Sean T. Healy
Response to Dr. Erica Williams Interview
On March 31st, Dr. Erica Williams came to our class for a question and answer session that shed light on some questions we had about her book Sex Tourism in Bahia. Her book emphasized the commodification of sex and how tourism exploits this ideology in particular from foreign tourists. Her story focuses on the sex tourism industry in Bahia, a province in northern Brazil that is experiencing rapidly growing development, in part because of its beautiful beaches. Williams’s book highlights the sex workers in the area by providing first hand accounts of how the sex tourism industry operates on a day-to-day basis and their relationship with foreigners. Our job was to read one chapter in Dr. Williams’s book (in addition to the introduction and conclusion) and come up with viable questions that we had from that particular chapter. We chose to read and ask questions on Chapter 1.
One of the more important questions that we wanted to clarify with Dr. Williams was on Page 28 when she talks about the underdevelopment of the Bahia region during her stay there. She then proceeds to talk about the 74% increase in growth to the region through sex tourism investment since 2007. This confused us, because we were unsure as to the extent of how underdeveloped the Bahian region was and whether or not this was changing with an increase in investment. We were surprised to learn that even though there had been a lot of interest in the development, there was still not much progress being made. With a new change in government, the sex tourism activity in Bahia was changing and thus the economic development centered around this commodification was not illuminating as promised. On this same note, Dr. Williams points out on Page 41 that “the current government recognizes that black communities need economic development as well as cultural development.” She provides this statement in the text of the book, but fails to provide any evidence or describe any of these large scale efforts other than the terreiros. Just like the first question we had, there has not really been much active attention given to Afro-Brazilian culture and its development efforts, because of the change in government.
Another one of our questions focused on how the garotas de programa (call girls) were marketed through a website that was mentioned in the book. SInce, we knew that Dr. Williams’ research was fairly recent, we were not surprised to see how technology and the internet could play such a role in Bahia. With Dr. Williams’ personal experience and connection to the Bahian region, we figured she could detail the role of call girl websites for us. However, she described the websites as not being well publicized as she decided to mention the websites in her book because she saw an advertisement at a bus stop once. We then questioned her about whether or not she believed the websites were geared more for the locals or for tourists. To this, she replied that generally the advertisements are meant for the tourists since the sex tourism in Bahia is very prominent. Dr. Williams expanded on this by stating that the locals do not tend to use these websites as much as tourists not because they do not have internet access; there are internet cafes. Instead, she believed that this aspect of the sex tourism was just one thing that was generally meant for tourists.
By asking many questions as a class, we were able to dig deeper and find more connections within the book. The fact that each group read a different chapter helped create more detailed questions and this might have or might not have been a bit intimidating for Dr. Williams. We say this because at times she seemed to shy away from delving deeper into an answer or she appeared to have forgotten certain details of her book when asked about specific events or anecdotes. Through it all, we do believe she did a great job of giving everyone an insight into the type of experience she had with the sex tourism in Bahia. We are grateful for the opportunity to have been able to speak with Dr. Williams.