Women Matter, Can Someone Tell Bolsonaro?
Caroline Frost Shows Us That Brazil’s President’s Damaging Attitude Extends Well Beyond Climate Change
It’s not just rude, it’s stupid.
I’m referring, of course, to the Brazilian president’s decision to join in some bright spark’s mockery of Brigitte Macron, the wife of his French counterpart.
You might think Jair Bolsonaro would have other things on his mind right now, like leading the enormous man-power operation involved in extinguishing the forest fires currently blighting his country, and threatening to destroy one of the world’s great wonders, the Amazon rain forest, on his back door step and on his watch.
But no, somehow in his busy schedule, the South American leader has found time to comment on a picture posted by a supporter, comparing Brigitte Macron unfavorably with his own much younger spouse, with the helpful caption, “Now you understand why Macron is persecuting Bolsonaro?”
In a tone no doubt intended to appeal to his conservative base, Bolsonaro replied, “Do not humiliate the guy haha,” – the hilarious social media equivalent of a head lock in the changing room.
Sadly for Bolsonaro, Macron did not run away weeping. Instead, he publicly replied, “He has made some extraordinarily rude comments about my wife.
“What can I say? It’s sad. It’s sad for him firstly, and for Brazilians. I think Brazilian women will probably be ashamed to read that from their president. I think that Brazilians, who are a great people, will probably be ashamed to see this behavior… And I feel friendship and respect towards the Brazilian people. I hope that they will very soon have a president who behaves in the right way.”
Oh, and this weekend Macron also threatened to block an EU trade deal with Brazil, with the reasoning that the country needs to repair first.
Of course, it should go without saying that manners, or lack thereof, maketh the man, that Bolsonaro’s jolly engagement with such disrespectful objectification of both Mrs Macron and, by extension, his own wife, tells you everything you need to know about him. But what strikes me is how completely unstrategic it is, too. Even if his own instincts can’t guide him to say better things, the Brazilian leader only has to look into the recent history books to realize the significance of political wives, and that it matters how they are treated on the world stage.
‘Cherchez la femme’ is how France’s President Charles De Gaulle might have put it after he was legendarily dazzled by Jackie Kennedy when America’s First Family visited Paris in the summer of 1961. At the height of Cold War tensions, JFK was able to channel the Frenchman’s admiration into support for his ongoing tussles with Soviet premier Nikita Kruschev. He was also generous and sophisticated enough to pay tribute where it was due in a lunch with the press, “I do not think it altogether inappropriate for me to introduce myself. I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris.”
Fast forward 20 years and another US president proved to be a master of ceremonies when it came to syphoning the star power of a foreign lady. In November 1985, Ronald Reagan not only cemented the ‘special relationship’ between the US and UK with a gala dinner at the White House for the Prince and Princess of Wales, he put a rosette on it by ensuring Diana got to dance with John Travolta. With both at the height of their glamour, the pictures of the pair twirling across the floor went around the world. The dress worn by the Princess that night was recently sold again at auction for a quarter of a million pounds, testament to a memorable evening perfect in both party-planning and politics.
Another opportunity to reach out across the Atlantic occurred in 2012, when the Obamas came calling in London for a G20 reception. Courtiers had for years instructed all visitors, “Whatever you do, don’t touch the Queen.” Well, Michelle Obama clearly didn’t get the memo, because in what was seen by some as a jaw-dropping breach of century-old protocol, she was soon seen with her arm around Her Majesty. Not only that, but it seemed as if the Queen had actually initiated the gesture and returned it in kind. And, just like that, with one tiny movement, the two women did more for Anglo-American relations than politicians could have hoped to achieve in months.
The British monarchy’s rules don’t change overnight, however. In 2008, the French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s forthcoming state visit to the UK prompted much discussion in palace corridors, due to his new romance with model and singer Carla Bruni. How could the Queen accommodate this unmarried couple? No need to worry, as it happened. Whether it was the charms of Nicolas himself or the lure of Windsor Castle, by the time Carla arrived on British soil she was Mrs Sarkozy, and the trip went off without a hitch – with the new French First Lady dazzling her hosts with her big smile, and top-to-toe Christian Dior outfits – French fashion house, British designer – an astute political move.
Boris Johnson may have wished for a Carla at his side during the weekend’s G7 summit in Biarritz. The UK Prime Minister’s arm was conspicuously empty without the presence of his girlfriend Carrie Symonds, his partner since last year’s demise of his long marriage. Perhaps he just wanted no distractions from this key conference with other world leaders, but in this world of media messages big and small, Symonds’ absence spoke volumes.
Fortunately, there was someone not too bashful to fill the gap. The bromance between our PM and Donald Trump had been hinted at in a series of phone calls (the former) and admiring tweets (guess), but this is the first time we’ve seen it played out in person. In the air of the final reel of a rom-com, Trump asked Johnson, “What took you so long?” Our PM could only smile. Never mind their differences on climate-change, protectionism, Russia, tariffs, it seems the Donald believes he’s found his mini-me, and his delight is evident in all the pictures.
Ah, except one. And it’s one that’s been doing the global rounds on social media ever since the weekend, with a million delighted sharers reminding us not to share it, got that?
Because it shows Melania Trump, hand held by her husband, but giving the Canadian premier the kind of glance to “make a bishop kick a hole through a stained-glass window” (thankyou, Raymond Chandler). The snap so caught the imagination that #MelaniaLovesJustin started trending on Twitter. Then, to make matters even worse, Ivanka was also caught mid-stare, inspiring an observer to write on social media, “Get you someone that looks at you the way Ivanka Trump looks at Justin Trudeau.”
Of course, there’s nothing in it, everyone. But it was the only time during the whole weekend Trump was caught not smiling, and humiliated men can do unhelpful things. Women matter, in more ways than one. Someone might want to tell Jair Bolsonaro.