gatolinos, our house, and my emotional needs—all while dealing with a global pandemic, a chronic illness diagnosis, and the death of my father. Thank you, Isaac, for giving me space to write this book during an impossible time in our lives. We both know I would still be procrastinating if not for your constant reminders that this was actually the right time to do it.

I want to thank Bernadette Marie Calafell for her intellectual generosity and mentorship. It has been an honor to learn from and with her. I remember the first time she told me to submit a book proposal. It was in Las Vegas, during the 2015 NCA, as we walked into an elevator. It only took me four years to follow through. Thank you, Bernadette, for ←xi | xii→encouraging me to write this book. Her request for a proposal made me feel accountable to finishing this work.

To Deize Tigrona, Dandara, MC Carol (and Ana Paula!), MC Xuxú, Linn da Quebrada (and Izabela!), MC Kátia and LD, MC Pink, and the Abysolutas: this work exists because of them. I am eternally grateful for all that I have learned during our time together. Meeting you has changed my life.

I am thankful for my Brazilian family, Carla Moreira, Luiz Carlos Moreira, Maria Martha Bruno and Carolina Damico for their support during and after my 2013 fieldwork. Every single one of you has lent me a car to go meet with an artist or attend a performance. Mom, thank you for coming to a not-so-safe party with me—and for not freaking out about it. Grandpa, thank you for your financial support during that summer. Even though you are not a big funk carioca fan, you are still a champion for social justice.

To my Cidade de Deus friends, Don and Mingau, thank you so much for spending time with and for introducing me to so many funkeiras. I will never forget the afternoon we spent at MC Mãe’s (descanse em paz) rooftop in 2012—that was the first time I heard about MC Carol. Many thanks to Felícia Cristina, who took me to a baile in São Gonçalo and put me in touch with several artists.

Many thanks to my copy-editor, Kristen Foht, for her curiosity, competence, and thoroughness. I could not have done this without her help. I am thankful, too, for my Peter Lang editors, Erika Hendrix and Ashita Shah, who were patient and helpful throughout this process.

I am grateful for my friend, Jen Abraham, who joined our family pod during the Covid-19 pandemic to help us care for our baby. I did not think I would be able to have whole-day writing retreats! I would also like to thank my fierce academic friends for their support and encouragement over the years: Dr. Fatima Zahrae Chrifi Alaoui, Dr. Leslie Rossman, Dr. Shadee Abdi, Dr. Pavithra Prasad, Dr. Catherine Clifford, and Dr. Kristin Seemuth-Whaley. Your badassery inspires me. I am also grateful for my dear friend Paula Martin, who was my emotional rock during my DU years.←xii | xiii→

I would like to acknowledge Dr. Adriana Carvalho Lopes’s indispensable favela funk book, Funk-se Quem Quiser. Her work has had a tremendous impact on this project. Thanks also to Dr. Adriana Facina, Dr. Carlos Palombini, Dr. Pâmella Passos, and Dr. Pablo Laignier for their contributions to favela funk research. A special thanks to Dr. Mariana Gomes for sharing her passion for funkeiras (and frustrations with feminism) with me.

I would like to thank my University of Denver’s Department of Communication Studies professors for their intellectual support, especially my dissertation committee members, Dr. Richie Hao, Dr. Darrin Hicks, and Dr. Luis León (descansa en paz).

I am very grateful for the scholars whose work have impacted this book deeply: the late Dr. José Esteban Muñoz, Dr. D. Soyini Madison, Dr. Mariza Corrêa, Dr. Sueli Carneiro, Dr. Jaqueline Gomes de Jesus, Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw, Dr. Chandra Mohanty, Viviane Vergueiro, Dr. Brittney Cooper, Dr. Aisha Durham, Dr. Gust Yep, Dr. Karma Chávez, Dr. Shinsuke Eguchi, Dr. Rhea Ashley Hoskin, and countless others.

Many thanks to my Graceland University friends, who have amazed me during our many hallway conversations: Dr. Tim Robbins, Dr. Dan Platt, Jessie Sherman, Karen Gergely, Dr. Jonathan Montalvo, Leslie and Nate Robinson, Dr. Brittany Lash, and Dr. Steve Glazer. Special thanks to Dr. Brian White and Dr. Jill Rhae for helping me fight for and receive institutional support for this book.

I am also thankful for my Latina/o Communication Studies friends/colleagues, whose work and dedication to our field always amazes me: Dr. Michael Lechuga, Dr. Robert Gutierrez-Perez, Dr. Leandra Hernández, Dr. Sarah De Los Santos-Upton, Dr. José Ángel Maldonado, Oscar Alfonso Mejía, Dr. Sara Baugh, Dr. Sergio Juarez, and many others.

I would like to thank my friend, Dr. Pedro Curi, for sending me a Valesca Popozuda video back in 2009 that triggered many ideas for this work. I am also grateful for Dr. Marildo Nercolini and Dr. Alexandre Werneck, for having one of the first talks about the funkeiras with me in 2009 as well.←xiii | xiv→

Many thanks to Vincent Rosenblatt for allowing me to have his beautiful work illustrating this book cover.

To everyone who has supported me through this journey, thank you with all my heart. It really does take a village.

←xiv | 1→

Introducing Bitches Unleashed

In the music video for Linn da Quebrada’s “Coytada” (“Poor Girl”),1 she chops up dildos of different shades on a cutting board. The video mimics a cooking show in which Linn and fellow Black travestis Jup do Bairro and Slim Soledad sensually and frantically play with baking ingredients: swallowing and spitting back out eggs, blowing flour on each other, pouring milk in their own mouths, and using rolling pins on dildos. The lyrics suggest that Linn would rather have sex with the devil than with someone who only likes “gym rats” and “bulls” (muscular men) because, according to her, “I’m very effeminate.”2 Linn da Quebrada illustrates well why I have been obstinate in my interest in favela funk as a research topic for the last 10 years. When I first started to notice the movement for the purpose of studying it, a performance like hers—even her popularity—would have been unthinkable. This book is a result of my journey after a decade of dedication to, first, women in favela funk and, now, to all who perform femininities within the movement. They are known as the funkeiras.

Rio de Janeiro’s favela funk is a musical genre and cultural movement developed by poor folks of color in the 1980s. The characteristic ←1 | 2→beats, lyrics, dance moves, and clothing suggest a “social practice that is historically situated:”3 favela funk is the product of the continuous unequal and violent conditions poor people of color face inside Rio’s favelas. There are robust studies about favela funk in Brazilian academia and globally.4 Often, this research focuses on the movement’s criminalization, its ties with drug trafficking, and its aesthetic dimensions. Very few of them, hence, concentrate on the funkeiras. Indeed, the scarce debates regarding funkeiras in Brazilian academia had a lot to do with why I became interested in them in the first place.

As a 1990s kid born in Rio, favela funk was regularly played on the radio and enjoyed at parties, even in middle-class parties like mine. By the time I became intrigued by funkeiras’ performances in 2009, however, I had not attended a favela funk party—a baile—since 2001. The last bailes I had attended were dominated by artists from Cidade de Deus, or City of God, including a funkeira who is prominently featured in this work, Tati Quebra Barraco (Tati House/Shack Breaker). Years later, in 2008, while taking a class in women’s history, occasionally one of us would bring up the funkeiras as an example of a “complicated” negotiation with femininity and sexuality. There was a tendency in most of us to understand favela funk, while acknowledging some of its nuances (such as race and class), as machista (sexist). But that was it. There was no further analysis. It was not until the last year of my masters, in 2009, that my scholarly interest in the funkeiras emerged with full force. I was teaching a course in gender and media at Federal Fluminense University, and toward the end of the semester, I decided to show and discuss Denise Garcia’s 2005 documentary, I’m Ugly but Trendy.5 The class was relatively small, about 16 people, and a lot of the students were actively involved with feminist and LGBTQIA+ movements. Hence, I was hoping to have a good debate on how gender intersects with race and class. To my surprise, a lot of my students who identified as feminists were appalled by the documentary—“this woman just said she’s going to be somebody’s dessert!” Some even thought that the documentary was degrading to funkeiras, who were openly talking and performing about sex to the cameras. I realized that the students’ disturbance was connected to the manner in which funkeiras performed femininity: the direct ways in which they spoke about sex, the way they ←2 | 3→danced, and the way they dressed. These elements, together, seemed to offend white, middle-class, feminine sensibilities.

That was, perhaps, the first of many times yet to come that I became aware of what I now regard as feminist failures. Whatever I had learned about feminism up until that point, and whatever I was teaching about it, was insufficient for understanding the funkeiras’ performances beyond my students’ impression that the documentary was demeaning to them. More than ten years later, my curiosity about the funkeiras, their performances, and their professional paths still intrigue me beyond questions of whether or not they are feminists. I have learned that part of what I perceive to be a scholarly struggle to provide a nuanced understanding of the funkeiras stems from scholars’ tendency to work deductively to “uncover” whether or not those artists are feminists. This book does the opposite of that. Over the next six chapters, I engage this analytical shortcoming as I offer my own consideration of diverse aspects of funkeiras’ performances. A fundamental element of this book’s inductive approach originates from my choice of method.

Critical Methods for the Study of the Funkeiras

I frequently reiterate throughout Bitches Unleashed how much I believe past analyses of funkeiras fall short methodologically. Choosing methods to study their performances was actually very challenging. No single methodology seemed enough, since aside from live and recorded performances, social media has recently become central to funkeiras’ self- and collective expressions. I knew my selections had to be versatile, ethical, and critical, meaning that they had to challenge cartesian thought binaries, such as mind (superior) and body (inferior).6 The considerations featured in this book are, in part, the result of the critical methodological approaches necessary to understand funkeiras in their multidimensionality. Below, I make brief notes about critical ethnography, including interviewing, as well as connective ethnography.

To Dwight Conquergood, “ethnography is an embodied practice” (emphasis in original).7 This perspective calls for “the project of radical empiricism,” in which there is a change in “ethnography’s traditional ←3 | 4→approach from Other-as-theme to Other-as-interlocutor,” which also represents “a shift from monologue to dialogue, from information to communication.”8 Conquergood suggests that our scholarly foci need to move from centers to “borderlands,” “zones of difference,” and “busy intersections” where many identities and interests are not compartmentalized but articulated in multiple ways.9 These changes have been materialized via critical ethnography. Thomas defines critical ethnography as “the reflective process of choosing between conceptual alternatives and making value-laden judgments of meaning and method to challenge research, policy, and other forms of human activity.”10 In comparing critical ethnography to its traditional counterpart, Thomas asserts, “critical ethnography is conventional ethnography with a political purpose.”11

Madison’s critical ethnography builds on the ideas exposed in the previous paragraph through five central questions.12 These inquiries revolve around issues such as the intentions, purposes, and frame of analysis of the researcher; the possible consequences of the researcher’s work, including the potential to do harm; if the researcher maintains dialogue that enables collaboration between herself and others; how the local affects the broader context; and, finally, if the research is committed to social justice—critical ethnography must be committed to politics. The chapters in this book indirectly answer these questions. For instance, I understand the funkeiras as my co-creators and often feature their voices through direct quotes from interviews and song lyrics not simply to illustrate points but also to formulate new knowledge and draw conclusions. If there is something missing from the few studies done on funkeiras, it is certainly their voices.

There are multiple elements in critical ethnography’s methodological sequences, from investigating the researcher’s positionality to tips for preparing for the field.13 I would like, however, to shed light on interviewing, as it is so central to this work. The critical ethnographic interview searches for meanings in ways that go beyond trivial information or “finding the ‘truth of the matter.’”14 Madison points out that the researcher must always keep in mind that interviewees are not “objects.” On the contrary, they are subjects “with agency, history, ←4 | 5→and […] [their] own idiosyncratic command of a story.”15 Consequently, the primary goal of interviewing in critical ethnography is not to find reliable and verifiable information but to illuminate the complexities of “individual subjectivity, memory, yearnings, polemics, and hope that are unveiled and inseparable from shared and inherited expressions of communal strivings, social history, and political possibility.”16 To interview the funkeiras featured in this book, I relied on all three types of critical ethnographic interviews Madison conceptualizes,17 sometimes intentionally and other times as a simple result of where my conversation with a funkeira was headed: (1) oral history, for when an interview is focused on the recounting of events as they relate to the lives of the individuals who experienced them; (2) personal narrative, which deals with the subject’s point-of-view of an event or experience; and (3) finally, the topical interview, which concentrates on individuals’ perspectives on an issue, process, or phenomenon. These distinct approaches to interviewing were useful, as they enabled funkeiras to direct our conversations how they wanted—some funkeiras joined the movement five years ago, and some have had over two decades of experience in favela funk.

Critical ethnography presents a fruitful perspective through which to observe, experience, and write about performances—whether live or mediated. Moreman and MacIntosh’s analysis of Latina drag performances,18 for instance, utilizes Conquergood and Madison’s points about researcher and interlocutor’s co-performativity during fieldwork in order to bring critical ethnography to the page: “We aesthetically (re)present these ethnographic moments on the page not only through our fieldnote vignettes to offer expression to the embodied messages but also to critically evaluate and expose their political implications.”19 Similarly, I offer vivid, embodied descriptions of funkeiras’ performances first as a means to “honor the power and beauty of cultural expression”20 and second as a way to comprehend their political repercussions. Like Auslander, I reject the opposition between live and mediated performances, as well as the assumption that live performances are somewhat superior to mediated ones. Indeed, these categories “are not mutually exclusive.”21 Funkeiras rely heavily on YouTube, for instance, to promote their work. Excluding mediated performances ←5 | 6→from this research would rob funkeiras’ work of their currency and transformations over the years.

Social media has become an extension of the public sphere, a space in which funkeiras not only promote their careers but also narrate their everyday lives. When I first started my fieldwork in June 2013, only very young funkeiras like Pocah had any significant social media presence. Over time, it has become clear that social media offer platforms for funkeiras to perform aspects of their identities that might not interest mainstream media. This book relies on social media to access the performances of funkeiras I was not able to witness in person. To emphasize other digital content from these artists as extensions of their professional and quotidian performances seems appropriate.22 As such, I rely on connective ethnography’s principle, which advocates for a “stance or orientation to internet-related research that considers connections and relations as normative social practices and internet social spaces as complexly connected to other spaces.”23 For that reason, I have been following these artists where they are the most active—on Twitter and Instagram—for at least two years, checking in on their profiles every couple of days to make sure I do not miss anything. Thus, funkeiras’ social media engagement, specifically on those two platforms, are featured in this book as opportunities to further include their voices and perspectives on matters of femininities, race, sexuality, politics, and other topics as they intersect with other aspects of their personal and professional lives.

Who Are the Funkeiras?

Funkeiras are favela funk performers, mostly singers—known as MCs—but also dancers, who are predominantly Black and brown and whose ages vary between early 20s to mid-50s. That is the short answer. The long answer is featured in the six chapters of this book, and each one presents aspects of them as people and performers that hopefully provides a more complete response to the question of who they are. Specifically, I interviewed eight artists—in person, via phone, and over video chat—six of whom are prominently featured in this work: MC ←6 | 7→Kátia, MC Dandara, Deize Tigrona, MC Carol, MC Xuxú, and Linn da Quebrada. Pocah, Valesca Popozuda, and Tati Quebra Barraco are also important for this book, even though I was not able to interview them. I mention other artists in my analyses, but these nine funkeiras persist throughout the following pages. My intention was to include as many artists as possible in a way that their idiosyncrasies did not get lost in the numbers. That means that I absolutely did not intend to include all funkeiras, as favela funk is a very dynamic movement with new artists joining in constantly.

MCs Dandara, Deize Tigrona, Tati Quebra Barraco, and Kátia all have been in favela funk for at least 15 years. These trailblazers are Black women who started performing more seriously about sex and relationships in the early 2000s, except for MC Dandara who has had a career since the 1990s. Although these women are more or less from the same favela funk generation, their performance styles and levels of success are distinct. Tati Quebra Barraco remains the most popular funkeira in this group, followed by her fellow City of God artist Deize Tigrona, MC Kátia, and MC Dandara. Deize, however, is the most globally known because of DJ Diplo’s use of her song’s “Injeção” (“Injection”) sampler in M.I.A.’s “Bucky Done Gun.” During our personal interview, she told me, “I was so famous in Europe, I didn’t even know!” I would like to think that, like Tati and Deize, this work was born in City of God. My mother had a couple of good acquaintances living in the community who later became my bridge to most of the funkeiras I interviewed back in the summer of 2013, including those from outside City of God, like MC Pink, MC Kátia, and MC Dandara.

Like the funkeiras mentioned above, Valesca Popozuda has had a career since the early 2000s. Valesca, however, achieved a level of celebrity that no other funkeira had obtained until very recently. Back in 2013, I had several exchanges with her manager at the time, trying and failing to schedule an interview with Valesca. Finally, in July 2013, he stopped taking my calls. Since her time with the feminine bonde* Gaiola das Popozudas (Big Trunk’s Cage), Valesca has been performing songs ←7 | 8→with explicit sexual content that, for the most part, cannot be played on mainstream media.24 Still, the funkeira has been able to navigate between mainstream acceptance and favela funk popularity for at least the past 13 years. Perhaps the biggest difference between Valesca and the trailblazers mentioned above is the fact that she is significantly lighter-skinned, than say Tati and Deize, which gives Valesca a kind of media access that is rarely granted to Black funkeiras.

Rio-based Pocah, formerly known as MC Pocahontas, is another up and coming celebrity funkeira. I met the MC back in 2013, when she was only 18 years old but already had a significantly large and young social media following from all over Brazil. Like Valesca, Pocah’s physical traits approximate her to white femininity—Pocah is perhaps even more conventionally pretty than Valesca, given her young age and petite body size—which places her in a position of privilege in mainstream media. Also like Valesca, Pocah’s recent work focuses on autonomy, be it bodily or financial. She is currently identified as one of the most popular favela funk artists on YouTube.25

The artistic legacy of Tati Quebra Barraco is evident through young Black funkeira MC Carol. Like her predecessor, MC Carol’s performance style includes a very peculiar mixture of aggression and disdain. Both Tati and MC Carol participated in Fox Life Brasil’s reality TV show Lucky Ladies, hosted by Tati who served as a mentor to younger funkeiras.26 MC Carol publicly acknowledges the importance of Tati’s mentorship and their connection since the show, which has generated other kinds of partnerships, such as the song and music video “Mamãe da Putaria” (“Mother of Hoeness”). MC Carol is an avid social media user and an outspoken activist against racism, sexism, and fatphobia. I contacted her manager in May 2019, and after two and a half months, I interviewed MC Carol in August 2019 over WhatsApp phone call.

MC Xuxú and Linn da Quebrada are the last two artists prominently featured in this book. Both are Black and identify as travesti (Brazilian-based nonbinary transfeminine identity). Both artists are also the only ones I interviewed who are not from the state of Rio de Janeiro and whose audiences are probably more so localized at the intersection of Black and LGBTQIA+ communities from all over Brazil. MC Xuxú is from Minas Gerais and has been active in favela funk since ←8 | 9→2012, when she briefly lived in Rio de Janeiro and fell in love with the movement. She was the first favela funk artist to unequivocally identify as travesti in her first hit, “Um Beijo” (“A Kiss”). MC Xuxú was the last artist I interviewed, via a WhatsApp video call in June 2020, when she finally found time to talk to me after I had contacted her a year prior. I experienced a similar process with Linn da Quebrada. I first contacted the São Paulo-based travesti back in May 2019, but it was only in April 2020 that I was able to interview her. Both artists were isolated in their homes due to the Covid-19 global pandemic, when live performances with large audiences essentially ceased for several months. Linn started her career more prominently in 2016, when she released several music videos featuring Black travesti themes in favela funk style. Today, she is perhaps more accurately described as a performance artist, though I identify her as a funkeira in this work—a label with which she is comfortable, per our interview.

The participation of funkeiras as protagonists of favela funk has been contributing to problematizing an essentially masculine environment in which cisgender men were the ones speaking up about a variety of matters, including about women and transfeminine people. I focus on funkeiras’ personal experiences and perspectives, first and foremost, to highlight their contributions to favela funk. The theoretical conclusions and implications are a consequence of this work. My hope is to redress both the unacceptable silence about and misreadings of funkeiras in academia.

Intercultural Communication, Intersectionality, and a Transfeminista Sensibility

As an ongoing phenomenon, globalization and its effects are not limited to the economic and political realms. Academia is part of this process, as an increasingly complex “migration” of theories displaces and appropriates, resists and transforms knowledge as part of the development of a global academic community. Because these flows of knowledge are unequal, with the North as the economic center and the South as its exploited periphery, they mimic economic relations of ←9 | 10→dominance-subordination between Global North and Global South.27 Intercultural communication sometimes reproduces this problematic tendency.

Communication’s foundation on white, Western epistemology28 has limited its engagement with non-Western issues, which in turn has generated a series of critiques in its subfields. Scholars of color in intercultural communication, for instance, have made important efforts over the years to dislocate the discipline’s “white problem,” or the tendency to re-center, even if unconsciously, white Western knowledges and concerns.29 Eguchi and Asante contest this dynamic by asserting that the “U.S. American capitalistic heteronormative circulations of power recurrently patrol and protect the boundaries of intercultural communication theory”30 at the expense of marginalized folks of color from the Global South. Additionally, other scholars have interrogated intercultural communication’s reliance on single-axis analyses while also calling for the subfield’s critical engagement with race, queerness, and cisnormativity, among others.31 Accordingly, accounts of power relations in intercultural contexts will not be comprehensive if scholars overlook how people’s existence is shaped by intersecting systems of oppression, such as race, class, nation, location, ability, and immigration status in locations beyond the Global North.32

While rich analyses of power dynamics outside of Western contexts are necessary for critical intercultural communication, so are epistemological frameworks that dislocate white, U.S.-centric perspectives. Intersectionality is often used as a perspective that can counter these tendencies. Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term in response to the inadequacy of feminist and antiracist initiatives that consistently framed gender and race oppression as mutually exclusive— or through single-axis analyses—and thus deemed the experiences of Black women unknowable to identity politics.33 However, Black feminists have warned that white feminists’ cooptation of the framework has resulted in problematic and erroneous reproductions that simultaneously deflate intersectionality of its original meaning and erase its Black feminist origins.34 Intercultural communication has also been at fault for this. Yep has warned communication scholars against treating intersectionality as a decontextualized series of boxes to be ticked.35 ←10 | 11→Additionally, Eguchi, Calafell, and Abdi argue that intersectionality in communication studies is traversed by the “logics of whiteness.”36 As I have proposed before, Brazilian transfeminismo provides a fresh and exciting perspective against problematic, white-washed instances of intersectionality that could be useful for intercultural communication.37

Bitches Unleashed adopts a transfeminista perspective formulated by Brazilian Black transfeministas. Much of the epistemological and political framework transfeminismo champions was born out of struggles against Western, white feminist exclusions.38 A transfeminista approach is intersectional and antiracist; because many trans* people are impacted by poverty, transfeminismo is class-conscious.39 Transfeminismo is also evidently an important tool against biological essentialism, which not only excludes trans*, intersex, and other people with nonconforming bodies from feminist frameworks but also hinders the coalitional possibility that might exist among those who are oppressed by cisnormativity.40 Finally, transfeminismo is committed to decolonizing cisnormativity, which transfeministas argue is inevitably connected to other colonial structures, such as race, class, and sexuality.41 This epistemological perspective is woven through the analyses in this book.

An Overview of Bitches Unleashed

Tati Quebra Barraco released “Cachorra Solta” (“Unleashed Bitch”) in response to MC Taizinho’s song “Cachorro Solto” (“Unleashed Dog”), in which a man claims that a woman is trying to “trap” him by getting pregnant. Tati’s song was on my mind when I chose Bitches Unleashed as the title of this book. In her version, she plays with the common assumption that cisgender women are the ones interested in using pregnancy to deceive cisgender, heterosexual men: “you got me pregnant thinking you were gonna trap me/but you’re the one who got fucked/you’re the one who is trapped/I’m an unleashed bitch […]/and you’re gonna watch the baby!”42 This may seem like a simple inversion of subject ←11 | 12→positions, but the social consequences for ciswomen, especially Black women, who snub motherhood can be severe.43 This is also a representative example of how funkeiras transgress femininity’s normative, white version, as I show in the next six chapters.

I begin my exploration of funkeiras’ performances by analyzing what I term “white feminist failures.” These failures, which originate in white feminism’s supremacy in places like Brazil, have impacted previous analyses of the funkeiras, specifically in regards to questions around agency and possessing a “feminist agenda”—whatever that means. A central, taken-for-granted, aspect of white feminism is its relationship with normative white femininity. Like white feminism itself, which is often simply referred to as feminism in the singular form, normative white femininity is frequently apprehended simply as femininity. Next, I provide an overview of Other(ed) femininities relevant to the examination of the funkeiras and take into consideration the Brazilian context. Finally, I explore femininity vis-à-vis agency, white feminist blind spots, and Third World and postcolonial feminist reconceptualizations of it that are important for the comprehension of funkeiras’ embodied politics.

Chapter Two provides the essential backdrop for funkeiras’ performances. I begin with an overview of the development and current status of favela funk, both as a cultural movement and as an industry. This section underscores the material realities funkeiras face in the industry as poor people of color from the favelas. Additionally, I delve into the gendered aspects of favela funk as labor, according to funkeiras’ own assessment. Aspects of gendered labor include issues of abuse from heterosexual cismen in the industry, professional and romantic relationships with managers, and professional autonomy. This unit is purposefully centered around funkeiras’ voices, whose perspectives on favela funk contextualize the subsequent chapters.

I begin to address performances of femininities in favela funk more overtly in Chapter Three. In it, I outline the connections between performance and transgression with a concentration on marginalized femininities. In connection with this, I then expose funkeiras’ reflections on how they negotiate the multiple personae they embody on stage. In fact, many funkeiras affirm that the stage, or the ability to perform, is ←12 | 13→a privilege they cherish; it provides them with a platform for artistic expression that is denied to many people who look like them. I end this section by examining the idiosyncrasies in funkeiras’ transgressive performances of racialized femininities. The performances and interviews I present in this chapter serve as initial evidence against the dichotomous and homogenous apprehensions of the funkeiras.

Chapter Four continues the work of exploring funkeiras’ multifaceted performances of racialized femininities through their relationships with other women and cismen. Often, the backlash against funkeiras stem precisely from the contentious gendered relationships they embody during performances.44 I divide this unit in sections that first address the wife, mistress, and recalcadas (haters) trend in feminine favela funk. All of these themes are becoming less popular over the years, and Chapter Four makes an argument for why that is the case. Next, I analyze funkeiras’ clashes with cismen, which are frequently belligerent but also scornful. Performances meant to challenge men tend to revolve around cheating, taking financial advantage of them, having sex on whose terms, and embracing marginalized femininities.

Even though race as an integral part of funkeiras’ performances of femininities is present in the analyses throughout this book, Chapter Five more unequivocally explores funkeiras’ relationship with whiteness and Blackness over the years. The discussion starts with a brief overview of race politics in Brazil, with emphasis on the colonial roots of anti-Blackness in the country as well as myths around racial democracy. As Lopes rightly asserts, funkeiras tended to evade overt references to race and specifically to Blackness in the early days of their success.45 My interviews with Black funkeiras in 2013, however, show that they were very much aware of the material impact race had on their lives. Black funkeiras now not only include references to race in their performances, but they also use public forums like Twitter and Instagram to scorn and question whiteness, affirm Blackness, and in this process, create a defying version of Black femininity.

Chapter Six deals specifically with travesti femininity and identity in favela funk by focusing on the trajectory and performances of three artists: dancer Lacraia and MCs Xuxú and Linn da Quebrada. I provide an overview of travesti identity in Chapter One as part of ←13 | 14→my exploration of marginalized femininities. Given the particularities of travestis, I being Chapter Six by asking, “is travesti queer?” While concepts of queerness may be important to understanding travesti femininity, I contend that using queer to define non-Western categories of gender and/or sexuality erases the differences, nuances, and potentials of these identities. The diverse iterations of travesti in favela funk I examine suggest that context plays an important role in how much space and flexibility these artists have to perform. Lacraia, for instance, who was famous in the early 2000s, had her identity mocked and exploited in mainstream media multiple times. Differently, MC Xuxú and Linn da Quebrada, who did not quite achieve Lacraia’s 2003–2004 mainstream popularity, clearly articulate in their interviews with me and in performance that their version of travesti identity, albeit different from one another, both engage in disidentificatory practices that aid them in working within and against dominant culture.

I end Bitches Unleashed with a conceptualization of embodied politics that recognizes racialized performances of femininity from the Global South and relies on Third World and postcolonial feminist formulations of agency. In connection with these concepts, I then provide insights that stem from the question of whether or not funkeiras are feminist. Admittedly, this question has damaged more complicated understandings of funkeiras. In the process of investigating this query, I offer further critiques to white feminism to then formulate an answer about feminine artists in favela funk. The end of the book looks at the current conservative landscape in Brazil, which certainly clashes with funkeiras’ aspirations to live beyond survival. Because the livelihood of many funkeiras is precarious and bounded by context, scholars should continue listening to them and echoing their contributions to feminism in ways that help legitimatize their existences.

*Bonde is a slang for gang or squad. In the 2000s, bondes formed by either all men or all women became popular in Rio’s funk.

Trans* activists in Brazil use this prefix to indicate an umbrella term that is appropriate for the Brazilian context.


1Linn da Quebrada, “Linn da Quebrada—Coytada (Clipe Oficial),” September 17, 2018, YouTube video, 3:01, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IUq4WWJRngE.

2da Quebrada, “Coytada.”

←14 | 15→

3Adriana Lopes, Funk-se Quem Quiser: No Batidão Negro da Cidade Carioca (Rio de Janeiro: Bom Texto, 2011), 19.

4For more on favela funk, see Pablo Laignier, “Towards a Political Economy of Funk Carioca: Notes on Postmodern Theory and Its Developments in Contemporary Popular Music,” Ciberlegenda 2, no. 24 (2011): 61–76; Alexandra Lippman, “‘Law for Whom?’: Responding to Sonic Illegality in Brazil’s Funk Carioca,” Sound Studies 5, no 1 (2018): 22–36; James McNally, “Favela Chic: Diplo, Funk Carioca, and the Ethics and Aesthetics of the Global Remix,” Popular Music and Society 40, no. 4 (2017): 434–52; Mylene Mizrahi, “Indumentária Funk: A Confrontação da Alteridade Colocando em Diálogo o Local e o Cosmopolita,” Horizontes Antropológicos 13, no. 28 (2007): 232–62; Dennis Novaes, “Funk Proibidão: Música e Poder nas Favelas Cariocas,” Plataforma Sucupira, 2006, https://sucupira.capes.gov.br/sucupira/public/consultas/coleta/trabalhoConclusao/viewTrabalhoConclusao.jsf?popup=true&id_trabalho=4374709; Carlos Palombini, “Proibidão em tempo de pacificação armada,” in Patrimônio Musical Na Atualidade: Tradição, Memória, Discurso e Poder, ed. Maria Alice Volpe (Rio de Janeiro: Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, 2013), 215–36; Pâmella Passos and Adriana Facina, “‘Baile Modelo!’: Reflexões Sobre Práticas Funkeiras em Contexto de Pacificação,” Proceedings from the VI Seminário Internacional de Políticas Culturais: Fundação Casa de Rui Barbosa (Rio de Janeiro: RJ, Brazil, 2015).

5Denise Garcia, Sou Feia, Mas Tô na Moda (São Paulo: Imovision, 2005), Film.

6Dwight Conquergood, “Rethinking Ethnography: Towards a Critical Cultural Politics,” Communication Monographs 58 (1991): 179–94.

7Conquergood, “Rethinking Ethnography,” 180.

8Conquergood, “Rethinking Ethnography,” 182.

9Conquergood, “Rethinking Ethnography,” 184.

10Jim Thomas, Doing Critical Ethnography (Newbury Park: Sage, 1993): 4.

11Thomas, Doing, 4.

12D. Soyini Madison, Critical Ethnography: Method, Ethics, and Performance (Thousand Oaks: Sage, 2005).

13Madison, Critical Ethnography.

14Madison, Critical Ethnography, 25.

15Madison, Critical Ethnography, 25.

16Madison, Critical Ethnography, 26.

17Madison, Critical Ethnography.

18Shane Moreman and Dawn Marie McIntosh, “Brown Scriptings and Rescriptings: A Critical Performance Ethnography of Latina Drag Queens,” Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies 7, no. 2 (2010): 115–35.

19Moreman and MacIntosh, “Brown Scriptings,” 117.

←15 | 16→

20D. Soyini Madison, “Narrative Poetics and Performative Interventions,” in Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies, eds. Norman Denzin, Yvonna Lincoln, and Linda Tuhiwai Smith (Los Angeles: Sage, 2008), 392.

21Philip Auslander, “Live and Technologically Mediated Performance,” in The Cambridge Companion to Performance Studies, ed. Tracy C. Davis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 109.

22Kevin M. Leander, “Toward a Connective Ethnography of Online/Offline Literacy Networks,” in Handbook of Research on New Literacies, eds. Julie Coiro et al. (New York: Routledge, 2010).

23Leander, “Toward a Connective,” 35.

24Lopes, Funk-se.

25Rodrigo Ortega, “Kondzilla em Queda: Por Que o Canal de Funk Perdeu Audiência e a Liderança nas Paradas?” G1, June 4, 2019, https://g1.globo.com/pop-arte/musica/noticia/2019/06/04/kondzilla-em-queda-por-que-o-canal-de-funk-perdeu-audiencia-e-a-lideranca-nas-paradas.ghtml.

26Márcia Pereira, “Funkeiras cantam, gritam e armam barracos em novo reality show,” UOL, May 25, 2015, http://noticiasdatv.uol.com.br/noticia/televisao/funkeiras-cantam-gritam-e-armam-barracos-em-novo-reality-show-7993.

27Claudia de Lima Costa, “Being Here and Writing There: Gender and the Politics of Translation in a Brazilian Landscape,” Signs 25, no. 3 (2000): 727–60.

28Rona Tamiko Halualani, Lily Mendoza, and Jolanta A. Drzewiecka, “‘Critical’ Junctures in Intercultural Communication Studies: A Review,” The Review of Communication 9, no. 1 (2009):17–35; Tom Nakayama and Robert L. Krizek, “Whiteness: A Strategic Rhetoric,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 81 (1995): 291–309.

29Dreama G. Moon and Michelle A. Holling, “A Politic of Disruption: Race(ing) Intercultural Communication,” Journal of International and Intercultural Communication 8, no. 1 (2015): 3; Dreama Moon, “Concepts of Culture: Implications for Intercultural Communication Research,” Communication Quarterly 44 (1996): 70–84.

30Shinsuke Eguchi and Godfried Asante, “Disidentifications Revisited: Queer(y)ing Intercultural Communication Theory,” Communication Theory 26 (2016): 171–72.

31Karma Chávez, “Pushing Boundaries: Queer Intercultural Communication,” Journal of International and Intercultural Communication 6, no. 2 (2013): 83–95; Eguchi and Asante, “Disidentifications”; Shinsuke Eguchi, Bernadette M. Calafell, and Shadee Abdi, De-Whitening Intersectionality: Race, Intercultural Communication, and Politics (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2020); Julia Johnson, “Cisgender Privilege, Intersectionality, and the Criminalization of CeCe McDonald: Why Intercultural Communication Needs Transgender Studies,” Journal of International and Intercultural Communication 6, no. 2 (2013): 135–44; Gust Yep, “Toward the De-Subjugation of Racially Marked Knowledges in Communication,” Southern Communication Journal 75, no. 2 (2010): 171–75.

←16 | 17→

32Eguchi and Asante, “Disidentifications”; J. Johnson, “Cisgender Privilege”; Gust Yep, “Queering/Quaring/Kauering/Crippin’/Transing ‘Other Bodies’ in Intercultural Communication,” Journal of International and Intercultural Communication 6, no. 2 (2013): 118–26.

33Kimberlé Crenshaw, “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color,” Stanford Law Review 43, no. 6 (1991): 1241–99.

34Sirma Bilge, “Intersectionality Undone: Saving Intersectionality from Feminist Intersectionality Studies,” Du Bois Review 10, no. 2 (2013): 405–24; Brittney Cooper, “Intersectionality,” in The Oxford Handbook of Feminist Theory, eds. Lisa Disch and Mary Hawkesworth (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2016), 1–15.

35Yep, “Toward De-Subjugation.”

36Eguchi, Calafell, and Abdi, De-Whitening Intersectionality, xix.

37Raquel Moreira, “De-Whitening Intersectionality Through Transfeminismo,” in De-Whitening Intersectionality: Race, Intercultural Communication, and Politics, eds. Shinsuke Eguchi, Bernadette M. Calafell, and Shadee Abdi (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2020), 203–22.

38Thiago Coacci, “Finding Brazilian Transfeminism: A Preliminary Mapping of a Rising Branch,” História Agora 15 (2014): 134–61.

39Jaqueline Gomes de Jesus, “Gender Without Essentialism: Transgender Feminism as a Critique of Sex,” Universitas Humanística 78 (June 2014): 241–57; Jaqueline Gomes Jesus and Haley Alves, “Transgender Feminism and Movements of Transsexual Women,” Cronos 11, no. 2 (2012): 8–19.

40Jesus, “Gender Without Essentialism.”

41Jesus, “Gender Without Essentialism”; Viviane Vergueiro, “Por Inflexões Decoloniais de Corpos e Identidades de Gênero Inconformes: Uma Análise Autoetnográfica da Cisgeneridade como Normatividade” (Unpublished master’s thesis, Bahia: Universidade Federal da Bahia, 2015).

42Diogo Santos Maxi, “Cachorra solta—Tati Quebra Barraco,” April 15, 2012, YouTube video, 2:22, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B1rL8OOSv4c&list=RDLj6Mk_1KHFQ&index=19.

43Cathy Cohen, “Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics?” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 3, no. 4 (1997): 437–65.

44Mariana Gomes, “My Pussy é o Poder. Representação Feminina Através do Funk: Identidade, Feminismo e Indústria Cultural” (Unpublished thesis, Federal Fluminense University, 2015); Lopes, Funk-se.

45Lopes, Funk-se.

←18 | 19→

Chapter One

Femininities, Agency, and White Feminist Failures

“I’m not a feminist, and I don’t even have power to be that,” said Deize Tigrona, who is featured on the cover of this book, in reply to the “feminist question” at the height of the funkeira’s mainstream media popularity, in 2006.1 Deize’s answer illustrates what is at the core of this chapter, namely that: (1) the funkeira associated feminism with power—she was likely referring to class and racial power—and, consequently, (2) the perception that, as a poor Black woman, feminism was not for her. In a way, Deize was correct: much of the feminist theory and movements that had reached Brazil at the time of the interview, in 2006, either ignored favela funk in general and funkeiras in particular or vehemently criticized both.2 That was a symptom of the overreliance on white and middle-class feminist perspectives (many of which originated in the Global North) and their focus on “gender first” analyses, which then tended to generally understand femininity homogenously, as a de-racialized patriarchal device.3 Feminist theory and movements’ tendency to devaluate all femininity through the unexamined focus on its white, normative version, have positioned femininity in opposition to masculine agency. As a result, they have also disregarded agentic ←19 | 20→and transgressive potential of marginalized femininities for political change.

White feminist approaches to agency tend to take for granted ideas of liberal Western agency and its analytical dichotomy—subordination and resistance. Whether for praise or critique, this focus seems reliant on a concept of universal “womanhood.”4 These takes fail in several forms. When treated as a choice, the contingency and constraints of agency, as well as the motivations, restrictions, and potentials of marginalized bodies to perform femininity, are often glossed over. When treated as ineffective to change patriarchal structures, it dismisses the ways in which poor women and feminine folks of color use their bodily performances not as mechanisms of resistance but as tactics of survival. I start this chapter by tracing key ideas in the understanding of normative white femininity as the analytical norm in white, Western feminist theory. Because funkeiras are pushed to negotiate with this ideological construction, I found it important to expose its mechanisms. Next, I shed light on the specific ways in which femininity—associated with race, class, and gender identity—is constructed in Brazil through key identities and representations. Finally, I delve into concepts of feminist agency in connection with and disconnected from normative white femininity. Once again, I find this move necessary since researchers tend to use this analytical device to explain funkeiras’ experiences in relationship to feminism. Ultimately, this chapter lays the groundwork for the subsequent analyses of funkeiras’ quotidian and staged performances of subaltern femininities in ways that can broaden current understandings of embodied politics and agency.

Whose Femininity?: The Essentializing of Normative White Femininity

Valesca Popozuda reached considerable mainstream success in 2013 with her first solo hit, “Beijinho no Ombro” (Kiss on the Shoulder).5 The popularity of the song was partly driven by the pompous music video, which had over 100 million views as of April 2020. In it, Valesca wears a series of “sexy queen” outfits while moving and dancing around a ←20 | 21→mansion that is made to look like a castle.6 Before flying solo, Valesca was known as the lead singer of funk group Gaiola das Popozudas (Big Trunk’s Cage). She was also famous for embodying one of favela funk’s most visible trends among ciswomen: a combination of voluptuous, muscular bodies and obscene, in-your-face stage performances.7 However, once Valesca rose to mainstream fame with the aforementioned “Beijinho no Ombro,” her body and embodiment of femininity changed significantly. She lost a substantial amount of weight; her legs and arms became noticeably less muscular; her wardrobe went from small, glittery one-piece bodysuits to more modest and less sparkly clothes. Not coincidently, celebrity media discourse around Valesca changed drastically. From being mocked for having buttocks that were “huge” and “creepy”8 and for thinking she was “fashionable,”9 Valesca became the sophisticated and feminist face of favela funk. In a 2014 interview to Grupo Globo’s weekly magazine, Época, Valesca was compared to other notable (white) feminists. The introductory paragraph states:

After Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan, and Naomi Wolf, Valesca Popozuda. Since “Beijinho no Ombro,” her big early 2014 hit, the funkeira from Rio started to talk about feminism in her interviews and has embraced a campaign on sexual violence against women … the feminist phase is also a “slimmer” phase—considering her tights used to be bigger than Giselle Bündchen’s waist.10

The suggestion that Valesca’s improved physical image aligns with her new feminist persona illustrates two issues I would like to address in this chapter—normative white femininity’s claim to universal femininity and its relationship with (white) feminism. While there is robust feminist discussion surrounding the way femininity operates and its value in feminist politics,11 I am more interested in the classed, racialized, and cisnormative demarcations of femininity.

Because there is a tendency in feminist analyses to treat femininity as monolithic, little consideration is given to how socioeconomic class, race, and cisgender normativity intersect to create different challenges and possibilities for femininity.12 Contemporary feminist analyses that consider class usually do so in relationship to neoliberal notions of ←21 | 22→self-discipline and control.13 In neoliberal contexts, valuable individuals are those who know how to self-govern according to rules of the market.14 Those who either ignore or misinterpret these rules are potentially deemed morally flawed15 or are considered “subjectivities out of control, beyond propriety, excessive.”16 Hence, to properly perform femininity entails having control over one’s body and bodily impulses, as well as over one’s language and posture, especially in public.

Performances of femininity under neoliberalism are also accompanied by the idea that femininity is a condition that needs constant management.17 This is currently realized through the “relentless drive for physical perfectibility.”18 In this vision of normative femininity, ciswomen are pushed to perpetually remake themselves in order to be normatively, and not too, feminine. Accordingly, so-called incompetent femininities marked by race, class, and transness are being countered with self-regulatory discursive appeals:

Modes of regulation are shifting from practices of policing and external regulation to technologies of self-regulation in which subjects come to understand themselves as responsible for their own regulation, as “free” and individual agents in the management of themselves as autonomous beings, which is central to a neoliberal project.19

An example of a neoliberal discursive construction as it pertains to femininity is the idea of “natural beauty.”20 “Natural beauty” is the normative counterpart to performative excesses, which are often connected to lower classness and include too much makeup, stiletto heels, tight clothes, heavy drinking, loudness, and publicly discussing sexual desires.21 This construction is present especially in the media, and it could be considered feminist since it implies that ciswomen who avoid the hyper-feminine traits listed above are “naturally” beautiful. Performative extravagances, on the other hand, expose the artificial nature of femininity. Failure to perform normative femininity can potentially challenge the artificial connections between sex and gender and enact a form of resistance to and transgression against normative femininity.22 Funkeiras are constantly heralded as being excessive.23 “Naturalness,” then, constitutes the essentializing of (white, middle-class, cisgender) femininity, as if it ←22 | 23→did not entail any type of social location, performance, repetition, and practice.

While analyses of “failed” working-class femininity abound, the racialized nature of “failure” is usually pushed aside.24 As much as class matters in constructions of femininity in favela funk, race plays perhaps an even more vital role in it. Indeed, normative femininity is not race neutral, as feminist analyses make it seem.25 Deliovsky contends that white femininity is normative because it is perceived as just femininity or just gendered.26 It is not unusual for feminist studies to treat femininity in this way.27

Normative white femininity is “the white capitalist patriarchal compulsion to adopt styles and attitudes consistent with an imposed white feminine aesthetic. This compulsion is a central element in the reproduction of whiteness and white femininity.”28 Not all of those who are white cisgender women are able to enact normative femininity. As Shome contends, “[White femininity] claims a universality of its position only through its gendering of very particular bodies—the white female upper-class heterosexual body, and that body’s imagined relation to Anglo patriarchy.”29 The legacy of European colonialism and imperialism suggest that normative femininity was/is constituted within the framework of white supremacy and racial oppression.30 In this context, white ciswomen, through their enactment of normative white femininity, have become the guardians of morality and virtuosity. As a matter of fact, “to be truly feminine is, in many ways, to be white.”31

Normative white femininity is decidedly hetero- and cisnormative. Indeed, there is no white femininity without white heteropatriarchy. Shome argues that white femininity exists only in relationship to white patriarchy and has no meaning outside of that bond: “The subject of white femininity emerges in, and through, its subject/ification in white patriarchy.”32 As an ideological construction, white femininity is the glue that holds patriarchy together, and because of that, it needs to be firmly regulated. Specifically,

As symbols of motherhood, as markers of feminine beauty (a marker denied to other women), as translators (and hence preservers) of bloodlines, as ←23 | 24→signifiers of national domesticity, as sites for the reproduction of heterosexuality, as causes in the name of which narratives of national defense and protection are launched, as symbols of national unity, and as sites through which “otherness”—racial, sexual, classed, gendered, and nationalized—is negotiated, white femininity constitutes the locus through which borders of race, gender, sexuality, and nationality are guarded and secured.33

An essential part of the regulation white femininity endures is through sexuality. The strict boundaries surrounding normative white femininity include performative aspects that are inextricably related to heteronormativity. These may involve “notions of female vulnerability, sexual inaccessibility, and submissiveness,” which “readily collude with normative cultural versions of White, heterosexist femininity.”34 Because normative white femininity is responsible for assuring racial purity, the sexuality of the ciswomen who embody that kind of femininity is highly regulated in the service of white cisheterosexual men. White patriarchy, hence, uses normative white femininity to regulate boundaries of proper sexuality for everyone else.35

Since the ideological construction of normative white femininity serves reproductive functions, cisnormativity, via biological essentialism, is a vital component of normative systems of gender. Cisgender women are thought to have a feminine essence that is connected to their bodies, especially their reproductive system.36 Butler further problematizes some feminist theorists’ tendency to look for a prehistorical, prejuridical time before patriarchal law, which in turn suggests that gender exists outside of culture, as though there exists an “authentic feminine essence.”37 Particularly, Butler critiques the propensity among certain second-wave feminists to place nature and culture into a binary similar to sex/gender, a duality that is itself gendered. “This is yet another instance in which reason and mind are associated with masculinity and agency, while the body and nature are considered to be the mute facticity of the feminine, awaiting signification from an opposing masculine subject.”38 The idea of a feminine nature is a sign of cisnormativity, even within some feminist studies. Likewise, cisnormativity’s focus on a “true,” essential womanhood makes it integral to the reproduction of normative white femininity.←24 | 25→

Cisnormativity and biological essentialism not only hurt transpeople but can also work against ciswomen. Black transfeminista Jesus39 compares the personal account of a ciswoman’s hysterectomy and the subsequent questions from others about her “womanhood” with the experiences of transwomen; “Mayer experienced an oppression that is daily imposed on transwomen: that they are … not women because they are missing a female essence,” usually attributed to reproductive organs, such as a uterus.40 Another relevant way in which cisnormativity and biological essentialism work together is through norms around body shape. Ciswomen who are perceived to be “too muscular” are often compared to cismen or are deemed not feminine enough.41 Accusing ciswomen of “looking like men” is a known transphobic trope42 and suggests that those ciswomen diverge from normative white femininity’s beauty standards. When being muscular was a fitness trend in favela funk in the mid- to early 2010s, Valesca and other funkeiras who embraced this look had their bodies constantly mocked and scrutinized.43 Part of Valesca’s recent makeover, which concurrently led her to more modest performances of femininity and more openly feminist talking points, included slimming down her previously brawny body, per the news story highlighted above. In sum, normative white femininity plays a central role in the maintenance of white cisheteropatriarchy and, consequently, sets the standards against which all feminine people are evaluated.

Other(ed) Femininities

The place of femininity in feminism is historically contentious,44 usually because femininity is approached as a patriarchal device used to control and discipline cisgender women.45 Not only that, but femininity is also treated as naturally and culturally inferior within and outside of Western feminist studies.46 Even though the narrative about femininity’s inferiority is assumed, “current Western heteropatriarchal conceptualizations of femininity are not transhistorical but, rather, have been shaped by cultural, political and religious climates throughout history.”47 Hoskin argues that “little academic attention has been paid ←25 | 26→to the ‘naturalized’ subordination of femininity, which contributes to a striking pervasiveness of feminine devaluation … Due to its ability to masquerade as other forms of oppression … feminine devaluation remains obscure.”48 Hoskin supports this assertion by reviewing a series of (white) feminist work that demonizes femininity while ostracizing feminine people.49 In fact, in her estimation, “Until a multifocal understanding of femininity and femme is developed, researchers cannot understand how deviations from hegemonic norms of femininity function as a source of oppression.”50 Performances of femininity that meet social expectations are not readily available to all who identify as women. Per the ideas exposed in this chapter so far, there are proper and correct ways to enact femininity. As the previous paragraph illustrates, Valesca Popozuda is perhaps a good example of how embracing marginal and normative versions of femininity generates diverse material and symbolic consequences.

The constraints of normative white femininity are well known to feminist scholars. After reviewing the normative boundaries of white femininity, I now delve into the oppressive constructions marginalized femininities endure in their comparison to the norm. In the subsequent chapters, I analyze how funkeiras negotiate with the norm via performances of peripheral femininities. Later, I explore the political possibilities in these performances of racialized, classed, gender nonconforming femininities. Even though the following subsections are divided into “racialized femininities” and “gender nonconforming femininities,” a transfeminista approach affirms that these are not separate, but intersecting realms. My hope is to be able to shed light on the particular ways these systems subjugate feminine people in favela funk with the understanding that oppression cannot be compartmentalized.

Racialized Femininities

Western white feminism tends to treat femininity with the underlying assumption that it is “race neutral” or necessarily cisheteronormative, according to Deliovsky and Hoskin. It is unsurprising then that the particular violence perpetrated against other(ed) femininities is de-emphasized in this perspective.51 Accordingly, “The exclusive critique ←26 | 27→and subordination of femininity within dominant feminist theories disregards the multiple ways in which femininity intersects with a racially marked subject.”52 The homogenization of femininity, thus, upholds “a normative feminist subject” that simultaneously deems other femininities, and the particular struggles associated with them, invisible.53 Black and brown women have long endured regulation and disciplining “through the racialising and sexualising imperialist gaze.”54 Thus, unlike white ciswomen who epitomize beauty and innocence, Black and brown women “represent and signify the exotic/erotic but not the beautiful.”55 Black women especially have been targeted with limiting and damaging images.56

In Brazil, Black women’s performances of gender and sexuality have been historically conceived of as improper, though at times, still desired.57 Foundational discourses about race and gender in the country concomitantly celebrate and condemn women of color. On the one hand, the sexual violence that enslaved Black women endured at the hands of white masters in colonial times is romanticized as a necessary element of Brazilian mestiçagem (miscegenation). On the other hand, Black women were held morally responsible for the demise of the white family.58 Consequently, Black women have become “anti-muses”59 whose femininity is defined in contrast to and approximation with that of white women.60

Brazilian Black scholars suggest that representations of Black femininity and the Black feminine body are markedly present in aesthetics and medical discourse.61 Corrêa argues that many of the supposedly positive accounts of the light-skinned Black woman (offensively known as “mulata”) originated within aesthetics (music, literature, arts), in which artists seemed to be enticed by the “mystery” of her body.62 The discursive construction of Black women as objects of desire includes certain natural elements, such as flowers, herbs, and enveloping scents. Through aesthetics, the desirable light-skinned Black woman became a national symbol of Brazil’s sensuality and mestiçagem.63 The “undesirable” Black woman, on the other hand, was established through a variety of discourses, from aesthetics to medicine and law, that were often referred to in the context of unrestrained sexual impulses and lack of morals.64 The pathologized Black woman was apprehended, therefore, ←27 | 28→as pure corporeal sensations, as the one who caused the social descent of men, including men of color.65 Even though Black women’s existences were under constant scrutiny via social or legal constraints, Soihet notes that no matter how liberal or restrictive state policies were, their bodies were abundant in public spaces; Black women subverted and challenged prohibitions and racist/sexist laws while debunking the colonial idea that Black women were submissive and docile.66

In early twentieth century Brazil, the idea of different races peacefully coming together to form a national, unified Brazilian identity became particularly important for the still-pervasive notion that the country was a racial democracy.67 The popular opinion that inequities stem from class, and not race, is a related development to this perception of Brazil as a racial paradise.68 In this context, public mentions of racial oppression are somewhat uncommon—and frowned upon—compared to references to class. In fact, the intersection of race and class takes on a particular discursive shape in Brazil: even though race is mentioned infrequently, reference to it is common in discussions of the social and economic hierarchy of particular neighborhoods.69 For instance, allusions to favelas, from those who live there to the cultural expressions—like favela funk—that come out of such areas, denote both classed and raced meanings. As a result, the gendered and classed violence against funkeiras is habitually wrapped in racism.

Research about women in favela funk usually centers on analysis of lyrics, with only a handful of studies exploring gender, race, class, and bodily performances.70 Aragão, for instance, suggests that lyrics performed by and about funkeiras are decidedly sexist, because:

The social context of ignorance, poverty, lack of culture, and education foregrounds principles and values that are not concerned with the fact that women are not only worthy as “mothers,” “housewives” or sexual objects. People who enjoy singing and dancing funk, going to funk parties and exposing themselves sexually, have no awareness that there are more intelligent and productive roles women can partake in.71

The author assumes that funkeiras, as poor uneducated women, are pushed into foolishly perpetuating their own gender oppression. Race is never mentioned in Aragão’s work, but when taking into consideration ←28 | 29→Lopes’s point about the coded language connecting race and class in Brazil,72 it becomes clear that representing poor women who enjoy funk as over-sexualized people who “lack” culture is a prime example of the racial violence with which funkeiras are targeted in academia.

Even though funkeiras are very popular within favela funk, very few studies have been dedicated to them exclusively.73 When research focuses on favela funk in general, women in favela funk—and consequently performances of racialized femininity—are usually left out.74 Brazilian studies examining the movement from a gender perspective tend to concentrate on the idea that women in it are sexually objectified and are hence put in undignified positions that they embrace by naively taking part in male domination.75 For instance, Oliveira (2007) states that, even though favela funk is composed by poor people of color looking for cultural legitimation, the sexism that traverses it is part of a “larger structure present in many societies” and even more so in economically disadvantaged groups.76 This line of thinking also exposes the severe limitations of “gender first” analyses. Similarly, it reveals the problematic tendency to assume a cross-cultural feminist subject based on the omnipresence of Western patriarchy and gendered structures of domination. The same can be assumed about some feminists’ uncritical use of femininity as a universally constituted category. The underlying assumption in Oliveira’s and Aragão’s work77 is that femininity is equally performed by, and similarly impacts, all women.78 At the same time, Oliveira and Aragão suggest that a feminist performance, though never defined, is not only incongruent with femininity in general but also with poverty and, given Brazil’s racial context, brownness and Blackness.79

Gender Nonconforming Femininities

Gender normativity is a taken-for granted aspect of normative white femininity. Indeed, Hoskin asserts that “under patriarchal rule, femininity is only ‘acceptable’ (not to be confused with valued) in one mode: white, heterosexually available, DFAB, able-bodied, passive, self-sacrificing, thin, young, lacking self-actualization, and simultaneously negotiating Madonna/Whore constructs.”80 What happens, then, to ←29 | 30→people whose femininities challenge the fact that its normative equivalent is “reserved exclusively for those designated female at birth”?81 While Hoskin focuses on the femme lesbian as a point of departure for the conceptualization of subaltern femininities,82 I turn my attention to feminine transpeople, specifically those who identify as travesti, as their presence and popularity in favela funk continues to grow.83

The term travesti does not have a neat English translation. Largely used in Latin America, travesti has a few possible meanings, none of which is quite captured by the literal English version, “transvestite.”84 In Brazil, the word was more broadly adopted during the 1960s to refer to “homosexual ‘female impersonators’ (later known as transformistas) who had the opportunity to move from the Carnival—where they were accepted—to some of the most important theatre shows in the big cities as stars.”85 With the 1964 military-civilian coup in Brazil, travestis were accused of depravity and indecorum; their shows were often censored and criminalized.86 The more feminine travestis were, the greater the persecution against them.87 Travestis who were not able to leave Brazil during the 21 years of dictatorship found sex work a vehicle of survival, not just in terms of financial livelihood but also as the space in which they could express and embody femininities. Over the years, thus, travestis went from being recognized as artists to becoming associated with gender and sexual deviance and criminality, specifically sex work and drug addiction.88

Some scholars link travesti identity more to sexuality than to gender. Garcia,89 for instance, partially agrees with Kulick’s assessment that travestis “desire to embody homosexuality.”90 Garcia, however, understands travesti identity as a patchwork or a series of complex, at times contradictory, performances of traditional and peripheral femininities and masculinities, which include sexual practices.91 Studies focusing on “homosexuality” in Brazil also suggest that travesti identity should not be used cross-culturally in uncritical manners—as a Western classification of sexual deviance—since Brazil has a culturally specific system of sexual practices and relationships.92 Because these Brazilian categories are contingent upon cultural meanings that Western scholars at times miss, it is not uncommon for them to perceive travestis as “gays who cross-dress” with the understanding that it is their ←30 | 31→sexuality that determines their gender expression.93 These assessments, as Vartabedian argues94 and with which I agree, remove the idiosyncrasies of travesti identity while also reinforcing colonial, heteronormative understandings of gender and sexuality.95 Similarly, the term “transgender” does not quite capture the particularities of travesti, and using it as an equivalent term further colonizes “trans experiences” while “overshadow[ing] local understandings of the travesti subculture.”96

The term travesti evades the medicalization of gender nonconformity, unlike the monikers “transsexuality” and “transvestite.” In fact, scholars contend that medical terms fail to capture the nuances present in travesti identity. As it is currently employed, the word:

Refer[s]‌ to people who want to look and feel, as they say, like women, without giving up some of their male characteristics, such as their genitals. Within this premise, they are aware that they do not want to be women, but they mainly seek to resemble women through the construction of a constantly negotiated femininity.97

Though Vartabedian’s definition points to gender expression,98 the focus on bodily alterations is still present. Belizario draws comparisons between scholarly versus self-identified definitions of travesti, and the differences are glaring.99 While researchers focus on travestis’ bodies as the starting point for their identities, travestis themselves focus on free gender expression and demands for human rights. Belizario highlights Brazilian Black trans scholar Jesus’s definition of travesti as “people who experience feminine gender, but do not recognize themselves as either men or women, but as members of a third gender or of a non-gender.”100 Additionally, travestis understand their identities as political and as the result of colonial systems of race, class, and cisheteronormativity.101

Even though contemporary understandings of travesti identity are filled with contradictions, scholars agree that class and race are important markers of those who identify as such.102 Garcia postulates that many travestis in his study located in the Brazilian southeast, where favela funk developed, come from poor migrant families who left the north and northeast regions “in search of economic opportunity, while also seeking some degree of sexual freedom.”103 While observing the racial composition of his interlocutors, Garcia further states that, among poor ←31 | 32→travestis, “the majority had common ethnic mixtures of indigenous or African origin.”104 Conversely, “those with higher incomes among the travestis had lighter skin.105” The most vulnerable travestis are, thus, feminine-presenting Black and indigenous people, which makes this identification classed and raced.

Ultimately, travesti identity challenges hetero- and cisnormative categories of gender and sexuality. Unlike other slightly more defined and accepted identities in the medical and LGBTQIA+ discourses, such as transgender and transsexual, travestis are regularly “constructed as the radical other.”106 The classed and raced nature of the travesti category means that folks who identify as such are often perceived as inferior, even by those who identify as transgender and transsexual in Brazil.107 Consequently, the lived realities of travestis in the country are extremely hard. More than surviving discursive violence, travestis exist in a context that criminalizes and, most notably, violates them at very high rates. According to the organization Transgender Europe, with the support of Rede Trans Brasil (Brazilian Trans Network), the number of transpeople (mostly feminine-presenting) murdered in the country is two times higher than in Mexico and six times higher than in the United States.108 A great majority of those murdered in Brazil are in fact travestis of color.109 In this context of the dehumanization of travestis, it is important not to fetishize their complicated identities by understanding their performances of gender and sexuality solely in terms of transgression or “compulsory” subversion.110 This fetichizing of travestis, which happens mostly in Western queer theory, ends up dematerializing their lived experiences. The analysis I propose later in this book is one grounded in the perspective of travesti artists, whose favela funk performances enable an embodied understanding of travesti femininity with material and political consequences and possibilities.

The presumed inferiority of feminized subjects means that feminist theory seems inclined to focus on normative femininity’s agentic limitations.111 The idea is that either a feminized subject, be them cis- or trans-, has limited power to act or that agency becomes part of the post-feminist narrative that turns everyday life’s individualized performances into simple issues of choice. Funkeiras, their multifaceted enactments of femininities, and the context in which they perform challenge ←32 | 33→these established connections between feminized subjects and agency. In the next section, I briefly explore some of these conundrums and their limitations in feminist theory.

Femininity and Agency

In a fundamental work about favela funk, Lopes’s reserves a section of her book to discuss gender and sexuality in the movement.112 Unlike much of the previous research done on the funkeiras, Lopes argues that they indeed have agency. Basing her analysis on the work of Butler’s gender performativity,113 Lopes suggests that, though funkeiras have agency, they do not resist the oppressive gendered systems around them. In fact, they actually reproduce dominant gender relations in their songs. Furthermore, because the interviews she either performed herself or accessed through media funkeiras suggest that they perform about sex because “it sells,”114 they are not engaged in a feminist project. Lopes never clarifies what feminism means in that context; it is merely assumed. What is more troubling is that the funkeiras became an addendum to a work that is otherwise focused on the oppressive junctures of race, class, and geographic location. Gender, thus, takes front and center in Lopes’s analysis of the funkeiras, while other aspects of their material realities are acknowledged but not sufficiently engaged.

An equally problematic take comes from Lyra, who proclaims that funkeiras are in the vanguard of third-wave feminism.115 The author explains that, in contrast to second wavers, third-wave feminists have a special concern with self-esteem and sexuality. Lyra proposes that funkeiras moved from the traditional place of passivity, usually conceived of as feminine, to the active role of the seducer—a conventionally masculine space. Hence, funkeiras, such as Deize Tigrona and Tati Quebra Barraco, invert gender roles with their daring songs. Though the focus is, again, more on what is being sung, Lyra, to some extent, recognizes that the subject position of the funkeiras as poor women of color from Rio’s peripheries matters. That acknowledgment, however, does not address the problems with the conclusion that funkeiras engage in simple inversions of gender roles through the enunciation ←33 | 34→of lyrics. Research focus on whether or not funkeiras are feminists is troublesome for two reasons. First, these studies are inclined to privilege “gender first” analyses, which exclude raced and classed aspects of embodiment from notions of agency. Second, what feminism means is often taken-for-granted.

The discussion of agency in Western feminist theory is often tied to an essential, presumed category of woman. Because the subject of feminist politics has been unquestionably assumed to be ciswomen, Butler (2006) contends that “by conforming to a requirement of representational politics that feminism articulate a stable subject, feminism thus opens itself to charges of gross misrepresentation.”116 Because issues around the subject of feminism*, 117 have been well discussed, I would rather shift focus to the connection between agency and femininity. By problematizing assumptions about agency in white, Western feminist theory, I hope to lay groundwork for a discussion about embodied politics specifically as it pertains to marginalized femininities.

As previously mentioned in Lyra’s analysis,118 third-wave feminists regard embodied resistance to everyday sexism as a central feminist practice that is closely tied to the expression of sexuality.119 Fixmer and Wood note that such resistance is a “personal and often physical, bodily action that aims to provoke change by exercising and resisting power in everyday life.”120 This definition of embodied politics may provide a starting point to understand the complicated public performances of funkeiras racialized femininities. It is not, however, sufficient, as the focus on “personal” acts and resistance does not fully encompass the funkeiras navigate marginalization. Each chapter in this book sheds light on specific aspects of funkeiras’ embodied politics in ways that advance grounded, contingent understandings of the concept. Later in the conclusion, I lay out the characteristics and tenets of my approach to embodied politics.

While third-wave feminist theory claims to defy norms surrounding “correct” womanhood, “the acceptance of multiplicities and ambiguities has not been extended to femininity.”121 Ironically, the critiques ←34 | 35→directed at second-wave feminists for essentializing the category “woman” is reproduced in much of third-wave feminism as “thinkers continue to participate in the homogenization, essentialization and white-washing of femininity.”122 Thus, even though there is a noticeable move in feminist theory to question the previously taken-for-granted idea of “difference from” white women, the same has not been the case in the analysis of femininity and feminine subjectivities.

In an analysis of Canadian women’s and gender studies textbooks, Hoskin generated insights into how femininity is conceived in a dichotomous way that ultimately disables the agency of feminine subjectivities.123 One prevailing contradiction in the evaluations of femininity and agency by feminists is that femininity is both deceptive and deceived. As deception, femininity is apprehended as a “mask”:

Women’s use of cosmetics is described as a “desperate” “disguise” (Bartky, 2010; Weitz, 2010), a “masquerade” (Warnke, 2011, p. 67), a form of “concealment” (Rice, 2004), “tired decorations” (Forsyth, 2004, p. 13), and a “theatre of their enslavement” (Sontag, 2004, p. 278). While feminine adornments are described as protective in their utility of disguise, the authors argue that by “protecting themselves as women, they betray themselves as adults” (Sontag, 2004, p. 282). By […] infantilizing femininity, the theories of feminine deception contribute to the objectification and ornamenting of that which is feminized.124

Whereas femininity is understood as a deceptive patriarchal device, “feminine subjects are simultaneously thought of as being ‘duped’ into practices and expressions of femininity—complacent in their own subordination.”125 According to this prevalent perspective in white feminist theory, even when ciswomen think they have free will, the choices they make are the result of sociocultural coercion. Hence, feminine folks naively subject themselves to the constraints of femininity. These limitations result in passive feminine subjects who are then devoid of agency.126 Cisgender women, therefore, need to rid themselves of femininity in order to be free from the docile, non-agentic associations with it.

Perhaps the most troubling finding in Hoskin’s analysis is that many of these conclusions about femininity are not connected to any other ←35 | 36→systemic markers or identities.127 The rules and agentic restrictions of normative white femininity are reproduced with very little reflection on the raced, classed, and cisnormative aspects of that construction. Although passivity is one such characteristic that works as a roadblock to agency, “the conflation of femininity and passivity/subordination is challenged by the multiple manifestations of femme, whose lives and gender expressions do not reflect this naturalized equation.”128

On the other hand, the neoliberal ideas surrounding choice that is found in some third-wave feminist work simplifies the particular contexts in which marginalized feminine subjects are inserted. This “postfeminist sensibility”129 suggests that young women who selectively define feminism usually tie in personal choice as source of empowerment instead of advocating for feminist politics and structural change.130 For Gill and Scharf, femininity plays a vital role in this shift131—one from objectification to supposed subjectification involving self-discipline and surveillance. Issues of race, class, body normativity, and more are either disregarded or are subsumed under what Puar calls “neoliberal pluralism” or the “absorption and accommodation of difference.”132 Puar further questions if current neoliberal accounts of difference in feminist theory serve to further reify white liberal feminism. Like Puar, I also believe that defenders and critics of agentic choice treat normative white femininity as the invisible center.

To move away from these shortcomings in the apprehension of agency, I use Mahmood’s definition to demonstrate the complicated ways in which funkeiras engage in embodied politics.133 Specifically, Mahmood argues that agency should be treated “not as a synonym for resistance to relations of domination, but as a capacity for action that historically specific relations of subordination enable and create.”134 In their everyday and artistic performances, funkeiras use embodied politics to publicly affirm and embrace their marginalized bodies in movement. Their performances of racialized, classed femininities challenge normative white femininity but provide diverse, contradictory practices for doing so. Furthermore, these transgressive performances of marginalized femininities from the Global South challenge second and third-wave feminist understandings of embodied politics through ←36 | 37→performances that do not clearly fit in dichotomous understandings of gender and oppression and that are not simple matters of choice.

As Dow and Wood point out, “[f]‌eminist activism, going back to the first wave, has been led mainly by privileged women who generally are more likely to have time and resources to devote to it.”135 For feminine folks with limited resources, embodied politics provides one avenue toward creating a sense of “communal agency” that can possibly drive structural change.136 Embodied politics is simultaneously defiant and risky. It is risky because, as Durham, Cooper, and Morris remind us, feminine folks of color who publicly manifest their sexual agency and desire face “serious reprisals.”137 It is defiant because they confront systems that want to either demonize them or deem them invisible.

Feminist theory that proclaims to be concerned with the lives of marginalized people must pay attention to the different conditions under which embodied politics take place. These differences are integral to understanding how challenges to oppressive structures are possible. For marginalized people who have yet to experience significant structural changes, embodied politics serve to make their experiences visible in the fight against racist, classist, transphobic misogyny in media, politics, and in their communities—a struggle that has been historically perceived as belonging to cisgender middle-class white women. Embodied politics should not then be understood as just a matter of choosing to exercise one’s individual agency. Funkeiras are people whose performances are not grounded in simple choices but shaped by oppressive structures.

Challenging White Feminist Failures

The two central themes in this chapter, femininity and agency, lay the theoretical ground against which the analyses about funkeiras will unfold. Funkeiras are forced to negotiate with normative white feminine standards in their everyday lives, and because so much of white feminist theory assumes white femininity to be the norm, agency is debated in relationship to that. As Alarcón poses, white feminism theorizes from the perspective of “an autonomous, self-making, self-determining ←37 | 38→subject who first proceeds according to the logic of identification with regard to the subject of consciousness” (emphasis in original),138 a logic previously reserved only for white men. Not only that, but analyses that simplify funkeiras’ lived experiences as producing either resistance or domination precipitously foreclose disparate conceptualizations of agency. Mahmood notes that “to analyze people’s actions in terms of realized or frustrated attempts at social transformation is to necessarily reduce the heterogeneity of life to the rather flat narrative of succumbing to or resisting relations of domination.”139

This project moves away from these assumptions and toward something like Anzaldúa’s “mestiza consciousness,”140 which works to disrupt dualistic thinking and structures of Western colonialism; it is grounded in the idea of contraction and ambiguity. Per Mohanty’s assessment,

Consciousness is thus simultaneously singular and plural, located in a theorization of being “on the border.” Not any border, but a historically specific one: the United States-Mexican border. Thus, unlike a Western, postmodernist notion of agency and consciousness that often announces the splintering of the subject, and privileges multiplicity in the abstract, this is a notion of agency born of history and geography. It is a theorization of the materiality and politics of the everyday struggles of Chicanas.141

The task of understanding funkeiras’ complicated and stirring performances of marginalized femininities functions in a similarly grounded and contingent manner. In this book, I specifically espouse Mohanty’s conceptualization of Third World feminisms’ dual, seemingly contradictory, intellectual and political projects. First, this book critiques “hegemonic ‘western’ feminism” and second, this book is invested in “the formulation of autonomous feminist concerns and strategies that are geographically, historically, and culturally grounded.”142 For people inserted in contexts of extreme systemic oppression, challenges to the status quo often do not come in the form of organized movements but as everyday practices, as in the lives of marginalized feminine subjects. Each chapter in this book provides thematic examinations of funkeiras as they relate to racialized femininities, embodied politics, and aspects of their personal and professional lives. My ←38 | 39→analysis of varied aspects of funkeiras’ quotidian and staged performances will hopefully illuminate the ways in which agency is not just contradictory but also “anchored in the history of specific struggles.”143

Embracing diverse and contradictory feminist identities is fundamental in the understanding of funkeiras. Because contradiction transcends and disrupts false Western patriarchal dichotomies, it allows for the emergence of complex alternatives outside of the limiting and oppressive options available to women144 and transfeminine folks. Through contradiction, they “can negotiate social constraints to make the best choices for that particular moment, recognizing the contingencies of their historical contexts and material worlds as limitations, but looking for ways to subvert those limitations if possible.”145 Although there is a tendency among second-wave feminists to view the feminist acts of the third-wave as individualized, Renegar and Sowards suggest that contradictory acts that are repeatedly performed in public foster “an understanding of agency as a communal effort that builds upon itself.”146

Funkeiras have very real material challenges that go beyond gender, including race, class, and cisheteronormativity. Their use of embodied politics seems to point to concurrent individual and collective survival. The bonding aspect of funkeiras’ experiences, aside from their connection to favela funk, is indeed their performances of subaltern femininities. As such, this project focuses on the particularities of cisgender women and transfeminine people of color, as well as on their similarities, based both on their performances of femininity and the raced, classed trans-misogyny they face.147 Next, I delve into favela funk as an industry and the labor relations in which funkeiras are inserted.

*For more on the subject of feminism, see Butler (2006), Braidotti (2004), Mahmood (2001), and Mohanty (2003).


1Nelito Fernandes and Alice Granato, “Mulherada de Respeito,” Época, January 16, 2006, http://revistaepoca.globo.com/Revista/Epoca/0,,EDR72874-6011,00.html.

2Raquel Moreira, “Bitches Unleashed: Women in Rio’s Funk Movement, Performances of Heterosexual Femininity, and Possibilities of Resistance” (PhD Thesis, University of Denver, 2014).

←39 | 40→

3Rhea Ashley Hoskin, “Femme Interventions and the Proper Feminist Subject: Critical Approaches to Decolonizing Western Feminist Pedagogies,” Cogent Social Sciences 3, no. 1276819 (January 2017): 1–16; Rhea Ashley Hoskin, “Femme Theory: Refocusing the Intersectional Lens,” Atlantis 38, no. 1 (June 2017): 95–109; Lesa Lockford, Performing Femininity: Rewriting Gender Identity (Walnut Creek: Altamira Press, 2004).

4Natalie Fixmer and Julia T. Wood, “The Personal is Still Political: Embodied Politics in Third Wave Feminism,” Women’s Studies in Communication 28, no. 2, (July 2005): 235–57; Saba Mahmood, “Feminist Theory, Embodiment, and the Docile Agent: Some Reflections on the Egyptian Islamic Revival,” Cultural Anthropology 16, no. 2 (May 2001): 202–36; Chandra Mohanty, Feminism Without Borders (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003).

5“Popozuda Lança Música com Discurso Feminista e Ensaio Chique,” Ego, October 31, 2013, http://ego.globo.com/famosos/noticia/2013/10/popozuda-lanca-musica-com-ensaio-chique-e-discurso-feminista.html.

6Valesca Popozuda, “Valesca Popozuda—Beijinho no Ombro (official music video),” December 27, 2013, YouTube video, 7:34, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73sbW7gjBeo.

7Raquel Moreira, “‘Now that I’m a Whore, Nobody is Holding Me Back!’: Women in Favela Funk and Embodied Politics,” Women’s Studies in Communication 40, no. 2 (April 2017): 172–89.

8“Bizarrice Pouca é Bobagem! Relembre Algumas das Maiores Esquisitices das Celebridades em 2012,” Ego, December 11, 2012, http://ego.globo.com/famosos/fotos/2012/12/bizarrice-pouca-e-bobagem-relembre-algumas-das-maiores-esquisitices-das-celebridades-em-2012.html.

9Renata Mendonça, “Valeska Popozuda, Que Canta o Tema de Rakelli, Posa Vestida de Barbie,” Ego, August 8, 2008, http://ego.globo.com/Gente/Noticias/ 0,,MUL716947-9798, 00-VALESKA+POPOZUDA+ QUE+CANTA+O+TEMA+DE+ RAKELLI+POSA+VESTIDA+ DE+BARBIE.html.

10Graziele Oliveira, “Valesca Popozuda: ‘Ser Vadia é Ser Livre.’” Época, April 11, 2014, http://epoca.globo.com/ideias/noticia/2014/04/bvalesca-popozudab-ser-vadia-e-ser-livre.html.

11Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. (New York: Routledge, 2006); Lockford, Performing Femininity.

12Kathy Deliovsky, “Normative White Femininity: Race, Gender and the Politics of Beauty,” Atlantis, 33, no. 1 (January 2008): 49–59. Hoskin, “Femme Interventions”; Hoskin, “Femme Theory.”

13Jane Arthurs and Jean Grimshaw, Women’s Bodies: Discipline and Transgression (London: Casell, 1999); Jessica Gerrard and Jo Ball, “From Fuck Marry Kill to Snog Marry Avoid: Feminisms and the Excesses of Femininity,” Feminist Review 105 (November 1, 2013): 122–29; Estella Tincknell, “Scourging the Abject ←40 | 41→Body: Ten Years Younger and Fragmented Femininity Under Neoliberalism,” in New Femininites: Postfeminism, Neoliberalism and Subjectivity, eds. Rosalind Gill and Christina Scharff (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011): 83–95; Milly Williamson, “Female Celebrities and the Media: The Gendered Denigration of the ‘Ordinary’ Celebrity,” Celebrity Studies 1, no. 1 (March 17, 2010): 118–20.

14Thomas Lemke, Biopolitics: An Advanced Introduction (New York: New York University Press, 2011).

15Gerrard and Ball, “From Fuck.”

16Bev Skeggs, “The Making of Class and Gender through Visualizing Moral Subject Formation,” Sociology 39, no. 5 (December 2005): 974.

17Tincknell, “Scourging.”

18Tincknell, “Scourging,” 83.

19Jessica Ringrose and Valerie Walkerdine, “Regulating the Abject,” Feminist Media Studies 8, no. 3 (September 2008): 229.

20Gerrard and Ball, “From Fuck.”

21Gerrard and Ball, “From Fuck.”

22Gerrard and Ball, “From Fuck”; Lockford, Performing Femininity.

23Moreira, “Women in Favela Funk”; “Veja o Resultado do Implante de Silicone No Bumbum de Valesca Popozuda,” Ego, August 13, 2010, http://ego.globo.com/Gente/Noticias/ 0,,MUL1613297-9798, 00-VEJA+O+RESULTADO+ DO+IMPLANTE+DE+SILICONE+ NO+BUMBUM+DE+VALESCA+ POPOZUDA.html; “Valesca Popozuda Exibe Bumbum Bizarro e Seios Nus na Sapucaí,” Ego, February 21, 2012, http://ego.globo.com/carnaval/2012/noticia/2012/02/valesca-exibe-bumbum-bizarro.html.

24Deliovsky, “Normative White Femininity”; Hoskin, “Femme Interventions”; Hoskin, “Femme Theory.”

25Deliovsky, “Normative White Femininity.”

26Deliovsky, “Normative White Femininity.”

27Rhea Ashley Hoskin and Allison Taylor, “Femme Resistance: The Fem(me)inine Art of Failure,” Psychology & Sexuality (May 13, 2019): 1–20.

28Deliovsky, “Normative White Femininity,” 50.

29Raka Shome, “White Femininity and the Discourse of the Nation: Re/membering Princess Diana,” Feminist Media Studies 1, no. 3 (December 2, 2001): 328.

30Patricia Hill Collins, Black Sexual Politics: African-Americans, Gender and the New Racism (New York: Routledge, 2004).

31Sally Markowitz, “Pelvic Politics: Sexual Dimorphism and Racial Difference,” Signs 26, no. 2 (Winter 2001): 390.

32Shome, “White Femininity.”

33Shome, “White Femininity,” 323.

34Nicole Pietsch, “I’m Not That Kind of Girl”: White Femininity, the Other, and the Legal/Social Sanctioning of Sexual Violence Against Racialized Women, Canadian Woman Studies 28, no. 1 (January 2010): 138.

←41 | 42→

35Shome, “White Femininity.”

36Jaqueline Gomes de Jesus, “Gender Without Essentialism: Transgender Feminism as a Critique of Sex,” Universitas Humanística 78 (June 2014): 241–57.

37Butler, Gender Trouble, 50.

38Butler, Gender Trouble, 50.

39Jesus, “Gender Without Essentialism.”

40Jesus, “Gender Without Essentialism,” 244.

41Erica Nicole Kendall, “Female Athletes Often Face the Femininity Police—Especially Serena Williams,” The Guardian, July 14, 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/14/serena-williams-female-athletes-femininity-police.

42Joshua Gamson, “Talking Freaks: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Families on Day-Time Talk TV,” in Queer Families, Queer Politics: Challenging Culture and the State, eds. Mary Bernstein and Renate Reimann (New York: Columbia University Press, May 2001), 68–86.

43Moreira, “Bitches Unleashed”; Ego, “Valesca Popozuda Exibe.”

44Hoskin, “Femme Interventions.”

45Deliovsky, “Normative White Femininity”; Lockford, Performing Femininity.

46Deliovsky, “Normative White Femininity.”

47Hoskin and Taylor, “Femme Resistance,” 1.

48Hoskin, “Femme Theory,” 95.

49Hoskin, “Femme Theory.”

50Hoskin, “Femme Theory,” 96.

51Deliovsky, “Normative White Femininity;” Hoskin, “Femme Theory.”

52Hoskin, “Femme Interventions,” 11.

53Hoskin, “Femme Interventions,” 12.

54Ringrose and Walkerdine, “Regulating the Abject.”

55Deliovsky, “Normative White Femininity,” 55.

56Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment (New York: Routledge, 2009).

57Mariza Corrêa, “Sobre a Invenção da Mulata,” Cadernos Pagu vol. 6/7 (1996): 35–50.

58Cláudia Barcellos Rezende and Márcia Lima, “Linking Gender, Class, and Race in Brazil,” Social Identities 10, no. 6 (2004): 757–73.

59Sueli Carneiro, “Enegracer o Feminismo: A Situação da Mulher Negra na América Latina a Partir de uma Perspectiva de Gênero,” Geledés, June 3, 2011, http://www.geledes.org.br/enegrecer-o-feminismo-situacao-da-mulher-negra-na-america-latina-partir-de-uma-perspectiva-de-genero/#gs.hB=CYyY.

60Côrrea, “Invenção da Mulata.”

61Carneiro, “Enegracer o Feminismo”; Corrêa, “Invenção da Mulata;” Mariza Corrêa, “Do Feminismo aos Estudos de Gênero no Brasil: Um Exemplo Pessoal,” Cadernos Pagu 16 (2001): 13–30; Rachel Soihet, “A Sensualidade em Festa: Representações do ←42 | 43→Corpo Feminino nas Festas Populares no Rio de Janeiro na Virada do Século XIX para o XX,” in O Corpo Feminino em Debate, eds. Maria Izilda Matos and Rachel Soihet (São Paulo: Unesp, 2003): 177–97.

62Côrrea, “Invenção da Mulata,” 39.

63Côrrea, “Invenção da Mulata.”

64Côrrea, “Invenção da Mulata.”

65Côrrea, “Invenção da Mulata.”

66Soihet, “Sensualidade em Festa.”

67Liliane Windsor, “Deconstructing Racial Democracy: A Personal Quest to Understand Social Conditioning About Race Relations in Brazil,” Social Identities 13, no. 4 (July 2007): 495–520.

68Rezende and Lima, “Linking Gender”; Windsor, “Deconstructing.”

69Adriana Lopes, Funk-se Quem Quiser: No Batidão Negro da Cidade Carioca (Rio de Janeiro: Bom Texto, 2011).

70Lopes, Funk-se; Mariana Gomes, 2015, “My Pussy é o Poder. Representação Feminina Através do Funk: Identidade, Feminismo e Indústria Cultural” (Unpublished thesis, Federal Fluminense University); Moreira, “Women in Favela Funk.”

71Gabriel Adams Castelo Branco Aragão, “O Discurso e a Construção da Imagem Feminina No Funk,” Cadernos de Pesquisa na Graduação em Letras 1, no. 1 (2011): 80.

72Lopes, Funk-se.

73Moreira, “Bitches Unleashed”; Gomes, “Pussy é o Poder.”

74Adriana Facina, “‘Não Me Bate Doutor’: Funk e Criminalização da Pobreza,” Encontro de Estudos Multidisciplinares em Cultura, Salvador, May 27–29, 2009; Lopes, Funk-se.

75Aragão, “Discurso”; Edinéia de Oliveira, “A Expressão da Identidade Feminina No Gênero Musical Funk,” VI Semana Integrada das Licenciaturas, Tubarão, October 22–26, 2007.

76Oliveira, “Expressão,” 941.

77Oliveira, “Expressãol”; Aragão, “Discurso.”

78Moreira, “Bitches Unleashed.”

79Oliveira, “Expressãol”; Aragão, “Discurso.”

80Hoskin, “Femme Theory,” 98.

81Hoskin, “Femme Theory,” 98.

82Hoskin, “Femme Theory.”

83Raquel Moreira, “Bicha Travesti Worldmaking: Linn da Quebrada’s Disidentificatory Performances of Intersectional Queerness,” Queer Studies in Media & Popular Culture 4, no. 3 (September 1, 2019): 303–18.

84Julieta Vartabedian, Brazilian Travesti Migrations (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018).

85Vartabedian, Travesti Migrations, 5.

←43 | 44→

86Jefferson Puff, “LBGTs sofriam torturas mais agressivas, diz CNV,” BBC, December 10, 2014, https://www.bbc.com/portuguese/noticias/2014/12/141210_gays_perseguicao_ditadura_rb.

87Vartabedian, Travesti Migrations.

88Vartabedian, Travesti Migrations.

89Marcos Roberto Garcia, “Identity as a ‘Patchwork’: Aspects of Identity Among Low-Income Brazilian Travestis,” Culture, Health & Sexuality 11, no. 6 (July 2009): 611–23.

90Don Kulick, Travesti: Sex, Gender, and Culture Among Brazilian Transgendered Prostitutes. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1998), 224.

91Garcia, “Identity.”

92Richard Parker, “Masculinity, Femininity, and Homosexuality: On the Anthropological Interpretation of Sexual Meanings in Brazil,” Journal of Homosexuality 11, no. 3–4 (1986): 155–63.

93Vartabedian, Travesti Migrations, 2.

94Vartabedian, Travesti Migrations.

95Viviane Vergueiro, “Por Inflexões Decoloniais de Corpos e Identidades de Gênero Inconformes: Uma Análise Autoetnográfica da Cisgeneridade como Normatividade,” Repositório UFBA, 2015, https://repositorio.ufba.br/ri/handle/ri/19685.

96Vartabedian, Travesti Migrations, 6.

97Vartabedian, Travesti Migrations, 3.

98Vartabedian, Travesti Migrations.

99Fernanda Belizario, “Gênero: Feminilidade Travesti,” Medium, March 7, 2019, https://medium.com/@febelizario/g%C3%AAnero-feminilidade-travesti-aaffaf7fb386.

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102Garcia, “Identity”; Jesus, “Gender Without Essentialism.”

103Garcia, “Identity,” 612.

104Garcia, “Identity,” 612.

105Garcia, “Identity,” 613.

106Berenice Bento, O Que é Transexualidade (São Paulo: Editora Brasiliense, 2017), Location No. 524.

107Bento, Transexualidade.

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110Vartabedian, Travesti Migrations, 7.

111Hoskin, “Femme Interventions”; Hoskin, “Femme Theory.”

112Lopes, Funk-se.

113Butler, Gender Trouble.

114Lopes, Funk-se, 169.

115Kate Lyra, “Eu Não Sou Cachorra Não. Não? Voz e Silêncio na Construção da Identidade Feminina no Rap e no Funk no Rio de Janeiro,” in Comunicação, Consumo e Espaço Urbano: Novas Sensibilidades nas Culturas Jovens, eds. Everardo Rocha, Maria Isabel Mendes de Almeida and Fernanda Eugenio (Rio de Janeiro: Mauad Editora, 2006), 175–95.

116Butler, Gender Trouble, 7.

117For more on the subject of feminism, see Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York: Routledge, 2006); Saba Mahmood, “Feminist Theory, Embodiment, and the Docile Agent: Some Reflections on the Egyptian Islamic Revival,” Cultural Anthropology 16, no. 2 (May 2001): 202–36; Chandra Mohanty, Feminism Without Borders (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003).

118Lyra, “Voz e Silêncio.”

119R. Claire Snyder, “What is Third-Wave Feminism? A New Directions Essay,” Signs 34, no. 1 (Autumn 2008): 175–96; Lyra, “Voz e Silêncio.”

120Fixmer and Wood, “Personal is Still Political,” 237.

121Hoskin, “Femme Interventions,” 12.

122Hoskin, “Femme Interventions,” 12.

123Hoskin, “Femme Interventions.”

124Hoskin, “Femme Interventions,” 9.

125Hoskin, “Femme Interventions,” 9.

126Hoskin, “Femme Interventions.”

127Hoskin, “Femme Interventions.”

128Hoskin, “Femme Interventions,” 10.

129Rosalind Gill, “Postfeminist Media Culture: Elements of a Sensibility,” European Journal of Cultural Studies 10, no. 2 (2007): 147–66.

130Rosalind Gill and Christina Scharff, eds. New Femininites: Postfeminism, Neoliberalism and Subjectivity (New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).

131Gill and Scharf, New Femininites.

132Jaspir Puar, “I Would Rather Be a Cyborg Than a Goddess”: Becoming Intersectional in Assemblage Theory. PhiloSOPHIA 2, no. 1 (2012): 53.

133Mahmood, “Feminist Theory.”


XVI, 246
ISBN (Book)
Publication date
2021 (May)
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2021. XVI, 246 pp., 4 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Raquel Moreira (Author)

Raquel Moreira (Ph.D., University of Denver) is Assistant Professor of Communication at Southwestern University. Her research focuses on the role of transgressive performances of femininities in the struggle against structural violence in Brazil. Moreira’s research has received the 2020 Monograph of the Year Award from NCA’s GLBTQ Communication Division and the 2017 Feminist Scholar of the Year from the Organization for Research on Women and Communication.


Title: Bitches Unleashed