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Posted on March 18th, 2013, by

The position of women in the 18th century Brazil was very difficult because they hold the inferior position compared to men and could not participate in the political and economic life of the country. In such a situation, the position of black women, who were predominantly slaves or freed slaves, was particularly difficult. Nevertheless, they could have reached certain social advancements and success in the 18th century society. At any rate, they could gain the public respect and recognition, although, to meet this goal, they had a hard way to pass through. In this respect, it is possible to refer to the story of Chica da Silva by Junia Ferreira Furtado, who conveys the story of the former slave, who has managed to improve consistently her social standing using her sexuality, concubinage and close relationships with white men. The book written by Furtado reveals the fact that it was through the relationship with white men African Brazilian women could improve their social standing and gain the public respect.

In fact, Furtada shows that black women in Brazil were inferior to men as well as the whites at large. Black women in the 18th century Brazil were mainly slaves or freed slaves as was the case of Chica da Silva. At the same time, African Brazilian women like Chica da Silva obtained freedom but they still had to win the public recognition and to take a better social standing. In such a situation, they often had to make a lot of efforts to raise to the higher social level. In this regard, Furtado argues that “manumission, rather than the beginning for the formation of a positive black identity, was the beginning of a process of acceptance of values of the elite, in order to insert them (former slaves) as well as their descendants in this society”¯ .

Former slaves have to change their values and share values of the white majority and elite, if they wanted to be a part of the society and to join the elite. In such a situation, according to Furtado, “sex was decisive to the relative facilitated access to freedom and concubinage with white men offered advantages to black women because, once free, they reduced the stigma of color and of slavery for them and for their descendants”¯ . Obviously sexual relationships helped African Brazilian women to improve their social standing and to change the attitude of the whites and the entire society for better. In this regard, the story of the life of Chica da Silva is particularly noteworthy because it was through the close, intimate relationships with white men she has managed to gain a better position in the society and to join the elite. At any rate, it is due to her relationships with white men, the society accepted her and treated as the part of the community. In such a way, the author reveals the fact that the 18th century Brazilian society was white and male dominated because the relationships with white men was the effective tool with the help of which Chica da Silva as well as other African Brazilian women could take a better social standing and gain acceptance of the society along with the change of their black identity. Hence, Chica da Silva became a part of the new community and she has managed to integrate into the white society, which, in such a context, became more tolerant to her, as the former slave, due to her connections and social relations with the whites, especially men.

At the same time, Chica da Silva was quite mean in her social advancement. At any rate, Furtado shows that she was authoritarian and arbitrary in her schemes and she tended to manipulate with people. Furtado argues that throughout her life as a free woman, she struggled for a better social standing and she was conscious of the importance of the change of her social standing and gaining the public recognition. For instance, Furtado states that “Chica, as the other freed female slaves, achieved her freedom, loved, had children and raised them up socially sought to reduce the mark that the condition of Parda (brown) and former slave had to herself and to her descendants”¯ . In such a way, the author shows that Chica da Silva has managed to understood the rules of the society and she has accepted these rules to take a better position in the society.

In such a way, Furtado reveals the face that Chica da Silva was rather a typical representative of a successful black woman in the 18th century Brazil, although, she had to use her close, intimate relationships with white men in the white and male dominated society to reach the public recognition.

J?nia Ferreira Furtado, Chica da Silva: a Brazilian Slave of the Eighteenth Century (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

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