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"I Only Want Two": Aesthetics, Race, and Sterilization in Brazil


“I Only Want Two”: Aesthetics, Race, and Sterilization in Brazil

Ugo F. Edu


Prior to 1997, and in spite of being illegal, tubal ligations were the preferred method of contraception among poor black and brown women in Brazil, with rates as high as 59% in particular regions. The significant decrease in fertility has been attributed, in part, to women’s reliance on tubal ligations. After accusations of genocide by the Black Women’s Movement and governmental investigations, a law addressing contraception was passed. This law legalized the creation of a national family planning program and legalized sterilization with guidelines to reduce the incidences of abuse and overuse. The rate of sterilization has since dropped to 29%.

The ushering in of a national family planning program and legalization of tubal ligation took place within a pre-existing economy of race, sexuality, and aesthetics. This economy foregrounds the social and cultural milieu women must navigate as they reproduce and create families. This dissertation, “I Only Want Two”: Aesthetics, Race, and Sterilization in Brazil, examines the factors that influence women’s decisions and their experiences trying to secure tubal ligations in Brazil. My work draws out the intersections of race, reproduction, gender, sexuality, class, agency, necropolitics and aesthetics. My work links Brazilian notions of beauty, desirability and family aesthetics to women’s reproduction and explicitly connects the history and legacy of slavery and racism in Brazil to the current moment and the health disparities as experienced by women in their attempts to control their fertility.

The dissertation draws on 16 months of ethnographic, qualitative and archival research in Brazil, among predominantly black Brazilian, popular-classed women and their families. Ultimately, this work demonstrates the ways that black women navigate through inherited complex interplays of racial, sexual, class, and aesthetic structures; this work shows how women find and exploit tactics that create flexibility in these structures, improving their chances at fertility control.

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