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Latin America

Brazil's would-be "first ladies" distract attention from impeachment

As the Brazilian government staggers under the impeachment of the president, debate rages on social media over two lesser-known women
28 Abr 2016 – 11:44 AM EDT
Milena Santos (izquierda) y Marcela Temer (derecha).


In the midst of heightened political tension over the impeachment of Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, two lesser known women are threatening to steal the limelight in the parallel world of social media.

Marcela Temer, 32, wife of the country's vice president, immediately came under the media spotlight as the prospective future First Lady. Meanwhile, Milena Santos, 31, wife of the new Secretary of Tourism and a beauty queen of sorts, wasted no time in announcing herself as the new "First Lady of tourism."

Both hit the headlines in the aftermath of the political trial of the president, albeit for different reasons.

Even as she shied away from the limelight, Temer's name - and photos - began trending in social media. Ever since her husband, Michel Temer, teamed up with Dilma Rousseff in the 2010 election campaign she had remained in the background, at least until last week. That's when a controversial article appeared in the country's top political magazine sparking a wave of criticism and catapulting her search ranking on Google Brazil.

“Beautiful, demure and a homemaker,” read the report in Veja magazine. It described Temer, as the "almost first lady" and highlighted that she is 43 years younger than her husband. A woman who "seldom appears in public," it added Temer preferred "knee-length dresses, and dreams of having another child with the VP."

The tone of the article sparked a spontaneous reaction as thousands of Brazilian women responded with ironic social media posts and provocative photos to contradict what they deemed to be outdated stereotypes. The humorous website Sensacionalista also joined the debate with a satirical version of the article, titled "Beautiful, demure and inflatable: the profile of the perfect woman for a politician."

But there were also protest messages including one form psychologist Paty da Matta from Sao Paulo state who posted a photo with her daughter on Facebook with a message criticizing the article.

"My daughter likes to play with dolls, she likes to wear nail polish and admire nature. Today she noticed the full moon and the colors of the sunset. She wants to be a paleontologist at this moment in her life and she can be whatever she wants to be and whenever she wants!" wrote Da Matta.

"Both men and women can be anything they want. It's good that she is from the next generation that doesn’t need to be beautiful, demure and a homemaker. How wonderful that a magazine like Veja won’t convince her to trust a president who presents his wife as someone who is pasteurized and ready for consumption," she went on.

Unlike the reserved prospective First Lady, Milena Santos is active on social media and has vigorously sought the limelight, turning the otherwise fairly routine cabinet appointment of her husband into a major event in the public eye.

Santos uploaded an album of several photos in which she posed smiling affectionately next to her husband, Alessandro Teixeira, in his new office in the capital, Brasilia. Never mind the political crisis, barely a week after the Roussef's impeachment vote in the House of Representatives.

"Sharing with my friends my first day as first lady of the Ministry of Tourism of Brazil," Santos wrote Monday on her Facebook account. Brazil's 2013 'Miss Bumbum' - a prize for the best butt - and a fan of America's celebrity Kardashian sisters, she went on: "I love you, my love, together we are stronger! Not for nothing, but next to a great man there is always a beautiful and powerful woman."

As it occurred a few days before with the article about the wife of the vice president, the comments were not delayed. "A real tourist attraction," joked Paulo, from Salvador. "Now tourism will improve," agreed Anderson, also from the state of Bahia.

IMAGE 3: In a recent interview, Rousseff regretted the prejudice against women in Brazil.

The reaction on social media networks and in the media quickly prompted Santos to withdraw her “romantic” photos, replacing them with a new message, this time without images. "I am outraged with the lack of ethics and respect for people," she complained. "They grab a moment of happiness in the life of a couple who loves each other and is happy and transform it into a negative thing, as if we were committing an illegal offense," she said.

The controversy drew the press to delve into Santos’ Facebook profile, which includes a degree in International Relations involvement in social work and sports.

Before winning the Miss Bumbum competition, she ran in municipal elections for the coastal city of Salvador on three occasions, without success. In the most recent of those campaigns she was a candidate of the minority Liberal Social Party, but received only 323 votes in the polls. By contrast she has more than 14,000 followers on Facebook.

Rousseff, meanwhile, continues her complicated battle to retain office. While the public attention over Temer and Santos may be minor compared to the imminent risk of the president losing power in the coming weeks, Rousseff did not shy away from jumping into the debate over machismo in Brazilian society.

Asked by a reporter the president openly protested: "There is a strong prejudice against women. They have attitudes towards me that they would not have against a male president."