The week of April 18th, 2016 got off to a horrifying start for women in Brazil due to an article published by one of the most widely read magazines in the country. After a weekend marked by the vote in the National Congress on the process to impeach the president – which, by the way, is illegal and was itself marked by speeches expressing hatred and reactionary ideas (the vote merits an article on its own), Veja magazine launched its weekly edition with a photo of Dilma Rousseff on the cover page and the expression “Out of the Game” underneath. This was in reference to the admissibility of the said process. One of the headlines on the inside read, “Marcela Temer: beautiful, reserved and ‘at home'”. But who is Marcela Temer?
The magazine article proceeded to describe Marcela Temer as a lucky woman, since her husband (Michel Temer, the vice president of Brazil) takes her out for romantic dinners and on trips, and plans picnics. Her life basically consists of taking Michelzinho (the couple’s son) to school and taking care of the house and herself, which entails going to the dermatologist, for instance. Two-time runner-up in beauty pageants held in the interior of the state of São Paulo, Marcela rarely appears in public.
What is alarming about all of this is not (only) the stereotypical description of Marcela, but the attempt to use this as something that they believed would belittle the president of Brazil’s stance to deconstruct spaces for women to act and the positions they have adopted.
In a context of growing political tension, the use of women to adopt once again a reactionary and stereotypical view on women who are public figures and choose to be on the front line shows clear disregard for the women’s and feminist movement. The movement has fought for years so that women can compete, occupy and assume decision-making positions. By praising Marcela Temer for being a women who rarely appears in public, likes knee-length dresses and dreams of having another child, they are once again promoting the vision of a woman that all women should aspire to be – that is, one who remains in a man’s shadow and never appears in spotlight. This reinforces the idea that the ideal woman must be discrete, dressed “appropriately”, stay at home and accompany a man. The tone of admiration for and satisfaction with a woman in a subordinate position used in the article is repulsive.
In spite of their repulsion to the article, Brazilian women quickly responded by using the hashtag “#BelaRecatadaEdoLar” (“beautiful, reserved and at home”) in social media. Through their creativity and power to mobilize, they showed the country various images of real women. They posted numerous photographs taken of women in their daily routine, looking beautiful and with no obligation to be ‘reserved and at home’. The women used their own photos in protest and shared those of other women to represent their daily experiences and their multiple identities. They also showed the challenges they face in order to guarantee their rights: for example, when they use their bodies on the frontline to defend their communities and children from police raids, or when they hold mega- and microphones in their hands while talking to crowds or other women in small groups. Others showed how they are the only women competing for space at their jobs and overcoming patriarchal impositions, while others are simply sitting on the sidewalk, laughing spontaneously, with their legs open and wearing whatever they want – short (or long) skirts, low-cut (or other) shirts. They are real women who understand that they can and will go beyond the obligation to stay at home. For some, life has forced them to go out and be the breadwinners for their home and their dependants; others have chosen to have more alternatives.
In an attempt to put women in what they considered to be their place, the article ignores the fact that many women have never been considered ‘reserved’, regardless of the clothes they wear. Black woman continue to fight so that their bodies will not be oversexualized. Young women fight so that the knowledge and the culture they are building will not be ignored. Women in rural areas who work with hoes and scythes to produce food stand side by side in the fight to guarantee their territories to ensure their livelihood.
Misogyny, contempt and repulsion towards the female gender is manifested in various ways, including the imposition of patterns of behaviour on women. This hatred is also expressed towards those who dare to break free from the macho stereotypes imposed on them on a daily basis. It is also manifested in the form of sexist violence, which prevents women from occupying decision-making positions and confines them to the walls of their home – something that is often disguised as their choice. Women can choose to stay at home, but unfortunately, throughout life, the majority of them forced to meet the expectations of patriarchal society and suppress their desires (even sexual ones), dreams and hopes for the future.
Everyday women are different from what Marcela Temer, as the idealized woman from 19th century Brazil, represents: the woman who always asks her hairdresser to do “very fine highlights”, is discreet and reserved, and who, despite her law degree, has worked little and thus has a succinct résumé, and got married to the first boyfriend she had. The activities, struggles and clashes everyday women face on on a daily basis makes them warriors. They do not fit the standard that society attempts to impose on the majority of women. They are very beautiful, but not always reserved or at home!
About the author: Michely Ribeiro da Silva has a Bachelor of Psychology degree from the Federal University of Paraná. Active in social movements, she works for the elaboration and adoption of public policies focussed on equality in health, especially for women, black people, youth and on the prevention of STDs/HIV/AIDS. She was part of the coordinating team of the Mobilização Nacional Pró Saúde da População Negra (national mobilization for the health of the black population) (2011-2015) and was a councillor of the National Health Council (2013-2015) for the Rede Lai Lai Apejo – Saúde da População Negra e AIDS (Lai Lai Apejo network for the health of the black population and AIDS). She is currently an advisory councillor for the Rede Mulheres Negras do Paraná (black women of Paraná network), a technical consultant for the Ministry of Health and a member of the Young Feminist Wire Editorial Group.