It’s inauguration day.
I imagine that the protests will be large in 2019. Already in Brazil, thousands have marched against the newly elected far-right president Jair Bolsonaro, and he hasn’t even taken office yet. Thousands have marched against misogyny, homophobia, and racism; but they have also been marching to protect their freedom to march. Yes, this president does exhibit such signs of authoritarianism. The stakes are that high, and because of this their movement has an obvious end goal. It’s in their name. It’s precise. “Ele Não,” they cry – “Not Him.”
The beating bleeding heart of #EleNão is feminism. Bolsonaro said to the Brazilian politian Maria do Rosário that he would not rape her because, “you don’t deserve it.” The TV interview in which he said this gives context from which a flimsy case defending Bolsonaro’s comment might be made. Brazil’s progressives do not owe him even an attempt. They live in a country that registers hundreds of rapes per day, hundreds of domestic violence cases per day, and where 58% of their own citizenry agreed at least partially with the statement: “If women knew how to behave, there would be less rape.”
Bolsonaro’s statement cannot be compared to Trump’s blunder in a bus with Billy Bush, because Brazil’s gender violence problems are such that they cannot be divorced from the man who leads the nation (unlike in America, where a voter could conceivably dismiss Trump’s misogyny as an irrelevance). Last year, the investigative journalist outlet ‘Agência Pública’ reported the arrest of a woman who was left naked in a cell after the police caught her spraying the anti-Bolsonaro slogans on a wall. Police officers overwhelmingly support Bolsonaro, and he has promised to give them more leeway to shoot suspects. #EleNão should use the issue of gender-violence to campaign in all areas of policy, such as the general use of state-violence as well as gendered-violence.
They should do this, because I believe 2019 will show them to be on the right side of history. Bolsonaro has threatened to imprison political opponents, spoken in favour of torture, denied Brazil’s former dictatorships as having been dictatorships, vowed to industrialize the Amazon, and proposed castration as a form of punishment.
Contrast this, and the seriousness of this, with the concerns of the #MeToo movement. With the bastardisation of multiculturalism, with post-structuralism, with the balkanization of university campuses, with traffic-cone transsexuality, with the shaming of the SWERFs and the terrorising of the TERFs, with microaggresions, and with the humiliation-articles of non-discriminate twitter activists who have taken journalistic scalps in quantities that would make Bolsonaro blush. Leon Wieselteir. Lorin Stein. Garrison Keillor. John Hockenberry. Ryan Lizza. Ian Buruma. Hamilton Fish. You may not have heard of these men, but when we lost the presumption of innocence, they lost their jobs. Read their cases. These men are John Proctors all.
#EleNão knows exactly which man needs to go – Jair Bolsonaro. #Metoo didn’t. #MeToo knew at the beginning. At the beginning their cause was empowering and righteous. Creeps enjoyed playing with women and power, and they got what they deserved. Harvey Weinstein deserved it. And in journalism too, the horrible Roger Ailes deserved it. At first, #Metoo focused on the casting couch, or, to be specific, with the idea that sexual violations of professional relationships were occurring and victims did not feel empowered to speak out.
It didn’t last. Instead, #Metoo was derailed by its own activists. Instead, Reese Witherspoon decided to come out and say that she had also been assaulted, at the age of sixteen, by a director, before she then failed to say the name of her assaulter. Someone who is almost a pedophile in the eyes of the law has been deemed not worthy of an allegation?
#Metoo was unable to focus on the quality of their allegations, and in doing so they harmed not only their original purpose, but potentially innocent people. Part of the #Metoo problem was that when they decided to identify patriarchy in every office block, they became insecure. If every man is considered an enemy, and yet whenever you march in your underwear both men and ‘the man’ support you, it’s hard to ‘give it’ to either of them. So how did they ease their insecurities? They resorted to the man-spreading and the mansplaining, and, eventually, turned themselves into a movement of all social problems and none.
#EleNão face no such insecurities. In Brazil, activists will likely face very real dangers from the state, just as women face the threat of gender-violence every day. Brazil’s feminists have been fighting the battle of male-to-female violence for a long time. They’ve had policy successes. The protests in the 1970s saw the creation of the ‘Police Stations for the Defence of Women’ (Delegacias de Polícia de Defesa da Mulher). Although these were seen by many as a landmark in criminalizing male-to-female violence, many think they could have been far more effective if they had they been unashamedly feminine rather than trying to hide it. Feminist philosopher Diane Fuss argues that there is a contradiction between anti-essentialism and the very fascination with the difference between men and women that enlivens feminism. She urges feminists to “take the risk of essentialism.”
#EleNão should take this risk and market themselves accordingly. I think this might be the best way to undermine Bolsonaro. The risk is, of course, that they alienate allies who do not identify as second-wave feminists. This is a risk worth taking, I think, as Brazil’s problems are so obvious that disagreements over intersectionality cannot be sanely thought of as an argument worth prioritising. But while #EleNão should differ from #Metoo in choosing to use a mass-appealing femininity, it should also repeat what were #Metoo’s mistakes by choosing to fight Bolsonaro on every front. #EleNão will not go the way of #Metoo, because Bolsonaro is worth opposing like this. He is so bad, that nuance can be compromised.
In the West, Bolsonaro’s election is a sideshow. In Brazil, he is centre-stage, and he must remain so. If #EleNão activists ever find that it is they who are publishing lists like this one, and not the regime, then they should know that they are losing their focus, and they are creating a context from which people are made to defend men like him.