Brazil and Bolsonaro: The Resistance Will Be Feminist or It Won’t Be.

Image curtosy of Al Jazeera
the 28th of October, Brazil took a radical step towards fascism with the election of Jair Bolsonaro as President of the country. Such event may seem unbelievable, but it is the outcome of an incremental crisis in brazilian politics that started after the mandate of the former President Lula da Silva.

A very brief summary of such evolution would be helpful. Among his achievements, Lula managed to save 30 million people from poverty and reduced by 7 points the Gini coefficient in only 12 years. However, his welfare Belle Époque ended with a series of unfortunate events once he left power. First of all, his party (the Workers Party) had to make an alliance in 2010 with the traditional Brazilian Democratic Movement, undermining its margin of action and its credibility towards elections. Its new candidate, Dilma Rousseff, was not Lula and people felt it. The crash of oil prices in 2014 made things worse. It was bad news for the massive oil industry of the country. With less income, social policies shrinked. In addition, Dilma’s government engaged in polemically violent policies of pacification in the favelas during the World Cup of the same year, which deeply affected her reputation. Finally, the huge corruption scandals of Lava Jato unveiled the party’s elite illegal affairs as much as the opposition’s ones. Dilma herself was impeached, accused for corruption by other members of the Parliament that were equally corrupt. In fact, the entire system seemed to be robbing to its citizenry. On top of that, Lula was suspiciously imprisoned this year for the Odebrecht case, not being able to come back to the Presidential race against Bolsonaro. His substitute, Fernando Haddad, did not manage to incarnate the progresist project as Da Silva did, because once again, Haddad was not Lula. Thus, we find today that a country of 200 million people has at its top the worst threat against liberty since the ending of its dictatorship. But why they could not have elected a democrat outsider? Why such a dangerous figure?

The answer is order. As a matter of fact, “order” is the first word of the Brazilian national motto. Since the independence, order has been the basis of a large and dark period of its history. Its definition is drafted by guns, and it’s implementation comes from State violence. Bolsonaro himself disparages democracy, declaring that the real solution for the country is executing 30.000 people. Order has always been claimed by the elites, and the whole Latin América has paid the consequences. However, in this case it is different as it is the own people that is asking for its return.

Bolsonaro’s speech incarnates the model of the patriarchal family. This model was brought by Portuguese colons and impacted majoritarily the rural areas, controlled always by a big colonial house. As in ancient Rome, the family model of its inhabitants is centered on an authoritarian pater familias that has to be sacredly respected by the rest of the members. In such system, the woman is positioned in a clearly subaltern status. The feminine obtains its place thanks to its indulgent behaviour and its capacity to maintain the lineage (preferably having sons). The pater familias expects an absolute responsibility in children care from the woman in exchange for his power and protection. That is how Bolsonaro justifies the gendered income inequality. He considers that women already have too much aid with maternity leave. The woman is then treated as a mere auxiliary in public and private arenas, whose responsibility remains in the household. At this level of oppression we have to add Bolsonaro’s hostility against the black community. As in the United States, the economical and ethnic disparities are frequently overlapped. His aims of violently eliminating crime in favelas and preventing the reproduction of misery and criminals by castrating some of its inhabitants prove an ardent hostility against afro descendant communities. Thus, black woman are attacked from two angles, giving to afrofeminism a fundamental place in the resistance movement.

As a response to his candidacy, feminist organisations launched the slogan #EleNão (Not Him). The objective was to convince the people that politics in Brazil may be in a chaotic situation but he was the worst solution that they could find. With time, this slogan was extended to articulate the general opposition movement against him but everybody knew that its origin was among women. #EleNão pooled a large variety of political positions. Not only woman from the left, but also men from the right or the apolitized side of the electorate joined the feminist fight against the candidate. Many of them defended that they would never vote for Fernando Haddad but they would do it this time because Bolsonaro is a much worse threat for their country. Such positions reflect how this slogan, coming from the voice of women, created a new political horizon in Brazilian society that reunited a large heterogeneity of political positions. This colorful block could only exist by opposition to the threat that Bolsonaro represents. Without the neo-fascist candidate, this would be unlikely to happen.

Thus, we see afro-feminism and other branches of feminism converging in this fight while their claims are contradictory in many aspects. In fact, it is frequent to see black woman at the top of families in the favela because of the absence of the father. Even if they still live in a culturally male chauvinist entourage, they work long days to bring provide for their households. Their very precarious conditions force them to do so. This reality is completely different among white middle/upper-class married women, whose decision power in the family is minor. In the case of the wealthiest families, women frequently do not even work. If we take into consideration transgender and transsexual women, this heterogeneity is even more remarkable. In a very traditional society as the Brazilian one, being a transgender person and even more a transgender woman is a very hard struggle. Brazil is by far the country that murders the most transsexual people in the world.

In 2016, a report made by Transgender Europe determined that 868 transvestites or transsexuals were killed in Brazil since 2008.

Transgender and queer movements are by definition the main targets of the rigid cisgender patriarchal speech of the elected President. This summer, a Queer Museum was cancelled in Porto Alegre after pressures by conservative religious movements. When those positions get institutionalized, we can only expect the worst. Nevertheless, trans’ fight together with cisgender and even transphobic citizens, under a same slogan launched by brazilian feminism. In fact, Brazil is a passionate case of collaboration between different schools of feminism. Even more, #EleNão has gone beyond its feminist purpose to embody the memories of the dictatorship and its own defense of democracy in the country. That is why in the next years, the resistance will be feminist or it won’t be.


Pablo is a 3rd year student on a dual degree of European and Latin American Political Studies between Sciences-Po and University College London. 

His particular interests of study and research include post-gramscian political theory, hegemony, European Union for the people and Latin American politics. He also writes for the french opinion journal Le Vent Se Lève.


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