The world is shocked by the beginning of another war. The images of death, destruction and displacement coming from Ukraine are heart-breaking.
Brazilian right-wing politician Arthur do Val visited Ukraine on a ‘humanitarian mission’. During his trip, sexist and misogynistic comments of his about Ukrainian women, those who are fleeing war, were leaked. They are truly shocking – but they are not surprising. Here’s why.
Military conflicts are always crossed by gender issues.
The decision to begin or to end a war is usually taken by cis-gendered heterosexual men. The sexualised division of labour means that they are the ones in charge of the armies and the state. Men also tend to be summoned to fight, while women are forced to flee or stay behind, taking care of the elderly, children, and a home that might not even exist the next day. Women do what Cynthia Enloe called the invisible work of holding their battered wartime communities together. In these situations, they frequently experience the menace of sexual violence and rape – another weapon of war.
Do Val’s shocking comments
In the midst of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – Arthur do Val, a representative at São Paulo’s State Assembly and a prominent figure of the Brazilian right – made the news after his sexist comments were leaked during a trip to Ukraine. His trip was supposedly to support the Ukrainian people by giving a financial donation and even helping to make Molotov cocktails: “I never thought I would be making Molotov cocktails for the Ukrainian army”, he wrote in a photo shared on Instagram.
During his stay, he sent a message to a group of friends making comments about Ukrainian women, particularly refugees. Someone decided to leak it to the world.
If you haven’t heard it yet, prepare your stomach. Do Val says: “I’ve never seen anything like it in terms of beautiful girls. The refugee queue … imagine a 200metres-long or more of just total goddesses … it’s some incredible shit … the queue outside Brazil’s best nightclub … doesn’t come close to the refugee queue here.” His sexist and horrific tirade doesn’t stop there. “…they’re easy because they’re poor”, he says.
The comments, besides being sexist, are also racist because at he points out that they are all blondes and that “they are gold diggers”. He recalls that his partner on this visit, Renan Santos, leader of MBL (Brazil Free Movement), takes a trip every year on what he calls a “blonde tour” around European countries.
Should we be shocked? Yes. Should we be surprised? No
It’s disgusting to hear a man say these kinds of sexist things about women. How can a person not show any kind of empathy towards other human beings, especially in a war? Worse so, it objectifies them. It’s shocking.
But we shouldn’t be surprised. Do Val’s movement, MBL, was born in 2014 and was one of the main groups responsible for the demonstrations against president Dilma Rousseff that led to her impeachment in 2016. Back then, as Flavia Biroli argues, sexism and misogyny contributed in the construction of a political environment where an elected woman was challenged in her competence and deposed. In 2018, when do Val was elected deputy of São Paulo’s State Assembly, MBL supported Bolsonaro, a candidate openly against women’s and LGBTQIA+ people’s rights, as I shared in my previous blog for Countering Backlash.
Nowadays, MBL’s candidate for the Brazilian Presidency is a former judge and Bolsonaro’s Minister of Justice and Public Security, Sergio Moro. Moro is the one who convicted ex-president Lula and prevented him from running in 2018. Now Lula’s convictions were annulled by the Supreme Court and he is free to run for political office.
Once the audio leaked, to defend himself, do Val argued he did ‘nothing’. As if his sexist words didn’t matter in everyday life.
I had a personal experience of MBL’s hatred of women. In 2017, after I appeared in a TV show talking about male and female predetermined tasks and how it affects childhood, a picture of me was shared on their social media, accusing me of being a ’radical feminist’. After that, I received thousands of critiques and dozens of menacing comments.
Brazilian society reached its limit
The response from Brazilian society was strong. Do Val is now facing 21 requests made by his colleagues to cancel his political mandate, from right- to left-wing parties. There are also online petitions claiming his expulsion from São Paulo’s assembly.
This might tell us that something has changed in Brazilian society. It shows there should be a limit to symbolic violence against women, which is nowadays so commonly spread by the far-right. However, the line was not drawn by an event in Brazil, but one outside our borders and political affairs.
What does this reaction mean? Will that be enough to avoid the re-election of figures from MBL and Bolsonaro himself? One can only hope.