In our current age and time, we believe that we are well on our way towards gender equality in our western world. It is generally perceived that men and women have the same rights regarding their freedom of speech. While both genders technically have the same rights, we cannot say that our perception of their statements is equal as well.
This point is proven when we look towards the situation in other cultures than the West. For example, I’ve stumbled upon this article written by an RTL-Nieuws journalist, who is working as an correspondent in (mainly) Brazil. In this article, the journalist is writing about Bolsonaro, who was elected as the new Brazilian president at the end of 2018. In the worldwide political field, Bolsonaro is known for being a very conservative politician who despises feminism. In this case, it is the way he depicts feminists in general which caused angry reactions among progressive, feminist-friendly people. Bolsonaro stated he would not want to rape another female MP simply because ‘she was not worth it’, that his daughter being born after having 4 sons was a moment of weakness for himself and that women should not be earning as much as men because women do get pregnant in life. Logically, a lot of people reacted angrily to this and a lot of women went on the streets to protest against Bolsonaro. The result? Not only were a lot of women not supportive of these protests, most of the women that were in doubt whether they should vote for Bolsonaro, have indeed voted for Bolsonaro afterwards. Why is this?
As you would expect, answering this question is a matter of opinion, but I will construct my answer with some theoretical apporaches towards gender and language, and mainly the case of impoliteness and genders. Sara Mills published an article in 2005 in which she examines the connection between impoliteness within language and genders. She concludes that even though some women have obtained a certain right to be impolite, impoliteness in language is often paralelled with stereotypical gender behaviour.
In the case of Brazil, the protesting feminists were put away in the public sphere as aggressive and man-hating. It might be true for the very extreme feminists, but in general I think this depiction is not true. As a result, Bolsonaro portrayed these protesting women as ‘Feminazis’ and thus created a climate in which feminists were demonised in the public opinion, eventually causing women to feel unidentified with these protesting groups.
How was Bolsonaro able to achieve this? I would like to link his success to some of the reasons Trudgill (2000) proposes: not only is some sort of working-class language associated with masculinity, it is also noted that most societies tend to expect better behaviour from women – at least that they tend to adhere more to social norms and rules. In this case, the quotes and sayings of Bolsonaro are indeed causing despise against him, though not in the same sense as when a female president would have said these kind of things. Does this mean that there is some sort of selectivity embedded in our society regarding these sort of quotes? Perhaps you could say there are. However, as the RTL article already tells us, Brazil is a case where this kind of ‘macho-man’ behaviour is more often accepted than rejected.