Brazil is facing political turmoil, with several senior politicians being investigated for corruption and president Dilma Rousseff facing impeachment proceedings in the next few months. The president, who is now on her second term (due to finish in 2017), has triggered anger and indignation by naming her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, as her chief of staff. As a member of the cabinet, Lula da Silva gains immunity and therefore can’t be investigated by federal courts. This happened on March 16, just three days after millions of Brazilians took to the streets of 250 cities to protest against corruption and demand Lula da Silva’s prosecution (he is allegedly involved in corruption schemes during his own two terms as president).
Although Lula da Silva’s appointment was blocked by a judge the following day, president Rousseff continues to be the main target of protesters, despite the fact she hasn’t been formally accused of any wrongdoing. This major political crisis and the severe economic downturn the country is experiencing are not the only issues on Rousseff’s hands – she is also the main target for misogynists. It has become quite normal to come across people calling her a “cow”, “bitch”, or “whore”, either on social media or during street demonstrations.
It’s easy to understand why the population is angry and disappointed. People feel let down not only by the government, but also the opposition leaders, who are also facing corruption charges. Brazilians – known for being upbeat and optimistic – can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel this time around and public demonstrations are the only means to alleviate the increasing frustration. But why is it so many people – men and women – can’t seem to separate politics and sexism when trying to make themselves heard?
Misogyny is so ingrained in Brazil’s culture that people simply can’t understand why calling the president a “cow” or a “whore” is a problem
“Women in public areas, such as politics, are still perceived as breaking the rules”, says Juliana de Faria, founder of Think Olga, a Brazilian NGO that tackles several feminist issues. “Women who are leaders and gain territory outside the ‘domestic’ environment are immediately attacked. They are not accompanied by a man, therefore they are sluts, in the worst interpretation of the word.”
This theory explains why misogyny is not something new to Rousseff. During her campaign in 2010, her looks and outfits were thoroughly scrutinised by the press. On the day of her inauguration – the first woman to become president of Brazil – many people saw fit to question on social media who would be the country’s first lady.
Misogyny is so ingrained in Brazil’s culture that people simply can’t understand why calling the president a “cow” or a “whore” is a problem. Or any woman, for that matter. If a woman does something wrong or fails expectations – whether she does it on purpose or not – she faces being attacked with negative sexual connotations. In a conservative country, where religion walks hand in hand with politics, being a “whore” means society doesn’t accept you as a serious, well-intentioned woman.
Although Brazil is usually perceived as a progressive country – possibly because of the carnival – when it comes to sex, women, politics and power, there is a long road ahead. Only 10 per cent of the congress seats are occupied by women. Feminism is still a novelty and, if a feminist tries to highlight the issue of misogyny and Dilma Rousseff, she is called a “leftie whore”, just like the president herself.
Rousseff, who was tortured during the country’s 20-year dictatorship and won two consecutive presidential elections fair and square, might be finishing her term with a negative legacy, but she would never be able to win against the deeply ingrained sexist culture. After all, she is a powerful, unmarried woman.