This project, developed in 2016, started from an interest in thinking through the consequences of increasingly restrictive laws governing reproductive rights in Brazil. A number of bills that, if approved, would severely restrict access to reproductive rights have been proposed in the past years; many are currently under consideration in the Brazilian House of Representatives. One of these bills, colloquially known as the Statute of the Unborn, determines the beginning of life as the moment when an egg is fertilised; whereas abortion is already illegal in the country under most circumstances, the legal scope of the practice would be substantially expanded by this bill. The Statute does not represent the only attempt to restrict access to birth control technologies, either: PL1413/2007, for instance, outlaws the sale of the morning after Pill in pharmacies and its prescription in the public healthcare system.
This first idea for this project was conceived as part of our contribution to the book “The Responsible Object”, edited by Marjanne Van Helvert and published by Valiz. In the chapter we wrote for the book, we imagined that a Latin American Hub for design and innovation – known as ¡Hubla! – could, in a scenario where bills like the Statute of the Unborn become sanctioned legislation, be tasked with the development of a contraceptive technology that managed to abide to these restrictions. This piece – which you can read here – was imagined as a critique to the ways in which design for social innovation is frequently deployed as a strategy to normalize situations of oppression, rather than address them.
Wanting to explore this scenario further, we decided to open it up to the interpretations of others. We wrote a short story in which we describe the contraceptive developed by ¡Hubla! and how it became part of daily life. In this narrative we willingly avoided overly precise descriptions of the object, focusing instead on its popularization and impact, in order to leave spaces that could be explored, subverted, questioned.
“In Brazil, the Statute of the Unborn changes everything. Life is now legally defined as beginning at the moment of conception. Abortion has always been illegal, but now its definition is broader. The morning after pill and the IUD have been outlawed because they may prevent a fertilized egg from successfully implanting and developing. Even the birth control pill is now a highly controlled medication due to fears that it might be used – in higher doses – for the same purposes of the morning after pill.
Oniria is the first product to be released under the new legislation. Distributed through the country’s public healthcare system, Oniria consists of two parts: a small device which is clipped to the corner of the lips at night and tracks basal body temperature and hormonal levels; and an app that calculates when ovulation is supposed to happen based on the data collected by the device. The information is transmitted to the patient’s healthcare provider; in order to access this information, patients must contact their doctor. However, some premium versions of the product – not available in the public healthcare system – allow the patient direct access to their cycle data.
Oniria is celebrated by many as an empowering contraceptive device: the Church considers it a successful union between christian values and state of the art technology; every night, millions of people watch their most beloved character in the telenovela put on her device before bed. Although flexible and small, the device causes discomfort and leaves visible creases on one’s cheek after use. The product’s developers circumvented the problem by embracing the creases: the market is flooded with a number of different versions of the device, capable of leaving different drawings and messages etched on the skin after use. The creases are seen as marks of respectability, beauty, and social standing; discomfort becomes desirable. Creased faces can be seen everywhere, from social media, to catwalks, to ads. Make-up tutorials teaching how to enhance these creases left by different versions of the product abound; people highlight or emulate the creases with for a number of reasons – from submission to defiance, from status to anonymity.”
We placed an open call with this story on a few online platforms, encouraging participants to send selfies that expressed their own takes on the narrative.
“In my vision this scenario would expose women that – like me – are lesbians, because we wouldn’t have marks on our faces. Maybe this would be re-signified by us, so that it would become one more symbol of resistance.”
“My interpretation is that the first thing to change would be how the face is divided. Blush would be applied from the Oniria line downwards, highlighting that part of the face. The result is a face that is shaped like a heart, and since high cheekbones work better in this configuration there would be a new trend of plastic surgery, in order to have better defined cheekbones. Besides this, the eyeliner would begin to elongate the eyebrow, in order to highlight that part of the face too. Short haircuts that leave one pointy strand in front of the ear also become trendy. Since the mark left by Oniria is only on one side, asymmetry is valued: long earrings are worn on the side of the mark, hair is parted on that side too, all to make it as evident as possible.”
“I wanted to incorporate a rather torturing thing that is used to create double eyelids on asian eyes, in order to give [the selfie] a tense feeling… but I think it doesn’t work very well, and it hurts so much! I thought that, since I am not married, I would have to fit in as much as possible.”
“In this scenario you described, where a pseudo-sexuality is valued, the figure that comes to my mind is a mix of victorian aesthetics and a feminine Exu. A mourning, repressed sexuality, although painted as something beautiful. I can only think of a form of a goth Pomba-Gira.
I can’t see pastel tones in this, given that it is a masked form of regression. It’s a vital force that has been imprisoned and literally made-up. I tried to simulate a faded red rose, symbol of Maria Padilha, in the corner of my lips, to make the aesthetic part of the “mark” (but as you can see i’m bad at manual arts!)
Although I’m Christian, I live my sexuality freely, use birth control Pills, and I love freely; I imagined what I would feel like if I, inside the reality in the story, were to be robbed of these things, and to see my social environment approve of this.
The Umbanda, which I respect and kind of practice too, presents as ‘spirits of the left’ the archetypes of the masculine Exu and the feminine Exu (which is the Pomba-gira) as symbols of our vital forces. This includes sexuality, creativity, ability to communicate and, in for women, also desire – not only sexual, but mainly the things you want with all your heart.
This is why I thought about how would my inner Pomba-gira react if she were to be vilified under the pretext of ‘look how cool is this.’ She knows it’s not, because you can’t bluff with your own nature.”
“Among fashionistas, the main trend is a very artificial look, not very human. A group looks towards the artificiality of perfect dolls, with an extremely feminine look, Barbie-style. They wear pink and pastel hues. They like their Onirias with floral designs, created by the same designers that made the Glade home fragrance diffuser devices. Wigs like the one used by Cíntia, sister of Helena in the telenovela, can be found in large department stores.
Another group looked for references in technology and what would be the foundations under the skin of cyborgs. They aim for a tortured, scary look. It became popular because of Andrea, Helena’s niece, who adopted this look after the death of her brother. This look makes use of the basic, flexible line of Onirias. Not to being able to align the device’s mark to the lines in this look is considered to be a sign of lesser make-up skills.”
“Princess vibes :)”
“I interpreted the scenario very cynically.”
“I thought my character would bring a message of resistance. She doesn’t agree with the gadget, but she would be obligated by her environment (family, etc) to use it, so the character would use this make-up to stand for the number zero (as if she’s saying “loser”) and at the same time anarchy, to show she doesn’t agree with the rules. I used white eyeshadow to play with the fact that she is not white, but she’s living in an elitist environment where the majority of people are white, as if in mockery. But she would use this symbol just in certain occasions, within secret groups; for fear of losing her job she would never use this on her daily life. The make-up would be like a discourse of resistance in these secret meetings.”
“I couldn’t muster any expression of happiness, considering the context. Light make-up, just giving the spotlight to the device.”
“I have no doubt that this could become a reality in a not so distant future…”
“It’s a flower by Georgia O’Keefe. I don’t really know what it means, if it’s a movement against this scenario, or if it’s more of a way to show off a body part that is being objectified and that women don’t really own.”