In 2022 Brazil, the post-election period has been paradoxical: even though this period comes in the wake of the ultimate expression of democracy, it has been marked by threats to the democratic system itself, from opposing the election results, to harsh attacks against the press - especially women journalists. Between October 30, date of the presidential second round election, and December 8, there were 39 aggressions against female communicators, 79.5% related to political coverage.
In this context, explicit expressions of gender violence stand out. A survey conducted by the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji) reveals that the use of “vaca”, “vadia”, and “vagabunda” (“cow”, “bitch”, and “slut”, in Portuguese) to offend female journalists grew by 300% on Twitter, in comparison to the 40 days before the beginning of the electoral campaign, which began on August 16. The data clearly shows a marked link that exists between the Brazilian political context - quite antagonistic - and misogyny against members of the press.
The numbers are worrying, but not surprising. They reflect the violent scenario that has taken hold since the election campaign period when this type of misogynistic attack reached its peak. In the 40 days leading up to the second round, the "three V’s" were used 65 times against female communicators, 983% more than in the pre-election period. This time frame includes the date of the first round of the elections, on October 2, 2022.
What the attacks were like
"Vaca” (cow) was the most used term and accounted for 67.7% of the sexist attacks made on Twitter during and after the campaign period. A large proportion of the misogynistic attacks identified are connected to the anti-democratic demonstrations that question Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s victory (PT – Workers Party) in the presidential election, with 50.8% of the votes. Followers of incumbent president Jair Bolsonaro (PL – Liberal Party), defeated in the polls, are the main attackers. This is also true in the case of attacks in general on women journalists. Of the 39 cases of threats, physical aggression, intimidation, and stigmatizing speeches registered by Abraji in the 40 days after the election, 84.6% involved Bolsonaro supporters.
Although online gender violence has victimized many female communicators, some have emerged as frequent targets of attacks. Journalists Barbara Gancia, of Folha de S. Paulo, Vera Magalhães, from TV Cultura, Eliane Cantanhêde, of Estado de S.Paulo, Leilane Neubarth, from GloboNews TV news, and Daniela Lima, from CNN Brasil, together, received more than 80% of the identified insults. In a recent case, Neubarth had a photo of her grandson retweeted by a conservative political commentator. The post incited attacks on the journalist and exposed the child to aggressions by Internet users.
In 42% of the total number of sexist attacks, the words “vaca”, “vadia”, and “vagabunda” (“cow”, “bitch”, and “slut”, in Portuguese), were accompanied by other offensive adjectives. The most common were "old hag", which featured in 21.6% of the tweets with more than one hostile term, "whore" (10.8%), "rotten" (10.8%), "ugly" (8.1%), "trash" (8.1%), and "douchebag" (8.1%). In all, more than 40 offensive terms were registered, and almost half were linked to gender, with comments attacking appearance and sexuality.
The data emphasize the difference between attacks on male and female journalists. When men are targets of stigmatizing speeches, the most common offensive terms are "militant", "leftist", "liar" and "partial" - words mainly related to journalistic activity. Political adjectives, used in a derogatory manner, such as "petista" (member of the Workers Party-PT) (5.4%) and "militant" (5.4%) were also used to target female professionals. But, for them, gender is an extra element, giving another dimension to the attacks. In addition, 5.6% of the misogynistic comments contained threats of physical violence.
In order to carry out the research, Abraji analyzed 483 tweets that contained the word "journalist" combined with the terms “vaca”, “vadia” and “vagabunda” (cow, bitch, and slut). Data collection was concentrated on three time periods: the pre-election period, from July 7 to August 15; the pre-second round period, from September 20 to October 29; and the post-second round period, from October 30 to December 8.
The data on general aggressions against women journalists is part of the results of Abraji's monitoring of attacks on press professionals, that has been consistently conducted since 2019. The organization is a partner of the Voces del Sur (VdS) network, which monitors cases of freedom of the press and expression violations in Brazil and in other Latin American countries.
In 2021, Abraji began monitoring gender-based violence against journalists, supported by UNESCO's Global Media Defense Fund. The findings of 2021 (in English) and the partial data of 2022 (in Portuguese) can be found on the project's website.