In Brazilian Officials' Taped Conversations, Women Hear Rampant Sexism | KUOW News and Information

In Brazilian Officials' Taped Conversations, Women Hear Rampant Sexism

Mar 22, 2016
Originally published on March 22, 2016 3:28 pm

In Brazil, wiretaps of senior officials, including the current and former presidents, have set off a political firestorm.

The outcry has mainly centered on whether it was legal for a judge to release the recordings last week, and why he did it. President Dilma Rousseff is in the process of being impeached. Her predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, known as Lula, is implicated in a massive corruption scandal at the state oil company. His phone was being tapped as part of that investigation, which is the source of the private discussions that have now been made public.

But Brazilian women heard something else in the conversations that was deeply troubling. Sexism is rampant in the corridors of power — even in a country with a woman as president.

It didn't surprise feminist columnist Jussara Mello.

"The discourse from both the left and the right of the political spectrum is one of disrespect for women," she says.

The male politicians' conversations were taped by federal police, under a judge's orders, when they thought they were speaking in private. What they reveal is men talking in ways that are raunchy, profane and "sexist," Mello says.

In one of those taped phone calls, Lula is speaking with Paulo Vannuchi, an ex-human rights minister, and they are discussing making trouble for a prosecutor who is investigating Lula for influence peddling. (A clip of what appears to be the conversation can be found here; Portuguese speakers may find some of the language objectionable).

Lula uses a vulgar slang word for the clitoris to refer to his own female party supporters. "Where are the women with tough clits in our party?" Lula asks, to laughter from the former minister.

In another conversation, Lula gleefully recounts how an opposition female politician was called a "whore" at an anti-government demonstration. The current president's chief of staff, Jaques Wagner, responds: "It's good, that way she'll learn" — learn a lesson.

Lola Aronovich, a feminist blogger, says there has been a lot of discussion by women about the taped calls and what they show. "It's an example of the machista culture to have two men discussing a woman this way," she says.

In another profanity-laced call, Eduardo Paes, the mayor of Rio de Janeiro, mocked the president for her dour demeanor. A clip of what appears to be the conversation is here.

Mello says Rousseff is constantly picked apart for being a woman.

"Dilma Rousseff made political mistakes? Fine. Let's talk about that. Let's not talk about her body type, her social graces or if she is feminine enough or not," Mello says.

Still, in one exchange, Rousseff herself seemed in on the joke.

In an excerpt of what appears to be this conversation, she laughs when Lula quipped that his longtime elderly secretary saw a police raid on her house as a "gift from God." The insinuation was the secretary should have been happy to have a group of men suddenly appear uninvited in her bedroom.

That struck a particularly sour note in a country that has one of the world's highest rates of violence against women.

Mello says that the sniggering tone of the conversations has real-life implications.

"Women are less than 10 percent of the lawmakers in Brazil. We are not allowed a seat at the table," she says. "What makes me so sad in this current political crisis is how woman here are still viewed and treated."

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Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

To other news, in Brazil, the wiretapping of senior officials, including the current and former president, have set off a political firestorm. This outcry is mainly centered on whether it was legal for a judge to release the recordings and why he did that. But Brazilian women heard something else that was deeply troubling in the conversations. Sexism is rampant in the corridors of power, even in a country with a female president. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Warning, some of the language in this report may be offensive to some listeners. And that's because so much of the male politicians' conversations, when they thought they were speaking in private, were frankly raunchy, profane and sexist. It didn't surprise, though, feminist columnist Jussara Mello.

JUSSARA MELLO: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "The discourse from both the left and the right of the political spectrum," she says, "is one of disrespect for women in Brazil." Before we get into some of the specific examples of those conversations that were wiretapped and then released, let's recap what's been happening in Brazil. The short version is, it's a mess. President Dilma Rousseff is in the process of being impeached. Her predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva, known simply as Lula here, is implicated in a massive corruption scandal at the state oil company. His phone was being tapped as part of that investigation, which is the source of those private discussions that have now been made public.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In one of those wiretapped phone calls, Lula is speaking with the ex-human rights minister. And they're discussing making trouble for a prosecutor who's investigating Lula for influence peddling.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Speaking Portuguese).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lula uses a vulgar slang word for the clitoris to refer to his own party's female supporters. In another conversation, he gleefully recounts how an opposition female politician was called a whore at an antigovernment demonstration. The current president's chief of staff, Jaque Vignau, responds, that's good. That way she'll learn a lesson. Lola Aronovich is a feminist blogger. And she says there's been a lot of discussion by women about the taped calls and what they show.

LOLA ARONOVICH: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "It's an example of the machista culture to have two men discussing a woman this way," she says. In another profundity laced call, Edward Paes, the mayor of Rio de Janeiro, mocked President Dilma Rousseff herself for her dour demeanor.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

EDWARD PAES: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Columnist Jussara Mello says Rousseff is constantly picked apart for being a woman.

MELLO: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "Dilma Rousseff made political mistakes? Fine, let's talk about that. Let's not talk about her body type, her social graces, or if she is feminine enough or not," Mello says. Still, in one exchange, Rousseff herself seemed in on the joke.

(SOUND BITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LUIZ INACIO LULA DE SILVA: (Speaking Portuguese).

PRESIDENT DILMA ROUSSEFF: (Laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's her laughing when the former president, Lula, quipped that his longtime elderly secretary saw a police raid on her house as a gift from God. The insinuation was the secretary should have been happy to have a group of men suddenly appear uninvited in her bedroom. That struck a particularly sour note in this country, which has one of the highest rates of violence against women in the world. Jussara Mello says the sniggering tone of these conversations has real life implications.

MELLO: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "Women are less than 10 percent of the lawmakers in Brazil," she says. "We're not allowed a seat at the table," she says. "What makes me so sad in this current political crisis," Mello says, "is how women here are still viewed and treated." Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.