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“Enfrentar Vírus Como Homem”: Bolsonaro’s Populism and Performing Hegemonic Masculinity

Gender
Latin America
National Identity
Populism
Representation
Theo Aiolfi
University of Warwick
Theo Aiolfi
University of Warwick
Giulia Champion
University of Warwick

Abstract

Even among the various Latin American leaders associated with populism, Jair Bolsonaro stands out as one of the most abrasive and extreme examples of the phenomenon. Adopting an interdisciplinary perspective that conceptualises populism as a performed political style, this paper will engage with the specific practices and performances deployed by Bolsonaro, focusing more specifically on those related to the COVID-19 health crisis. In examining these performances, a central point is Bolsonaro’s reliance on a binary heteronormativity and gendered ethos which was further exacerbated by the urgency of the global pandemic. This paper will explore how, through his calls for the Brazilian people to “enfrentar vírus como homem e não como moleque”, Bolsonaro mobilises hegemonic masculinity to infantilise those who fall sick while undermining criticisms to his problematic management of the pandemic. In this paper, we will develop a holistic analysis of several of Bolsonaro’s performances after the beginning of the COVID-19 health crisis in Brazil to assess the way he articulates his identity in relationship with the people. We argue that performances of identity in the populist style are based on the projection of strength and health, which are associated in a conservative ideology with performing hegemonic masculinity and heteronormativity. Conversely, we demonstrate that associating femininity and queerness with weakness serves as the flip side of these gendered performances of identity. Lastly, by situating Bolsonaro’s own brand of populism in a history of uneven and unequal developments across gender, race and class in a vast and complex country such as Brazil, the concluding aim of this paper is to consider the influence of populism on the Brazilian society and discuss how it could be subverted in counter-narratives.