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Antifeminism in Brazil
Misogyny: From the Bar Table to Presidential Power

Antifeminism in Brazil
Illustration: © Rosa Kammermeier

There is no way to bury Bolsonarism without discussing the deep connections with misogyny that underlie its discourses and practices. This far-right populism is, at its core, a gift to the common man, disgruntled with women’s advancement in contemporary society.

By Giovanna Dealtry

I am happy to open this series of letters even if the issue that motivates our writing is sad and cruel. In recent years, we, Brazilians, have come to live in a country that has officially labeled us enemies, alongside indigenous, black and LGBTQIA+ communities. The rise of Jair Bolsonaro, from conservative federal congressman to president of the country, enabled sexism and misogyny to intensify in our daily lives with few rights guaranteed by laws or social advancement. Two moments, even before the 2018 election, were revealing of what our day-to-day life would be like.

In 2003, Bolsonaro said directly to Congresswoman Maria do Rosário Nunes, of the Worker’s Party, on the left: “I would never rape you, because you are not worthy of it.” Then he pushed her and called her a “slut.” In 2014, on International Human Rights Day, he stood at the House podium and repeated the same insult. Nunes was then defended by left-wing congressmen in the plenary. Years later, the Judiciary forced the congressman to recant and pay a fine to the deputy. This is the lesson of politics and misogynistic justice: a congressman can attack the dignity of a colleague and, supposedly, a fine and a retraction will erase the moral harassment suffered.

Allegedly “Incapable of Governing”

Equally terrifying moments followed the election of Dilma Rousseff, first woman president of Brazil. From 2014, the year of her second term, it became clear that the criticisms coming from the population, press as well as from political and business groups would not only be through decisions connected to the government’s plan. The strategy was to turn Rousseff into a “hysterical woman”, therefore incapable of governing. It was evidenced in an editorial in a nationally circulated magazine, titled, “A President Out of Her Mind,” which affirmed that the then head of government no longer had the emotional stability to lead the country. On another occasion, the president was attacked for being a woman who was supposedly “cold”, distant, incapable of promoting camaraderie with former sexist politicians who dominate the Legislature.

As we can see, the idea that politics is not a place for women because their “nature” would lead them to an extreme lack of control, while for men this such behavior would demonstrate the strength of the leader. Coldness has come to be understood not as a complement to rationality, but as a deviation from a supposed feminine essentiality capable of resolving disputes based on smiles and indulgences. In 2016, the coup d’état against Rousseff took the form of an impeachment. At that moment again we meet the current president of the country. With his vote, retired Captain Bolsonaro declared: “In memory of Colonel Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra, Dilma Rousseff’s terror.” Ustra was one of the greatest torturers and murderers of the Brazilian military dictatorship.

A Gun in One Hand, a Bible in the Other

It is impossible to separate this discourse—the same one that was used for
Bolsonaro’s later victory at the polls—from a hunt for women’s and other minorities’ rights. Bolsonarist populism is grounded in misogyny as a way of giving the common man, the one who argues that the “degradation” of society is linked to feminist advances, a mirror image of the macho man, with a gun in one hand and a Bible in the other. It is no coincidence that throughout the country we have seen an increase in cases of feminicide, rape, sexual and moral abuse against women and LGBTQIA+ or any other group that questions the patriarchal power. In practice, these are groups of macho men at the bar table, invested only in presidential power, who use social networks and welcome hate crimes. Populism, in this perspective, is aimed directly at men who are disgruntled with seeing their women partners, colleagues and even bosses contesting patriarchal strategies of power.  

I am convinced that there is no way to bury Bolsonarism and other forms of authoritarianism without discussing the deep connections with misogyny that underlie its discourses and practices. This has been the mistake, in my view, of the left itself, in considering misogyny as a consequence of authoritarianism and not the opposite. For these individuals, attacking feminism is central to attempting to control the immense population of women, obviously different from one another. One of their strategies has been to separate personal achievements, such as professional growth or financial independence, from feminist struggle throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.

An Increase in Violence

In contrast to other historical moments where populism was linked to paternalism of the State, now we are witnessing the prevalence of neoliberal practices in the workplace that are linked to Christian fathers for control over women’s bodies. It is the control over all women’s bodies, but especially of black, indigenous and poor, and vulnerable women, that the neoliberal theocratic state tries to exert power over the workforce, beginning with domestic work.

The loss of achievements and the increase in violence we have faced during the Bolsonaro years do not fit into this letter. It is important to recall that the #EleNão (#metoo) women’s movement was the only popular action, self-organized at the national level, that could fill the streets of the big cities on the eve of the 2018 elections. Women of various ages, of different races and social classes, mothers, members of LGBTQIA+ communities, led the movement not only in defense of their own causes, but against the extermination of black, indigenous, and gay youth, in short, for the years of pain that our bodies already knew were ahead of us when, in 2003, the then congressman shouted to the congresswoman Maria do Rosário Nunes: “You are not worthy of being raped.”

The fact is that is that feminism would not be attacked if it were not a threat to a masculine identity built on the submission of women. It is therefore necessary to put an end to this cycle of destruction and attempts to label feminism as an enemy of the family and of the nation. The struggle will not be easy, and the losses will not be reversed with the departure of the current president. We will need to, once again, start over. But not from scratch or separately. Some paths no longer come undone.

That said, I now give the floor to Tobias Ginsburgwith a question: What do the narratives, used by rightwing groups, and their distribution tell us about antifeminism in Germany?

About the project:

In the last few years, the topic of antifeminism has gained attention. But what is antifeminism and what are its manifestations?

Anti-feminist positions are diverse and reach from a critique of the scientific discussion of gender to a rejection of gender equality. They are often directed against the strengthening of female self-determination and support the idea of a binary gender identity with a classical division of gender roles.

Behind the various manifestations of antifeminism are usually sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic and anti-Semitic views. These can lead to a threat to central values of an open and liberal society.

In an exchange of letters, our authors from Brazil, Germany, South Korea, India and Mexico describe the anti-feminist developments they observe in their countries. They present a local perspective on the question: “To what extent does antifeminism threaten our democracy?”