Imagine if Days of Our Lives, America’s longest-running daytime soap opera, was credited with ushering in a whole-scale cultural and social revolution. This seems an absurd, fantastic notion, but if we turn our gaze south, we might find such a phenomenon already in progress. A recent National Geographic article suggests that Brazil, known more for its soccer success than its sultry soap operas, is benefiting from the latter’s ubiquity and socially transcendent themes in its assumption of a new identity—a 21st Century blueprint for women’s empowerment.
As projects like 10×10 draw attention to the untapped potential of women worldwide, Brazil offers firsthand proof that women can drive development and lower birth rates, in many cases armed only with incredible resolve.
Brazil has quickly and quietly undergone a massive cultural paradigm shift in its women’s attitudes towards long-standing practices. In roughly the last 50 years, Brazil’s birth rate has dropped at an astounding pace, from 6.3 children per woman in 1960 to 1.9 today. That’s lower than the United States’ rate of 2.0.
But perhaps more astounding is that this has occurred in a country where the Roman Catholic Church and its stance against birth control reign, abortion is illegal, divorce has been legal only since 1977, and government involvement in promoting birth control has been largely non-existent.
While theories abound to explain this phenomenon, National Geographic’s article, appearing in its September issue, points to the prevalence of soap operas and their portrayal of small families as an influential catalyst for shifting the national mindset away from an expectation for having many children. In fact, television has grown faster than access to education in Brazil (although educational attainment has been on the upswing), a somewhat startling fact that arguably lends more credence to the role shows like Passione have had in molding public opinion.
With a female president, high-ranking female military personnel, and women-operated police stations, Brazil forms a rich, if not eccentric, case study where the fusion of sound medical advancements (an improved infant mortality rate and greater access to birth control), sheer determination (on the part of Brazilian women to have fewer children), and unlikely sources (soap operas), can transform a nation and its attitudes. Indeed, who knew that steamy seductions and dramatic dalliances could prove so revolutionary?
What lessons can other countries take from Brazil’s example? More Passione reruns? Less birth control regulation? Something else? Comment below and let us know what you think.