Why are the women of Brazil so divided on Bolsonaro?

Jasmine Cox discusses the relationship between the fear of crime and women in the light of Jair Bolsonaro's recent Presidential election.

Jair Bolsonaro, nicknamed ‘Trump of the Tropics’, was newly elected as President of Brazil on the 28 October, with 55.1% of voters in support of the far-right politician, eclipsing his rival Fernando Haddad. Bolsonaro, a man of high military profile, has pitched himself as the iron fisted hero who will bring down the soaring crime rates across Brazil. Supporters voted for Bolsonaro on the basis of his pro-gun and nationalist ideals, his defense being the right to self-defense and protection of the much-treasured ‘family’ home. However, when taking a closer look at his aggressive agenda, Bolsonaro is creating more of a heightened sense of tension than ever, especially seen through how he is exploiting women’s fears of crime.

Bolsonaro’s popularity amongst women started to grow after the first round.  Since then a recent opinion poll by Datafolha suggests that 43% of women would vote for the president elect as opposed to 39% who said they would vote for his rival Fernando Haddad. These women are prepared to over look his misogynistic behavior, such as his overtly sexist and violent comment “you do not deserve to be raped” to a fellow congresswoman, because she was “too ugly”, as well as his justification that women get paid less because of maternity leave, and the belief that the birth of his own daughter made him “weaker”.

Even with this startlingly offensive behavior, why do women continue to support Bolsonaro? In one particular case earlier this year, a gunman attempted to rob families outside of a school in Sao Paolo but failed due to a mother, who happened to be an off-duty police officer, shotting the robber multiple times, later leading to his death in hospital. The mother, Katia Sastre, was commended for her bravery by the governor of Sao Paolo, Marcio Franca, who stated that “it was not ideal” for the suspect to have died, but it comes as a “warning to those who take up a gun that they could be killed because our security professionals are well trained to protect the public”. This is a prime example of why Bolsonaro appeals to women of a certain background: he ‘promises’ them the right to self-defense, reclaiming ‘control’ over their safety through weaponry. However, these women, and most importantly Bolsonaro himself, miss the point that women have the right to not be attacked in the first place.

Just as the fear of crime rates harbor female supporters of Bolsonaro it simultaneously produces women against him as his vow to increase police power becomes uncomfortably like those of power-hungry dictators of the not so distant past. Alongside his policing agenda, women also oppose his views on pro-life and horrific comments about black women; for example, when asked what would he think if one of his sons brought home a black girl, he replied, “my sons have been raised better than that”. His anti-immigration and racist views is what is scaring those women against Bolsonaro, as more police power on the streets means a likely increase in police shootings of innocent young, black males in particular, just as we have seen since Trump has come into power.

In a moving video published by The New York Times on the women in favour and against Bolsonaro, the reporter speaks to a woman who lost her 14 year old son to a gun shot fired by a police officer on his way to school. The young boys mother has since become an activist against Bolsonaro, and at a political rally she chillingly forewarns the public to “get the body bags ready” because “a lot of innocent people will be put in them”.

This divide in women’s opinion of Bolsonaro begs the question; what is more problematic, Bolsonaro as Brazil’s President, or the tension and gap he is creating amongst women through his leadership? A worrying comment that stood out to me in the face of this question was Katia Sastre’s idea that “being able to defend yourself [with a firearm]: I believe that is women’s empowerment”. It seems that by inciting fear through violence, Bolsonaro has managed to cover up truly terrifying aspects of his agenda. By making women believe that his ability to give them a license to kill is empowering, he is blinding them to the fact that his beliefs and behaviour is what is most damaging of all, to not only women, but people of different ethnic backgrounds, and members of the LGBQT community.

What simultaneously unites and separates those in favour and against Bolsonaro, is fear, and it should be this precise fear of violence that should be unifying women in realising that a hostile country cannot be saved by a hostile leader.