Rio carnival turns political as ‘Barbie Fascists’ defend women’s rights – The Guardian

Tens of thousands of people in outlandish fancy dress were crammed into Rio’s Praça XV square for the Cordão de Boitatá street party, one of the most traditional shows of Rio’s notoriously decadent carnival.

But amid the samba rhythms and fantastical costumes, there were calls for action, speeches about feminism and demands for respect.

Gliding through the crowds in crop tops, pink shorts and flowing blonde wigs, a troupe of “Barbie Fascists” said their outfits were an ironic protest against Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro and his supporters.

  • ‘Barbie Fascists’ Laiana Pereira, 33, public servant and Priscila Rangel, 33.

“He is a threat to our rights,” said one of the Barbies, Priscila Rangel, 33, as she stopped for a photograph.

Rio’s week-long carnival of samba parades and street parties – or blocos – is world-renowned for its hedonist abandon. But as well as the chaotic partying, it also serves as a platform for irreverent political protest.

This year, after Bolsonaro’s election, political anger and satire took on a new force – with women leading the way. They used costumes, speeches and songs to hit back at the sexism espoused by Bolsonaro and his supporters. And their protests resounded in a country with terrifying rates of femicide, rape and domestic violence.

  • Stilt performers at Mulheres Rodadas, one holding up a Marielle Franco street sign.

Many bared breasts and buttocks emblazoned with slogans like “my body, my rules”. “There is a movement against the right, against Bolsonaro,” said Rafaela Dias, 32, a psychologist partying at the female-run bloco Rebu.

Bolsonaro once told a female lawmaker: “I would never rape you because you don’t deserve it.” He also told a female television presenter he would not pay men and women the same salaries.

Following anti-Bolsonaro demonstrations last year under the banner “ele não” (not him), his son Eduardo Bolsonaro, a congressman, said rightwing women were “prettier than those on the left. They don’t show their breasts in the street or defecate in the street.”

This week Brazil’s culture wars erupted on to the streets again as revellers repeatedly chanted obscenities against Bolsonaro during street parties. The president was widely ridiculed when he responded by tweeting a graphic video in an apparent attempt to condemn Brazil’s biggest cultural festival.

Bolsonoro had inflamed feminists, said Tatiana Castro, 32, a secretary, as she led her family through carnival with a “girl power” tiara on her head.

Campaigns against aggressive sexual behaviour and harassment by men at Carnival have become increasingly visible. This year, Rio city council distributed fans advertising a new law against sexual harassment.

Liliane de Fonseca, a 30-year-old translator, had covered her bare breasts with masking tape scrawled with its slogan “no means no” at the Tupife bloco. “It’s becoming more common. Men accept it more. Last year they looked in shock. This year they are reading what’s written,” she said.

The face of Marielle Franco – a Rio councillor and gay rights activist murdered last March – was on flags, stickers, banners and backdrops. The Mangueira samba school paid homage to her, along with other black and indigenous Brazilian heroes, in its championship-winning carnival parade.

Performers chanted her name before the first edition of a women-run street party called Calcinhas Bélicas (Warlike Knickers). “This year, carnival has a completely new face,” said Franco’s widow, Monica Benicio, who made a speech before it paraded. “Brazil’s feminist movement is one of the most organised in Latin America, and to see Marielle become a symbol of this is very emotional.”

  • Performers at new women-run street party Calcinhas Bélicas, Warlike Knickers.

Franco’s murder remains unsolved, though police believe that criminal groups known as militias, which often include former and serving police officers, were involved. “When Mangueira pays homage to her, when it highlights this woman, it is demanding justice,” said Rafaela Bastos, 37, a civil servant andone of Mangueira’s top dancers – or passistas.

Bastos produced a 2016 study on prejudice and sexual objectification suffered by passistas, who see themselves as artistes. “Others objectify us, we don’t see ourselves as objects,” she said.

Another feminist bloco known as Mulheres Rodadas – or “women who have been around” – has helped inspire the growing number of female-run street parties and become a support network for women now planning their own samba school.

The group, set up in 2015, drew its name from a viral Facebook post reading “I don’t deserve a woman who has been around,” explained its founder, Renata Rodrigues, 42, a communications officer.

“With love, art and music, you can reach people in a different way. But we have a long way to go,” Rodrigues said, before donning a purple hood, grabbing a megaphone and leading a thunderous, female-dominated samba band down sweltering Rio streets.

  • Renata Rodrigues, and Louise Bacelar at the Mulheres Rodadas party.

Ahead of her, 30 stilt-walkers marched, dressed as heroines such as Marie Curie, Frida Kahlo and the painter Tarsila do Amaral while thousands danced and cheered.

Louise Bacelar, 23, was dressed as Dandara, the warrior wife of Zumbi dos Palmares, who set up a 17th-century community of escaped slaves and inspired Brazil’s Black Consciousness Day holiday.

“This is more than just a feminist street party,” she said. “It’s a political act to be here.”


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