Why This Woman Is Proud To Call Herself A "Feminist Whore"

Photographed by Daniella Zalcman.
Cida Vieira weaved through the crowd, her long blonde hair falling over her shoulders. She wore a denim miniskirt and a purple T-shirt proclaiming: Eu sou uma puta feminista: I'm a feminist whore. Among the more than 1,800 women gathered for the Association for Women's Rights In Development forum, her shirt hardly raised an eyebrow. But in her largely Catholic home of Brazil, it’s an identity for which she’s fought hard to gain respect.

"I’m 48 years old, and prostitution is my choice. I love what I do,” Vieira explained. She began doing sex work more than two decades ago. “I was 26 when I left the bank I worked at and law school because I hated it. It was something that was harmful to me, so I left it and went to do something I liked.”

Since then, Vieira has worked hard to make sex work a recognised, respected and safe profession in her home city of Belo Horizonte, the capital of Minas Gerais state. She’s the president of the Minas Gerais Prostitutes Association (APROSMIG), an organisation by and for sex workers, founded in 2009.

APROSMIG helps more than 2,000 local sex workers, providing language classes and HIV education, as well as free condoms and legal counselling. The group also works to combat violence against women, a huge issue in Brazil, and has even helped sex workers create business plans and open corporate bank accounts. Some sex workers in the association now use debit and credit card machines, which are often safer than being paid in cash. The group also holds an annual Miss Prostitute pageant and a Puta Day to help remove the stigma surrounding sex work in the wider community.

In 2014, Vieira ran to represent Minas Gerais in Brazil's national congress. Her campaign used a play on words between deputada (representative) and puta (whore), and focused on protecting LGBTQ and sex worker rights. Although she lost, Vieira said her campaign sparked an important conversation nationwide.

“I got a rise out of people. There needs to be representation from all social movements in the government: not just from capitalism, not just from the church,” she explained. “We sometimes suffer because we’re not represented.”

Ahead, Vieira shares her story of finding representation and recognition with Refinery29.

Tell us a little bit about your work...

I love what I do. I love being a prostitute. I work as a dominatrix, and my relationships are all based on fetishes. Then since 2009, through the association, we have been working to better prostitutes’ human rights, citizenship, and healthcare.

I really enjoy it, especially because I earn good money and not minimum wage every month. I’m very comfortable financially and I know my rights. Women can be independent and say: ‘I work where I want and how I want.’

How many regular clients do you have?

I take around six a day on the weekends when I’m not travelling, and the weekdays too. I volunteer at the association’s office from 10 a.m. to around 7 or 8 p.m. Then I work until midnight, so six clients is plenty.

Your association prefers to use the terms “prostitute” and “whore” rather than “sex worker” (like the late activist Gabriela Leite advocated) to challenge the stigma around those words. How do you describe yourself?

The term sex worker is very broad: it includes men, cis and trans people. I am a woman, so I’m a 'whore'. In the context of our work and our rights, though, we’re all equal.
Photographed by Daniella Zalcman.
Here in Brazil, do you face discrimination when you say that you work as a whore and that you love your work? Is it hard to tell people?

This is a profession that has rights. There are some women who are depoliticised, and so they feel those preconceptions and that stigma. But the second you have a political understanding of human rights, your perspective changes. There are laws against discrimination in Brazil, and so if someone discriminates against me, I can legally respond.

The church is a different story. They view us as poor little girls. But we’re no longer poor little girls. In Brazil, legislation was passed, with the participation of the prostitution movement, to include sex workers in the Ministry of Labour’s Occupational Registry in 2002. Because of that, we have become people who are more dedicated to our rights and political empowerment. Prior to 2002, that didn’t exist, but it came about thanks to the work of the prostitutes before us.

Sex work in Brazil got a lot of attention from the international media during the World Cup and the Olympic Games. Advocates reported that some crackdowns aimed at combatting human trafficking and the exploitation of children in fact led to repression of adult sex workers. What was your experience like during those events?

We received harassment from the American media, who made us out to be the ‘whore team’, second only [in negative press] to Brazil’s corrupt politicians. We had a lot of backlash from the media. But it was not always negative, some of it benefited us too. Maybe some [media] just didn’t understand our country’s culture.

Regardless, the clients who came respected us, whether they were women or men. It was really cool for Belo Horizonte. We made a lot of money; some of us bought cars, houses, condos. We even had fan buses and tour buses come through our locations, and taxi cabs that were taking people to hotels. The whole night, clients would come speaking languages I didn’t understand.

To help us communicate, we put out a little book with options. [Ed. note: APROSMIG worked with a local English teacher to create the Puta Livro, or Whore’s Book, with phrases to help sex workers and clients communicate.] We’d open the book and the client would point to what they wanted, and that was our exchange. There are more experienced prostitutes who speak other languages very well, and so for them, it was easier. But for those of us who don’t speak other languages, the book worked very well.

Do you think that the narrative of exploitation around adult sex workers that takes place during big events like the World Cup and the Olympic Games needs to change?

Yes. We need to get rid of the ‘poor little girl’ portrayal. Prostitutes who didn’t live where games took place travelled to other cities and made money. We need to be careful about what we say and how it reflects on others.

Have you ever been arrested because of your job?

Never. It’s actually the opposite. My dad is in the military and police force, so it doesn’t matter at home. I was always honest about my identity and what I do. When you start with a lie, it’s hard to reverse it. I’ve always done what I liked to do. I left a banking career because I didn’t like it. It was too much stress. Now, I feel so much better, and have a lot less stress and no psychological problems.

What do you want other women to know about those who choose to do sex work?

I want women to know that this is a job. Women are equal in any profession, so we should all have equal rights as if we worked in any other industry. Some leave and go to college, then come back because it’s something they like. It is a choice. And we can choose to do something for as long as we want and change it whenever we want, because that’s our right.

Ed. note: This interview has been translated from Portuguese and edited for length and clarity.

Ed. note: Refinery29 uses the terms "sex work" and "sex worker", however, we respect the rights of our interviewees to describe themselves in the language they are most comfortable with.
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