Early Thursday, Brazilian legislators voted to suspend President Dilma Rousseff. She will now be forced to step aside while she undergoes an impeachment trial, with Vice President Michel Temer becoming the interim president. If Rousseff is found guilty, Temer will take over the rest of her term.
The impeachment of Rousseff is the culmination of a months-long political battle. This battle has been sparked by a variety of issues, including Brazil’s stagnating economy and allegations of corruption that have tarred the leftist government of the former Marxist guerrilla.
But to some, Rousseff’s plight can also be seen in stark gender-based terms.
Consider this: Rousseff was Brazil’s first female president. Brazil’s Senate is 16 percent female, and the country's lower house is less than 10 percent female. Journalists have noted that Brazil's proposed new cabinet would be the first all-male cabinet in Brazil since 1979.
Meanwhile, the man who looks likely to replace Rousseff is married to a woman 42 years younger than him.
Temer, 75, began dating his third wife, Marcela, 32, when she was a 19-year-old beauty queen (he was 60 at the time). They married in less than a year. It’s apparently a very loving relationship: A few years ago, Temer told the Brazilian press that she had inspired several poems in a book he wrote titled “Anonymous Intimacy.”
But whatever you make of the age difference between Temer and his wife, it would seem that Marcela is being treated very differently than the 68-year-old career politician Rousseff. Last month, one Brazilian magazine published an article about Marcela that described her as “beautiful, demure and of the home.”
As the impeachment process against Rousseff swung into action, her gender had seemed to work against her, with politicians shouting “Bye, darling!” as they voted against her and some publications suggesting that she had been “emotional” in her approach to office. In the battle against Rousseff, some evangelical Christians had framed their complaints in terms of family values.
“There are attitudes toward me that wouldn’t exist with a male president,” Rousseff had remarked to journalists in April.
As The Washington Post's Dom Phillips reported last month, there had been hope in the Rousseff camp that support from fellow women could help save her from political ruin. In response to the magazine article about Marcela Temer, Brazilian social media users shared photographs of themselves in “scandalous” poses, mocking the article’s message about “beautiful, demure” women “of the home.”
— Priscila Moreira (@PriMoreira) April 20, 2016
— Fabiana Mandrá (@FabiMandra) April 20, 2016
“There is a very potent network of support, and she has used it,” Jairo Nicolau, a professor of political science at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, told The Washington Post. “This is a desperate situation for the president.”
But Thursday’s vote left little room for hope, with Rousseff facing too much pressure on too many fronts. Although she is expected to fight the impeachment trial, the scale of the opposition to her in parliament makes any immediate comeback unlikely. Temer, whose Brazilian Democratic Movement Party had been a coalition partner to Rousseff’s Workers’ Party, had previously been Rousseff’s running mate.
Although Temer himself has been implicated in corruption scandals, he appears to have been readying himself for Brazil’s top job: In April, he sent some lawmakers on a WhatsApp group a speech that he appeared to have prepared in anticipation of a Rousseff exit. The speech called for a government of “national salvation,” noting that it “will be difficult to get this country out of the crisis we find ourselves in.”
— Stephanie Nolen (@snolen) May 12, 2016