Representations of women's health in Brazilian telenovelas
Drawing on a set of examples from the media giant Globo, this dissertation analyzes how Brazilian telenovelas and miniseries have dramatized women’s health concerns over the past thirty years. It argues that despite their overtly progressive social merchandising (public service) messages, these novelas often transmit contradictory ideas about women and fail to adequately address structural inequalities within Brazilian society, thereby reinforcing and perpetuating existing social norms and hierarchies that are detrimental to women’s health. Examining five melodramas that have been acclaimed and studied for their treatment of women’s health issues, and analyzing a conflicting set of representations of women—as mother, sexual object, fighter, victim—through the lens of feminist film theory, this work explores how health messages are diluted by visual patterns that over-sexualize women’s bodies and by the romanticization of socio-economic factors. Globo’s telenovelas lack diverse representations of women and their lived experiences on screen. Success of female characters in overcoming health obstacles within the plots of the telenovelas in question is determined by two factors only: individual economic ascension, and an adherence to traditional gender roles. This simplified formula for the attainment of good health largely places the onus on individual women for improving their personal health outcomes, disregarding socio-economic realities and disguising underlying social values communicated by the television network that reinforce health inequities. Closely examining the model of corporate responsibility assumed by Globo, which uses merchandising social to “educate” consumers about social issues through mainstream entertainment, this work challenges the consensus that social messages about women’s health delivered by the network are as progressive as they seem.