Roses and Congratulations

This post talks about the way International Women’s Day usually happens in Brazil and might not reflect the reality of other countries.


On the last hours of December 31st, 2016, the last day of the year, in the city of Campinas, state of São Paulo, Brazil, a man broke into Isamara Filier’s, his ex-wife, New Year’s Eve party and murdered her with a 9mm pistol. He also murdered João Victor Filier, his 8 year old son, and ten more of Isamara’s relatives. The man commited this brutal mass murder in the name of his right of fatherhood. He couldn’t accept that the woman and her son did not belong to him, and when Isamara decided to divorce him, he started planning his revenge. On New Year’s Eve he killed twelve people and then commited suicide. He left behind a manifesto, where he called Isamara and her female relatives, who helped her during the legal process of divorce, “bitches” and “sluts”, and parroted conservative catchprases typical of Internet comment sections.

The Campinas Massacre is one of the first instances where the Brazilian press used the term “femicide“, though the word is already part of Brazilian legislation since 2015, as an aggravant to the crime of homicide. On Facebook, male commenters defended the killer, accused Isamara of being a “scam artist” and of wrongfully depriving the murderer of having any contact with his offspring. Excerpts of the killer’s manifesto were widely shared on WhatsApp, the most popular instant messaging app in Brazil, in male-only group chats, the same ones where men share information about beer sales and pictures of naked women. “Of course, murder is wrong”, said the men, “but…”

There is always a “but”.

“But she provoked him”, said the men. “But she also did wrong”. “But she might be lying”.

“We can’t know anything for certain”, said the men, “you have to listen to both sides”.

Predictable, common reactions to an unfortunately common crime. While the Campinas Massacre shocked the country for its brutality and for the number of victims, a man murdering a woman that he considers to be his property, often including their offspring as well, is an everyday occurrence.

According to data from the Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada – IPEA (Institute for Research in Applied Economics), it is estimated that between the years of 2001 and 2011 there were over 50.000 femicides – cases where a woman is killed specifically because of her sex – in Brazil. The research also shows the following data:

Intimate partners are the main woman killers. Aproximately 40% of all homicides of women around the world are commited by an intimate partner. In contrast, this proportion is close to 6% among murdered men. That means that the proportion of women murdered by a male partner is 6.6 times larger than the proportion of men murdered by a female partner.

Still during this year, only a few days ago, we had a case of triple femicide in the state of Santa Catarina, where a 24 year old man stabbed to death his ex-girlfriend and mother of his child, Rafaela Horbach, a teenager only 15 years old. He also killed Julyane and Fabiane Horbach, Rafaela’s sisters. Rafaela was fighting the killer in court, since he refused to pay child support. The man claimed that the victim did not let him see the child.

On Facebook, men argue among themselves if it is OK or not for a 24 year old grown ass man to impregnate a girl ten years younger than he is. A man with a shirtless selfie as his profile picture calls female commenters “filthy feminists” and accuses them of “whining”.

Around the end of last month, an ex-soccer player, arrested in 2010 for killing and hiding the body of his lover and mother of his child, Eliza Samudio, was released after being jailed for six years. The man did not want to pay child support, and claimed that the child wasn’t his – his paternity was later confirmed through a DNA test. After his release, the former soccer player was received by a horde of fans, who celebrated and snapped selfies with the killer, and he received several job offers from soccer teams. Sônia Moura, Eliza Samudio’s mother, fears for her life and for the life of her child.

But why am I listing all these crimes?

Because today is the 8th of March, International Women’s Day, and we need to contextualize the current scenario. Today is a day where schools and businesses gift female students and employees with roses or chocolate, and put up pink and purple decorations. Maybe today some men came to you and said “congratulations”. Maybe some of them made that tired old joke and said “today is your day, but the other 364 are for men”. Maybe someone mentioned the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, or maybe they said something about suffragettes and women’s right to vote. A lot will be said about women’s past achievements. But, outside the feminist bubble, of the Facebook groups and feminist collectives, today will be a day like Mother’s Day or Valentine’s day. A day where you get a little treat or trinket, and a pat in the back.

And this is why I wanted to bring up the examples cited above, all from this year that barely started, to show some context for why feminists say we live in a patriarchy, a system where the father rules and women are his property. Denied his right to the throne, the father, vengeful, destroys the woman who he feels denied him what is his by birthright, by divine right – afterall god is also a big sky daddy – and by right of force. He destroys the woman and her offspring, because he feels like they are his property, to be treated in any way he sees fit. This is the mindset behind these murders, and this is the mindset of the common men who, while not murderous themselves, defend and justify these acts.

And these are the same men who give us roses and congratulations. They are our brothers, our fathers, our cousins, our grandsons, our sons, our friends, our boyfriends, our coworkers. Check the profile of any man who posts something atrociously misogynistic on Facebook, justifies the unjustifiable, blames the victim, calls women “bitches” and “sluts”, and you will find dozens of women in his social circle.

Besides that, between flowers and chocolate, the day frequently has its origin forgotten. Originally created as the International Working Women’s Day, the date stems from labor strikes in the beginning of the 20th century, specifically from the textile industry, where female workers protested against dire working conditions. In explicitly socialist demonstrations, the workers demanded shorter workdays and to be paid the same as their male counterparts. A hundred years later, the day, originally proposed to promote discussion and organize political action about the specific necessities of women, became just yet another festive date, with companies of all sorts offering incentives for the purchase of superfluous goods and offering discounts on items related to the performance of femininity, like cosmetics and waxing. The language used in the advertising and “homages” praise attributs like beauty, gentleness and sensitivity, all in a very condescending tone.

On this year, the same organization that promoted the D.C. Women’s March that happened in January 2017 as a protest against anti-woman policies promoted by obscene orange creature president Donald Trump is now calling for a worldwide women’s strike where, during the whole day of March 8th, women would refuse to perform any paid or unpaid labor, based in event like Iceland’s “Women’s Day Off” that happened in 1975, or the more recent women’s strike in Poland against a full ban on abortion.

The precedent for this kind of action definitely exists, and I’m glad to see a call for political action on International Women’s Day, which makes total sense considering the history of the date. My concern is that the event, at least here in Brazil, will not reach the critical mass needed for it to be effective. With our current unemployment rate being particulary high, many women can’t have the luxury of taking a day off from work – myself included. I do consider the initiative laudable anyway, and I’m happy to see it happening.

Regardless of participation in some sort of organized action, I belive it’s essential that we take back International Women’s Day as a political event and not as a commercial date. Afterall, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Brazilian legislation does not allow women to have abortions, denying us the right to control our own bodies and treating like criminals women who have miscarriages. Brazilian women are poorly represented in congress, with less than 15% of the chairs being occupied by women. And this congress is now voting to reduce the penalty for statutory rape. Domestic and sexual violence are part of the reality of Brazilian women. And this situation becomes even more dire when we consider the intersections between misogyny and discrimination based on race and class. According to the research cited before, 61% of the victims of femicide are black women, and this crime happens more frequently in poor areas.

Roses and praise will not do any good in this situation. Specially when they come from corporations that are using Women’s Day as an excuse to sell more pink bullshit, or from men who three seconds later will go on Facebook and call some other woman a bitch. The 8th of March is, historically, a day of struggle. And yes, we should remember women’s political and social achievements in the 20th century. But we must, above all, stay alert to the threats of the present. Like a famous quote attributed to Simone de Beauvoir says ,“never forget that a political, economical or religious crisis is enough to cast doubt on women’s rights. These rights will never be vested. You have to stay vigilant your whole life.”

Today is the 8th of March, International Women’s Day. A hundred years later, we still have a lot of fighting to do. And it is extremely unlikely that any of us will live long enough to see the day where misogyny will be a brutality of the past, and male violence will not shape our lives anymore. And, yes, it is demotivating to live through loss after loss as the men around us gleefuly show the contempt they have for us. But we must not let ourselves fall into apathy. We must not give up. The price would be too high.

We deserve more than roses and congratulations.

 

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