Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s first female president, has been working to recruit women in her fight against impeachment — meeting with women’s groups and attacking her opponents for what she calls their sexism. Rousseff’s problems, however, are bigger than Brazil’s virulent sexism. The country’s sinking economy has badly hit lower-income families — traditional bastions of Workers’ Party support.
RIO DE JANEIRO — A feminist backlash erupted in Brazil after a magazine recently described a politician’s young wife as “beautiful, demure and of the home.” Now the issue has become enmeshed in the drama surrounding the country’s political crisis.
Brazilian women were incensed by that description of Marcela Temer, 32, whose husband, Michel Temer, is the vice president of the country and 43 years her senior.
In response, they deluged social media with photographs of themselves in fancy dress, drunk, dancing, holding up a middle finger, having fun, wearing wigs or naked — with captions playing on the theme “beautiful, demure and of the home.”
The reaction may help President Dilma Rousseff in her fight to stave off impeachment.
On Sunday, the deeply unpopular president — who is confronting Brazil’s worst recession in decades, with unemployment and inflation raging — lost a crucial impeachment vote in the lower house of Congress by a crushing margin.
As soon as next month, the Senate will vote on whether to hold an impeachment trial. If a majority agrees, Rousseff will be suspended for up to 180 days while Michel Temer takes over. Temer is a member of the PMD party, which until March was part of Rousseff’s ruling coalition.
During voting in Congress, many deputies ignored the accusations against Rousseff to dedicate votes to their families – often bellowing names down a microphone. A number of lawmakers also are evangelical Christians, including Eduardo Cunha, the house speaker. This, coupled with the profile of Marcela Temer, have inflamed fears that Brazil is taking a conservative turn after 14 years of Workers’ Party rule.
Rousseff, Brazil’s first female president, has been working to recruit women in her fight against impeachment — meeting with women’s groups and attacking her opponents for what she calls their sexism.
Two days after the congressional vote, she met with female supporters, who chanted, “I put faith in my country because it is governed by a woman.” She was presented with red roses — red is the color of her Workers’ Party.
Meanwhile the hashtag #belarecatadaedolar (beautiful, demure and of the home in Portuguese) took off.
Among those who joined in the campaign was Brazilian photographer Angelica Dass, 36, who posted a picture of herself as a child dressed as a carnival queen on a Rio street and captioned it: “beautiful, demure and of the home since little.”
“We have to fight against stereotypes,” Dass said. Rousseff “is the opposite of this image of beautiful, demure and of the home. Since the beginning of her mandate, she has suffered sexist attacks.”
Rousseff and her Workers’ Party maintain that the impeachment motion, based on allegations of fiscal irregularities, has no legal basis and amounts to an institutional coup. A group called Women for Democracy is one of the many left-wing organizations defending her presidency.
Many deputies who voted against her cited a mammoth corruption scandal at state-controlled oil giant Petrobras that has engulfed members of her party.
Rousseff has not been directly accused of wrongdoing but was both chairman of the Petrobras board and minister of mines and energy as the massive corruption scheme was playing out.
Temer himself was named in testimony by a former government senator, who said he had been behind the appointment of a Petrobras executive jailed in the scandal. The senator, Delcídio do Amaral, also accused the vice president of having been involved in an illegal ethanol-buying scheme. Temer denies both allegations.
Brazilians were shocked by the tumultuous scenes that Cunha — who faces corruption charges at the Supreme Court — oversaw during the live broadcast of the congressional vote on Sunday. Many deputies voting for Rousseff’s ouster shouted, “Bye darling!” which critics read as a manifestation of Brazil’s deeply-rooted machismo.
“There are attitudes toward me that wouldn’t exist with a male president,” Rousseff told reporters on Tuesday.
Right-wing deputy Jair Bolsonaro dedicated his vote to a notorious dictatorship-era torturer, Carlos Ustra. Rousseff, who was imprisoned and tortured during Brazil’s military dictatorship, said she had known Ustra.
“I regret that this moment in Brazil has given space to this sort of anger, to hatred, to persecution,” she said.
Jairo Nicolau, a professor of political science at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, said female solidarity had not played a big role in the elections Rousseff won in 2010 and 2014. But he said she now needs all the support she can get.
“There is a very potent network of support, and she has used it,” he said. “This is a desperate situation for the president.”
Letícia Bahia, director of institutional relations at the online feminist magazine AzMina, said women are increasingly reacting to sexist attitudes with online campaigns.
“Women are feeling very powerful, with a lot of voice recently. This is very positive,” Bahia said.
Many women identified with the verbal attacks Rousseff has received — at an event in Sao Paulo in March, protesters hurled abuses at her, including “vagagunda” (a promiscuous woman).
But there was also a political dimension to the controversy.
“She is in a moment when she needs support and her relationship with the female public is strong. But there is a part of this that is a political game,” Bahia said.
Rousseff’s problems, however, are bigger than Brazil’s virulent sexism. The country’s sinking economy has badly hit lower-income families — traditional bastions of Workers’ Party support.
Fatima Monteiro, 38, a seamstress in Sao Goncalo near Rio and a mother of two, said that the recession had reduced her workload and that she had been forced to reduce supermarket purchases to the most basic items.
Rousseff has not been able to improve things and should move on, Monteiro said.
“She should give someone else a chance,” Monteiro said. “It is the people who are suffering.”
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