Marisa Matias has a PhD from the School of Economics at the University of Coimbra and is a sociological researcher at the Centro de Estudos Sociais (CES). She made an academic and a political journey that allows her to create a well-founded vision about all the dimensions of problems like homophobia, misogyny and racism. Matias is a feminist and that is how her political activity began. She was also a candidate for the city hall of Coimbra. Currently, Matias is working in the European Parliament as a parliamentarian of the Confederal Group of the European United Left – Nordic Green Left. During our stay in Coimbra, Matias gave a lecture at CES.
“We always tend to believe that societies evolve in a progressive way and after a sum of achievements. I believe that we are going through a political moment that shows us exactly the contrary, certainly when you look at the specific issues that we are discussing here: not only misogyny, but also racism and homophobia. The impression that I get, unfortunately, is that these problems were never defeated, even though there are movements, efforts and initiatives to combat these problems in different domains. I am going to concentrate more on Europe because I know the region better. These problems are also the result of the crisis of political systems in the whole of Europe, and the democratic crisis that we are living in. The truth is that we find ourselves with right-wing populism, in this case extremist right-wing parties who are anti-system, anti-institutions and anti-parties. It is not as if the system, the institutions and the parties don’t have responsibilities, they obviously have a lot of responsibilities in this matter. But the truth is that you can profit of misogyny, racism and homophobia for popularity, votes and representation and I think that we receded a lot in those domains in the last few years. However, I also think that the fact, and this is a very good thing and we shouldn’t backtrack, that we advanced in the legislative matter regarding the representation of women in politics, made the increase of women representing in politics more public and visible.
“I thought that if people had understood that my campaign was a feminist one, that not everything had been for nothing.”
There are some things that give me hope and some things that I am proud of. When I ran for office, it was a difficult campaign. Obviously, it’s always difficult, but this one was particularly difficult. But if there was something that made everything worth it in the end, was reading reactions in the Diario das Noticias the following day. Feminism was already represented for more than 10 percent in Portugal. I kept this article, and I never keep anything that I do, but I thought that if people had understood that my campaign was a feminist one, that not everything had been for nothing.
In 2001 I also had quite an adventure in Coimbra. During these times, we didn’t have any quota policies or will to face gender issues and feminist issues in politics. Ten friends and I made a list exclusively of women to participate in the elections of the assembly of the council of Coimbra. We were harshly criticised for it when actually 99 percent of the lists existing in the country consisted exclusively of men. The issue was that when 99 percent of the lists on a national level consisted exclusively of men, we were the provocation with a list exclusively consisted of women and that this was the normal way to live in a democracy. Altogether, I am very happy that we did it at that time. Please don’t look for any material of the campaign, because it was very bad. We presented everything in purple shades and I don’t really know why, we are much better than those photos look like.
What we are witnessing in the European Union and also in Portugal is a moment in which being misogynist, being homophobic and being racist results in votes during elections and progression has receded a lot. There has been a complete naturalisation after what happened in Hungary. There was, for example, a constitutional alteration in which they put back in the constitution that a woman’s place is at home and I didn’t see any transnational movement that arose against this matter.
In Poland, we were present in the recent women’s marches and the strikes that were held. I was also in Poland in February on a work assignment and the day before I arrived in Poland, seven women, seven professors from seven different schools, had been arrested because they had gone to school to teach wearing black clothes and black was the colour of resistance. Black was the colour of the women’s strike, the manifestations and that demonstration. Most of the days I was there I was wearing black and they told me that I was lucky that I am not Polish because the day before the seven women had been arrested for wearing black. I told them that they should arrest me too and I insisted on wearing black every single day I was on this mission in Poland. It is a matter of political manifestation.
“I believe that the societies in which we live haven’t defeated the patriarchy.”
Not so long ago I published on social media a very short summary of the systematic attacks I receive that have absolutely nothing to do with the ideas I defend or with the proposals I represent, but it has to do with the simple fact that I am a woman. Very frequently I receive attacks in which they call me a cow, a whore and more things, but these things don’t align with my political content or with the things we are discussing. And this is a transversal issue: it has nothing to do with generations or ideologies, unfortunately. I believe that the societies in which we live haven’t defeated the patriarchy and as there will be more public interventions of women in politics, some silences will become visible and more notorious and will get people to lose their fear to say things.
The naturalisation of misogyny, of racism and of homophobia are used as instruments in political fights and on top of all to get votes. They can profit of them to get back into political action. People that have been secluded for a long time and did not identify with anything are being restored by these movements and by this line of thoughts. And in my opinion this forces us to think, and make a critical analysis about how we exercise our activities, be it political or of investigation. Because if it is true that we will advance a lot in these matters, the truth is that we cannot stall and the progressive movements are not educating the persons who are mad at the system. That is exactly what excludes and divides, they are fishing up all the people that are mad at the system. I believe that this is one of the greatest challenges that we face daily, the sphere of the political parties, in their representation or even in daily life.”
– Hello, good afternoon, I only have one question regarding the Parity Act, because I am in favour of the Parity Act, because I understand the effects it had in the countries that applied the act: the effects were rather visible. But I am afraid that we will not arrange mechanisms to make people understand that women have to be represented not by obligation but because we make up 50 percent of the population and it makes sense that women are as competent as man are. And I don’t know if we are using only this moment or if it is not enough to stop the naturalisation.
MM: “If you understand the interconnectivity of misogyny, homophobia, classism and racism, you know it is very difficult to separate those things and if women are being discriminated because they are women they may also be discriminated because of age, gender, class, the fact that they are left-wing or right-wing. If you understand this and the way we work and treat issues, I think, the Parity Act, quota or the forced representation matter is more problematic. And I don’t want to necessarily fight the idea, I understand that it is a medium and not the end. It is one of the automated solutions that I believe are very complicated, firstly because it is made from patriarchy with patriarchy, in the sense that thinking or considering that the presence of women equals non-misogyny. If you choose to think that this way is good enough, you work together with the patriarchy. Patriarchy works with everything that is consensual. A new system must take place that truly values women and people of colour and people of poor background.
This takes me to the following question as well: what is this automatism? What are men, what are women? In other words, we are always questioning the production of knowledge, and the hierarchy of knowledge. But what is hierarchical, what is axiological in the value of knowledge of the persons, but we are always falling back to the same medical idea of what women are and of what men are.”
“So we are living in a period where the problem is not related anymore to a geographic space, but also requires an analysis of economical politics.”
– First of all, misogyny matters in a rhetorical way, because misogyny comes in different forms and gives you a profit in practical life. The rhetoric is extremely symbolic and powerful, especially in the political field. And this is not a phenomenon from America, nor from Europe, in Africa we see, for example, that in countries where there is a lot of money, a lot of equality between women and men used to exist. This was very important and constitutive for the ideal of independence of the same countries, and they are turning against women in this very moment. The populist manifestations in the political field and in the newspapers are abusive in their the ideas against women. So we are living in a period where the problem is not related anymore to a geographic space, but also requires an analysis of economical politics.
The second comment I wanted to make is that I think that particularly feminists and maybe the more institutionalised feminists are depoliticising the matter of women’s rights in the last years and in the area of institutions and the filling of structures. People need to review until which point neo-liberalism is not just a financial extractive globalisation: it is highly conservative in the way that it needs to put women back as cheap labour or if possible even free labour. It is not a coincidence that we get these reactions in Poland and in Hungary. We had attempts on another scale and other dimensions, but for example, in Spain and even in Portugal, we are talking about recession in some domains of the women’s rights, it is not really a normative issue. It is an issue of economical politics and of our own system. When you think about it, this is also not present in the political discourse of our left wing. It really worries me that we continue to have a very silent left wing, above all regarding these matters. There is also a very clear link between this and the return of the patriarchy and it is even a little bit grotesque but really powerful.
The third interesting issue that you talked about is the Parity Act. I distinguish four basic forms of the patriarchy about how they speak about women in general, with all the generalisations they impose on us. In a way we are victimised, we are the victims but also don’t have the capacity to resolve our problems. Other women are seen as the border guards who have a lot to do with domestic conservatism. We have to educate our children and educate the children of the educated children, and we have to do a series of things. The other women are the untouchable ones. The goddesses that no one can reach, they are there, but no one can touch them. They are untouchable in that sense that they have a power that is actually worth nothing. They stay on their altar.
We are, however, still living in a society where women are participating in politics, being in the front is still considered as exceptional and when numerically there will be as much that it cannot be counted as exceptional anymore, there won’t be just some because they are extraordinary, but because they really have to be there. This will create vulnerability for all types of attacks. We have to unmask this idea of exceptionality and show how the Parity Act is fundamentally dangerous. Because it makes that patriarchy and sexism exist in our societies. Thus these were the three issues because it doesn’t seem like it’s an issue that the extractive financial neo-liberal globalisation is continuing to evolve, so I think the misogyny matter is getting worse. Obviously, it also entails homophobia and racism because, in the end, women are not a minority. So you also have homosexual women, from different ethnicities and races – please accept this terrible classification. I just want to say that we, feminists, have a new battle to fight we cannot avoid. We can’t not continue with it and we can’t throw away anything that we have already conquered either. So, in the end, the Parity Act yes, quotas yes, laws yes, everything that we have obtained until now and more.
“The Parity Act is just an instrument and only responds to social injustice.”
MM: “I will begin with the Parity Act, and whether it is not only an instrument for the naturalisation of inequality. Obviously, the Parity Act wants to respond to a problem of social injustice. However, the Parity Act is not really a feminist end goal. The Parity Act is not an objective in itself, it is an instrument. Laws are made for this reason, laws serve to change, they help change behaviour, they help change cultures when they are out of reach. The Parity Act is just an instrument and only responds to social injustice.
I don’t think this problem is a regional matter. Obviously now, what we are seeing and I am looking at the classic examples and the fundamental examples of feminist emancipation and I don’t see much feminist emancipation in the prototypes of how a woman should be in exercising public functions, for example Angela Merkel. I don’t share her feminist emancipation, and I think I have every right and legitimacy to question their ideas, but that doesn’t make them or me less feminist. We made a tribute not so long ago for a woman I didn’t share ideology with, Simone Veil. I am sure, however, that she was one of the women that made sure all women could progress a bit further and she made the whole society progress. And when in 1974 in France she had the courage to pass the law of availability of abortion in a parliament with 491 men and nine women, independently from their ideologies, this is a clear act of notion for transforming society. I think we can’t classify things only because women can also be agents of reproduction of misogyny, sexism, homophobia, racism, just as men are. We are all agents of reproduction of something in a certain moment. No one is pure objective. That is how society evolves, by reproducing things of ourselves. More than we produce, we reproduce. And thus, I didn’t want to put a border between left wing and right wing here. I think that these examples show this too: Simone Veil was obviously from the right wing. However, I acknowledge her and I was also sad when she died. I acknowledge her fundamental role in the advancement of women and thus also the advancement of societies in certain circumstances.
Therefore, we are speaking about a matter of social justice and we are not going to confuse things. It is obvious that the Parity Act and the fact that there is more representation of women doesn’t mean that there is going to be more feminism and less misogyny. But there is more social justice and from that point of view, I defend the Parity Act. I will also speak about the issue of institutional feminism. In that point of view I also defend it as an instrument, nothing more. Because we have a lot of things to work on at the same time. The social justice issue, a transversal issue as well, has to be represented in the legislation. And if we have half of society composed of women – they can be homosexuals, heterosexuals, lesbians, it doesn’t matter – but half of society has to be represented like the other half of society. This isn’t an objective in itself and it can never be one, but I sincerely don’t think that the Parity Act is responsible for naturalisation of misogyny. More so, in the Portugal case, we are talking about a ridiculous Parity Act, because it doesn’t require half a population, it requires a third, which is not Parity. It is a false name. We know what is being done with this third, for example, they have to have a third of women on the lists but they put some women there of whom they know that they will give up and will make space for the men, because women never have the same availability. It is difficult, I am giving you a caricature argument but it really is difficult because society is not organised nor prepared for women having the same conditions and opportunities as men. And so it is not difficult to find available men, but it is difficult finding available women. And if people will not admit this, we are fooling ourselves.
Interview by O LIMPO Rio – SAGIKOLIBRI
Photo by Mauro Rico