Hysterical. Crazy. Uncontrolled. Witch. The insults historically used to disqualify a woman allude to her mental sanity, to a supposed chromosomal and hormonal superiority of males, always in control of themselves — and the world. These offenses that persist into 2021 echo with greater gravity when repeated at the top of their lungs in political spaces, as happened on Wednesday with senator Simone Tebet (MDB), who was called the uncontrolled by Wagner Rosário, Minister of the Comptroller General of the Union (CGU), during a session of the CPI on the Pandemic. “When women started to look for spaces of power, they started being called a hysterical person, a crazy person, an uncontrolled person. This word does not come for nothing, it is in the unconscious of those who still think that women are smaller, inferior”, said Tebet after the incident.
By historical coincidence —or not— Tebet was the first woman to run for president of the Senate, in the 130-year history of the Casa do Povo in Brazil, and that only happened this year. Was not elected. Brazil occupies 152nd place in the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s international ranking on women’s presence in parliaments, trailing not only its neighbors Mexico and Argentina, but also countries like Somalia and even Afghanistan, before the return of the Taliban to power . They occupy only 15% of the seats in the National Congress.
“That’s why men feel very comfortable trying to tone down women’s voices. Both in the audience there and among their peers, the vast majority are still men. This creates an illusory perception that there is a hierarchy, because, after all, it is visual, it is numerical”, analyzes Giulliana Bianconi, co-director of the magazine Gender and Number and specialist in the study of women in politics.
The day before the attack on Tebet at the CPI, the Spanish Socialist Deputy Laura Berja was called the witch by the ultra-rightist colleague José María Sánchex, of the VOX party, while defending in the plenary the right of women to abort without being harassed at the doors of hospitals — abortion is legalized in Spain. As EL PAÍS columnist Luz Sánchez-Mellado writes, the deputy not only dehumanized his colleague, but resurrected the ghost of the bonfire, the greatest punishment imposed on those who, centuries ago, dared to challenge the logic and power of men.
“Recurrent violence in these spaces of power is becoming more visible. In the case of Tebet, there was an attempt to destabilize it, to diminish its role and limit the exercise of power of its position with language of violence that are secular”, says Amanda Kamanchek, manager of Think Olga and director of the documentary Enough of Fiu Fiu.
Both Kamanchek and Bianconi emphasize, however, the importance of the reaction in the case of the aggression against the Brazilian senator: immediately, Tebet was supported by many of the CPI colleagues, including men, who accused the CGU minister of “sexist” and censured his attempt of “assaulting” the senator. “There is already an understanding that this violence is not acceptable. But, in corporate spaces, for example, these women continue to be called uncontrolled without having any support”, recalls the manager of Think Olga. It is, according to her, a social and cultural aggression, “a double attack”, which comes not only from the individual who attacks directly, but also from the social environment, which often supports this violence.
In the case of Brazilian political spaces, where the presence of women has been a reality for less than three decades, evoking the stereotype of women who are out of balance means reinforcing the idea that they have no vocation or the Sun to occupy such a hostile place. Congresswoman Tabata Amaral, who this week left the PDT for the PSB, has been one of the favorite targets of political machismo, a supra-party violence that cuts across all ideological spectrums. Earlier this week, actor José de Abreu shared a publication on social networks in which a man said he would “knock” the deputy “until he was arrested” and was supported by tweeters from the left. She herself had sympathized with Simone Tebet, wishing “strength” to the senator, and received a note of support from the Women’s Secretariat of the Chamber of Deputies against the aggressions she suffered on the networks. “We will only have full democracy when women can safely act politically,” said Amaral.
The deputy published an article in the newspaper Folha de São Paulo this Saturday in which the title alludes to the episode with the actor (‘If I meet on the street, punch until arrested,’ replied José de Abreu) and gathers some of the offenses he has received in recent years: “Who do you want to provoke with that red lipstick? Beautiful, she didn’t even have to open her mouth. Young lady, joins Big Brother, puts on a silicone and tries something on TV or in the porn industry! She went to Harvard, but she was definitely a mediocre student there. It did little good to have studied at Harvard, he even learned about astronomy, but he did not educate himself or learn to think. You’re too dumb, my God, how can you? My angel, shut up”. “We will never be a truly democratic country until politics is a safe space, physically and psychologically, for women”, concludes Amaral in the article.
“We have to fight this disqualification, because if only women come to the defense of women, it seems that it is a purely female issue, when, in fact, it is a matter of social equity”, says Giulliana Bianconi. The specialist remembers that since the impeachment of former president Dilma Rousseff (PT) —who suffered several sexist attacks both in the streets and in Congress before, during and after her impeachment process— the lack of recognition of the importance of women in politics intensified. “There is a validation of hate speech against women in the current government, although not explicitly, but with a policy that does not dialogue with the demand for our rights”, she says.
Bianconi highlights, for example, that all seven Bills related to the reproductive rights of women that are processed in the Chamber of Deputies seek to prevent or create barriers to access to abortion even in cases provided for by law. “This shows that Brazilian politics is so contrary to our rights that even the parties and groups that could work to expand them fall into a spiral of silence, because it is an agenda that generates a lot of wear and tear. The moment is zero friendly to move forward with these guidelines for progress”, he laments. She recalls that researcher Debora Diniz, columnist for EL PAÍS, had to leave Brazil precisely because she was constantly threatened by standing out as a voice in defense of women’s rights.
Bianconi also says that, although representation is always important, political violence is not directly proportional to the number of women present in these spaces. “Obviously, the more women in the Chamber, the Senate, the Government, in general, the reaction against this sexism will be greater, but this political violence is a phenomenon in itself and we have to face its mechanisms.” The first of them, according to her, is the way the parties deal with the women who join these acronyms. “This is where the great funnel is, it is where we see many cases of giving up a career in this sphere, because they do not have access to decision-making spaces within the parties, much less access to resources when they apply. Many acronyms don’t even have women’s secretariats”, she says. When it comes to macho violence in politics, small coups start at the origin.
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