emma’s preface
Gessi Bonês defied her father and started a women’s movement when she was
seventeen years old. It was 1986, and rural women in southern Brazil didn’t
have the right to maternity leave, pensions, or autonomy in their own homes.
By 2004, Gessi’s movement had transformed the lives of women across the
region, successfully challenging laws that had once seemed unchangeable, and
Gessi had moved from street protests to city hall. That July, my dad and I
traveled together to Ibiraiaras, where Gessi and her family lived.
I was fifteen, Dad was forty-nine, and we had set out to research this wom-
en’s movement as a team. During movement meetings in church basements
and interviews in women’s homes, we learned what was, and still is, at stake as
they try to change the world. As we returned to Ibiraiaras over the next nine
years, we learned that doing research abroad changes who you are at home.
When members of the Brazilian women’s movement fight for legal rights
and a space to speak in rural homes, they challenge deeply entrenched dy-
namics of gender and power. Dad and I also face conventions—who learns
from whom, how fathers and daughters interact—and we try to break them
through our collaboration. As the women we met in Brazil let us into their
lives, and we kept returning with our writing for them to revise and share, all of
us worked to forge relationships of equality across lines of power and tradition.
Ever since Dad and I returned from our first research trip in 2004, friends
have asked us what it meant for women who as teenagers defied their fathers
to start a movement to see me doing research with my father at just that age. I
don’t know for sure, but the question has made me wonder about comments
that didn’t seem significant at the time. What was Gessi’s sister, Ivone Bonês,
signaling when she said that her father never listened to her? Why did Gessi
always introduce us as ‘‘Jeffrey and his daughter Emma’’? And what could we
learn from Dad’s graduate student, who said that watching our collaboration
made her think of her own father?
Gessi, Ivone, and the other women I met in Brazil showed me the ability of
ordinary people to change their communities and what it takes to keep pro-
testing, speaking, and envisioning new ways to reform the world. I learned
from their dedication, but not only from their success. Maybe because I was a
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