Women Disputing the Brazilian Public Sphere: #elenão vs. #elesim

Lea Loretta Zentgraf (FU Berlin)

During the 2018 presidential campaign in Brazil, a feminist strike, also called primavera feminista, took place. The largest mobilization led by women in the history of the country, its slogan was: #EleNão [#NotHim]. This collective action was only possible because, despite all their differences, the mostly feminist participants of the strike formed an alliance and mobilized online and in the streets against the threat of the sexist, homophobic, and racist Jair Bolsonaro. This coalition of diverse feminist subjects created a new visibility of a non-hegemonic narrative in Brazilian society and created a strong momentum of resistance.

First findings show that the main claims of the #elenão strike were based on the defense of women rights (also minority rights), denounce of the multiple forms of violence against feminized bodies and the demand for a new conviviality in society (more plural, inclusive, equal). Another facet was the threat for democracy; many women described Bolsonaro as a fascist and feared for a authoritarian backlash similar to the military dictatorship in 1964.

However, the incredible strength and presence in the virtual and public spheres and the intertwining of the discourses of these two inseparable battlegrounds did not go unanswered. One of the responses to the counter movement--that challenged the hegemonic order and emerged against the dominant structures of oppression, violence and discrimination--was anti-feminist. They reproduced outdated gender roles and the glorification of conservative and religious values of the "traditional familiy." Their authoritarian and anti-feminist ideology contrasted strongly to the feminist resistance counterpowers. The struggle between two ideals of female subjects, the one perpetuated by Bolsonaro and his supporters vs. the one created by the protesters of the #elenão feminist strike, contributed decisively to the polarization of the electoral campaign. The understanding of the relation between right-wing populism and gender is fundamental to explain why so many women, still undecided before the first round of election and thus the most important group of voters of the campaign, voted in the end for Bolsonaro. The aim is to better understand the dynamics of this feminist strike in Brazil, as part of a global phenomenon of feminist resistance against a right backlash.

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