Brazil's tempest in a minidress

A scantily clad student causes a riot at a Sao Paulo university that results in her being expelled -- temporarily

Published November 10, 2009 1:01AM (EST)

From this side of the equator, it seems like sex is one of Brazil's biggest exports, in ideology if not in actual market share. In the United States, Brazil is the land of bikinis (and their waxes), booty dancing, Carnaval and sex tourism. (Full disclosure: I'm Brazilian.) So we can all nod knowingly now that the Oct. 22 scandal at a São Paulo University has international press buzzing, blogging and jabbering: Brazil? Check. Sex? Check. Blonde in a hot pink minidress? Double check.

The cellphone video (posted below) of Geisy Arruda walking through the halls of Bandeirante University in São Paulo captures the kind of walk of shame that strikes fear into the heart of every woman who has stood in front of a dressing room mirror, trying to imagine what would be said about the hemline of a piece of clothing. ("Are you there, god? It's me, Julia. Is this H&M miniskirt too short?") Arruda was forced to leave the school escorted by police, her pink minidress covered by a borrowed lab coat, as an atrium of 700 students chanted "puta, puta, puta" with vigor. (That's "whore, whore, whore" for the uninitiated.) "I was humiliated not only in school, but all of Brazil saw my videos. They tried to put cell phones in between my legs, inside my dress. This can't happen to a woman, not with me or with anyone else," Arruda told a reporter from Globo TV.

Initially, the university expelled Arruda and suspended 10 people allegedly involved in the incident. According to one of her lawyers, Nehemias Melo, the university forced her to go through a three-hour deposition, where she was asked super-relevant questions about whether or not she was sexually active. "What kind of education is provided by a university that expels a student for the way she dresses yet grants impunity to 700 other students?" Melo questioned.

Brazil's Ministry of Education immediately opened an investigation into the expulsion and gave the university 10 business days to explain fully. Quoth the university's legal counsel: "It's not the clothes. It's the attitude that Geisy had, for example of going upstairs and stopping in the middle of the hall, lifting her skirt." University representatives were quoted on Sunday in their best legalese, stating that she "was on the premises wearing inadequate garments," and that "on the day of the event, the student took a longer route [around the school] and increased her visibility."

Monday, it seems the game changed so that Arruda and the minidressed masses can breathe a sigh of relief. Accompanied by four lawyers, Arruda gave a press conference: "I felt guilty, like trash. I felt this because the university put me in that situation, of thinking that I was guilty of all of the rioting. In truth, I was very scared. I was a victim of the situation." Likely in response to investigations opened by several federal and civil organizations, the university revoked its previously "irrevocable" decision to expel Arruda. She has said she will finish the year and take her exams in order to not lose money, but will attend a different university as of the end of the school year. On Monday, a wall at the university was found marked with the words "prejudice university." I'll say.

Stereotypes about Brazilian sexual exuberance aside, it's almost unfathomable to think that one minidress could have students storming the proverbial Bastille, and pulling themselves up to high windows for a peek. Now, how is this Brazilian girl supposed to squeeze into the ruffled black miniskirt I've owned for months and never worn? Proudly is how. Still, it's a surreal, medieval and scary world out there, and a miniskirt isn't going to change that.

(Fast-forward to 0:31 to see cellphone video footage of the riot.)

By Julia Furlan

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