Adolescent sexuality as a right? The view of public policy makers

Presentation Text

Adriana Vianna*

This book, originally the result of Vanessa Leite’s master’s research, is built around a question that is far from simple to answer: how (and if) adolescent sexuality has been conceived and constructed as a right. Starting from this question, already extremely complex in itself, the author outlines a disturbing panorama, made from the intersection between themes that are dear to us for several reasons, ranging from the naturalization of phases or stages of life, to our political utopias and tools of world transformation. The title of the work reveals, in fact, countless combined concerns, showing that not only the combination of terms haunts us, but each one of them – sexuality, adolescents, rights – is in itself the gateway to labyrinths of uncertainties.

Opting at certain times for a genealogical perspective, such as the one that seeks to show the tortuous and conflicting processes from which the current policy for childhood and adolescence was conceived, the author brings to light profound contradictions around who would be the subjects of law of Brazilian democracy. The displacement of “minors” to the position of holders of rights in a special situation did not happen without tensions and deep gaps, partly as a result of the perennial dispute between principles of protection and autonomy, of individuality and responsibility, and partly due to political implications, deeper social and moral beliefs, according to which these people partially “belong” to their families and households and cannot be considered fully trustworthy. The former “minors” continue to ghostly haunt the current “adolescents” who bear “rights”.

This rich and necessary genealogical or procedural attention, present in the book as a whole, does not obscure, however, another equally fruitful investigative plan, centered on the synchronic outline given by a specific body for formulating and implementing policies for children and adolescents, the councils of rights. As a result of the same process of redemocratization from which the Statute of the Child and Adolescent emerged and in tune, like the legislation, with management models that are not only national, the councils reveal themselves to be a locus permeated by other tensions, arising from the insertion and location of the councilors themselves , but also the inscription of life stories, trajectories and diverse perspectives.

By focusing her investigation on issues surrounding adolescent sexuality, Vanessa Leite exposes and advances all these contradictions in an exemplary way. On the one hand, it precisely indicates the existence of a dominant way in which the issue seems condemned to be evoked: as risk, problem, drama. Sexuality and adolescents, when placed in the same sentence, seem to make a single melody sound, made up of fears, mistrust and the need for control and vigilance or, if these fail, of consternation. During her research, however, Vanessa Leite was not content with pointing out the gaps in this discourse. Exposing herself during interviews or public presentations that became part of the research process itself, she asked her interlocutors – and here the term applies, going beyond easy contemporary jargon – the same questions she asked herself. Why not speak in terms of pleasure, choice, desire, autonomy? In response, he got silences, hesitations, constraints. But also productively curious glances, confessions, sincere dialogues. It reaped the best of a well-done ethnography: the record of a shared process, in which the researcher’s authorship is clear, but in which those who were part of the research appear as reflective, questioning, anguished and uncertain people.

The choice for this way of conducting and narrating the process allows us, the readers, to see how much the concrete management of adolescent bodies and experiences has a fundamentally moral nature, revealing in the backlight the conceptions, procedures and practices not always explicit by part of those who work in the formulation of policies and programs for these young people. It should be said that the author can do it without any kind of arrogance and with rare competence precisely because in this process she is also confronted with her own trajectory. Far from portraying itself as “out of the field”, it allows us to think about this generation of researchers and activists who lived through attempts to combat guardianship perspectives in relation to children and adolescents and who seriously engaged in debates about social inequality and rights that doubly affected a portion of the population, due to broader social marks and the condition of legal minority. Discussing in certain passages her difficult process of moving away from this field in order to analyze it, she guides us through her passion, her commitment and her competence towards the most difficult areas of this discussion. It thus reveals how adolescents present themselves as unthinkable characters of sexual rights, transiting between our more naturalized borders, such as those that supposedly separate morals and politics, public and private, adult freedom and juvenile protection-control.

The book, despite the richness of the research and the density of the arguments, is less a closed response to the concerns presented here than a provocation for us to leave the comfortable place of not discussing such boundaries. We finish reading it with the uncomfortable and productive awareness that there is no easy answer to the plural process of constitution of “rights” and that, as an integral part of this process, it is up to us to honestly face our own assumptions and moralities in search of alternatives that are politically and existentially liberating.

   *Adriana Vianna is a historian and anthropologist, PhD in Social Anthropology from the National Museum/UFRJ, professor at PPGAS/MN/UFRJ.

Author: Leite, Vanessa Jorge 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *