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'I don't see any reason for feminism': the women backing Brazil's Bolsonaro | World news

Category: Political Protests,Politics

They are not victims, and they don’t need anyone’s sympathy. They have no time for “whiny feminists” – and no need for the government to guarantee equal pay.

They earned what they’ve achieved, often juggling a professional life with running a home and raising a family. And they want the right to bear arms to protect themselves and their love ones.

They are the anti-feminist women backing the far-right, the former paratrooper Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil’s upcoming presidential runoff election – a man who has been repeatedly accused of misogyny and racism.

“I really don’t see any reason for feminism today — men and women are equal in Brazil,” said Ana de Moraes, 56, a retired lawyer who intends to vote for Bolsonaro on 28 October. “These feminist women screaming and taking off their clothes – it’s very backwards. Bolsonaro isn’t taking any rights away from women.”

Over the course of a 30-year political career, Bolsonaro has earned notoriety from his sexist remarks, once telling a fellow lawmaker he she didn’t even “deserve” being raped and more recently saying he wouldn’t pay women the same salary as men.

In 2013, he called the secretary of women’s policy a “big dike”. During the impeachment of the country’s first female president, he dedicated his vote to the the dictatorship colonel who had overseen her torture.

Such language made him a hate figure for many, and fueled a high rejection rate among women: even as Bolsonaro pulled ahead in the polls, 50% of female voters said they would never back him.

Many pollsters had presumed that Bolsonaro’s misogyny had created a natural limit to his share of the women’s vote, but in the final stages of the campaign, that expectation has shattered.

A rally in support of Jair Bolsonaro.
A rally in support of Jair Bolsonaro. Photograph: Cris Faga/REX/Shutterstock

The weekend before the first round on 7 October, tens of thousands of people joined marches across the country under the slogan #EleNão (“Not Him”) in the biggest female-organized street demonstration in Brazilian history.

But polling showed that afterwards the #EleNão protests Bolsonaro’s support among women actually rose.

And far from warming up to feminism, Bolsonaro and his supporters doubled down with their attacks.

When Bolsonaro supporters held their own demonstrations, his son, Eduardo, pronounced: “Rightwing women are prettier than leftwing women. They don’t show the breasts in the streets, nor do they defecate in the streets. Rightwing women are more hygienic.”

Memes circulate on WhatsApp and Facebook — where the majority of Bolsonaro’s campaign has played out – juxtaposing images of pro- and anti-Bolsonaro women.

In one, a female Bolsonaro supporter stands surrounded by Brazilian flags, eyes closed and fist in the air, with a sleeping baby over her shoulder; the woman from the #EleNão protest is yelling, topless, and daubed with body paint. (The vast majority of protest participants were fully clothed.)

Another widely-shared image showed a little boy wearing a shirt that said, “Mom’s a feminista; I don’t grow up to be machista”, with text written over it, “Sweetie, if your mom’s a feminist, you wouldn’t even be born, you’d have been aborted!”

And such messages are resonating. According to polls before the fragmented first round of 13 candidates, Bolsonaro was the most popular candidate among women, with 27% of the vote. The latest poll for the runoff election says he has roughly 42% of the female electorate.

“These women who are naked in the streets screaming – they don’t represent me,” said de Moraes, the retired lawyer.

“A real feminist is a woman who gets up early, works hard and fights for her independence, not these women who whine and have barely worked a day in their lives,” said Linda Fontes, 23, a real estate administrator from Rio’s poor periphery who describes herself as a Bolsonaro “fanatic”.

Fontes has been mugged twice, and supports Bolsonaro’s proposal to loosen gun ownership laws so that “upstanding citizens” can protect themselves from Brazil’s soaring violent crime.

Women at an anti-Bolsonaro protest. His campaign spurred the largest female-organized street demonstration in Brazil’s history.
Women at an anti-Bolsonaro protest. His campaign spurred the largest female-organized street demonstration in Brazil’s history. Photograph: STRINGER/Reuters

“I need to be able to protect myself in the chaos that is Rio de Janeiro today,” she said.

Female Bolsonaro voters shrug off his refusal to support legislation to ensure equal pay, despite studies showing that women in Brazil earn 22.5% less than men.

“Salaries for both men and women should be based on merit and responsibilities. Women today are well aware of their rights, obligations and duties. We don’t need the government for that,” said Maria Alice do Lago, a seamstress from rural São Paulo state.

Like some voters for the US president Donald Trump, many female Bolsonaro voters say they don’t agree with everything he says – or like the way he says it – but they still intend to vote for him.

Fontes, the real estate worker, brushed his most notorious remarks off as jokes – “Sometimes he doesn’t express himself well,” she said.

“Maybe his tone sometimes lacks respect,” said do Lago, the seamstress. “But who am I to judge?”

Bolsonaro supporters celebrate outside his home in Rio de Janeiro.
Bolsonaro supporters celebrate outside his home in Rio de Janeiro. Photograph: Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty Images

Bolsonaro has no major party behind him, and has had very little advertising time on television and radio, but his supporters have dominated the fight online, flooding social networks with pro-Bolsonaro memes and testimonies rejecting the “feminist agenda”.

“I’ve never played the victim card,” says an unnamed black woman supporter in one such clip. “I support the right. I’m feminine and I love it. I shave my armpits. Yes, I cook for my husband, yes, I wash my husband’s clothes – there’s no problem with that.”

Márcio Moretto Ribeiro, a University of São Paulo professor who tracked pro-Bolsonaro content on Facebook, found that that posts criticizing feminism were among the top three most-shared topics.

“It was evident that Bolsonaro would have a problem with women,” he said. “[But] Bolsonaro and his internet base reacted – they adjusted the discourse to position him on the side of women but against feminists.

“It’s a risky strategy, but it worked.”


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