The many faces of the wicked

Image: Thgusstavo Santana


Indifference to poor women trumps raw meanness

Violence, neglect, exploitation and disposal of subaltern bodies, especially women, do not usually make headlines. The story of how brutality, misery, commerce and the need for accumulation came to inhabit and control the female body is a long one. There is also a persistent lack of journalistic coverage and the fight against this culture of exploitation, control and consumption of women's existence. Not by chance, the media contribute to this practice in that they create and disseminate standards, naturalize objectifications and abdicate the deepening of vital issues. Journalism and advertising collaborate in submitting the woman's body to the logic of consumption, medicine and social correction.

Such a posture is part of the control of the psychosocial life of women, so that they conform to the desirable identity and, in this sense, certain procedures are triggered that determine what can and what cannot be said. But sometimes the perversity surpasses the unspeakable. Such was the case with the appearance of the subject of menstrual poverty and the raw evil of a perverse government. Menstrual poverty won the public debate. Wickedness put menstruation in the headlines. Is it an agenda that came to stand alongside other issues that challenge roles and uses?

In the barbarian kingdoms of Europe and in the high Middle Ages, lords could lend wives or daughters. Occasional prostitution in times of war and famine and as a destination for apprentice artisans and merchants was the rule. In the High Age, taverns and hostels were confused with brothels. Women from Greece and the Middle East were trafficked as slaves through the markets of Arles and Avignon and sold in brothels, including public brothels, brothels associated with the Church, municipal brothels that maintained degrading routines, and this trade persisted throughout the Middle Ages (Flores, 2019) .

The book Caliban and the Witch, by Sílvia Federici makes a detailed historical analysis showing that discrimination against women in capitalist society is not the legacy of a pre-modern world, but rather a formation of capitalism, built on existing sexual differences and reconstructed for new social functions. Along the way, the author visits the witch hunts of the 500th and XNUMXth centuries, the rise of the nuclear family, the state appropriation of women's reproductive capacity and the process by which the proletarian body was transformed into a work machine. The author arrives at the XNUMXst century, after XNUMX years of capitalist exploitation, noting that globalization is still driven by the permanent state of war, the destruction of our common wealth and the high price that women have to pay, with an increase in gender violence and the weight of impoverishment and various forms of dispossession.

Federeci argues that the body is for women what the factory is for wage workers: the main terrain of their exploitation and resistance, “to the same extent that the female body was appropriated by the State and by Men, forced to function as a means of reproduction and accumulation of work”. This explains the importance that the female body has acquired in all its aspects - motherhood, childbirth, sexuality - making the idea of ​​a body only in the private sphere more complex, but recognizing that there is a body policy. According to the economic and demographic crises, women will be disciplined, based on elements of their own femininity, with the creation of prejudices, taboos and prohibitions. This logic includes all the taboo surrounding the menstrual period and the acknowledgment of the indigence of so many women to conquer a minimum of dignity in the face of their natural cycles.

Ensuring support and health policies, access to hygiene and autonomy is not merely about giving conditions for them to work or study, but about dignity, respect and recognition. These complexities will not be found in news stories as a rule. Even so, having this hot topic in the public debate and being repulsed by the denial of a public policy essential to the equity and dignity of the most vulnerable women is a step forward.

In August of this year, the Chamber of Deputies approved Bill 4968/2019, by Deputy Marília Arraes (PT-PE), which provides for the free distribution of sanitary pads to low-income students, vulnerable women and detainees. The project itself did not gain much repercussion, but the veto of the Presidency of the Republic generated revolt and apprehension.

The decision gained space and coverage including the learning of the concept “menstrual poverty” which, according to Unicef, is the situation experienced by girls and women due to lack of access to resources, infrastructure and knowledge so that they have full capacity to take care of their menstruation and which, according to UN data, in Brazil, affects 25% of girls between 12 and 19 years old. The President's attitude set social networks on fire and made the news. A Google search, in the News category, crossing the words menstruation, Bolsonaro and pads, found 3350 results. As a mere observation exercise, one of the most important vehicles in the country, the Folha de São Paulo newspaper, was researched. The term menstruation found 1436 results from 1994 to now, and in September and part of October there were nine articles (or opinion columns). The term menstrual poverty found 16 mentions. The first article on access to pads is from March 17 of this year, showing that the subject was beginning to gain interest. One of the reports on the Reader's Panel challenges readers to tell their story of menstrual poverty: “Have you ever suffered from a lack of pads? What did you do? Tell your story.”

In the comments, a man wrote something quite obvious: “those who suffer from this problem do not have access to the newspaper”. One of the newspaper's emphases was to portray the reaction of celebrities to the veto, reproducing famous posts on their social networks. The articles presented data, showed initiatives by organizations and activists that distribute pads, but did not listen to women and girls deprived of basic resources. Much less other popular voices that suffer from various shortcomings and that have their own perceptions of the difficulties in dealing with female body cycles. But journalism faced the issue. Very different from the institutional means of communication of the Federal Government.

On the website of the Ministry of Women, Family and Human Rights there is no news containing the term menstrual poverty. There are 73 search results, but all are documents and recommendations in PDF format. Of these documents, the most recent is from January 12, 2021, a recommendation from the National Human Rights Council addressed to the president and Congress suggesting the creation of a national policy to overcome menstrual poverty. The CNDH plenary approved the recommendation justifying that menstrual poverty affects thousands of girls and women who are in a situation of social vulnerability in Brazil, such as prisoners and homeless women, for example, and is characterized by lack of access to products proper hygiene during the menstrual period. The document states that in 2014, on International Women's Day, the United Nations - UN recognized that women's right to menstrual hygiene is a matter of public health and human rights.

In the approved act, the CNDH recommends to the heads of the Executive and Legislative powers the creation of a national policy to overcome menstrual poverty, to ensure that items such as sanitary napkins, tampons and cups are available to all women and girls, privileging items that have less environmental impact. Recommendation No. 21, of December 11, 2020, considered by the Board during the 14th Extraordinary Meeting, also recommended the approval of Bill No. 4.968/19, which proposes the supply of sanitary pads in public schools and the of Law 3.085/19, which provides for tax exemption for feminine pads.

On the EBC website, the search for the term menstrual poverty did not find any reference. On the Agência Brasil website, there were six results, none of which refer to the President's veto, one mentions the approval in the Chamber of the free supply of pads and the others record regional initiatives for the distribution of pads to students.

 As highlighted by the Brazilian Network of Journalists and Communicators with a Vision of Gender and Race, affiliated to the Red Internacional de Periodistas conVisión de Género, in Brazil, there is no legislation or policy aimed at communicating a gender perspective in the media. The emergence of a feminist press in the country occurred at the end of the 1970s – Jornal Brasil Mulher. for democratic freedoms and issues related to domestic violence, women's working conditions, reproductive rights, abortion and sexuality.

Since then, the gender guideline and feminist perspective have been advancing, especially in alternative initiatives (such as the AzMina Institute, which works in the area of ​​journalism, technology and information against machismo), outside the corporate media, with initiatives of advocacy with the federal government for the formulation of public policies focused on communication and gender. It is not necessary to emphasize that the attempts to advance occur in an absolutely hostile environment in the country for journalism and especially for women journalists. According to data from the National Federation of Journalists (FENAJ), in 2019, attacks on the press exploded, due to the frequent and systematic actions of the president of the country. 208 cases of violence were recorded, 114 of which were discredited by the press and 94 were direct attacks on professionals – an increase of 54,07% compared to 2018, when there were 135 cases. cases, which corresponds to 121% of the total, being responsible for 58,17 discrediting of the press, through aggression against vehicles and professionals, in addition to seven cases of verbal aggression and direct threats to journalists. gender, according to the report, 114% of victims of violence in professional practice are women.

This is the same President who sponsors indifference to the drama of menstrual poverty. Symbolically, cycles pass, bleeding disappears and life reproduces itself outside of barbarism, but the first representative of the nation continues in his war against everything and everyone that is beyond his control, resistants harassed in the name of civilization, democracy and the rights of the Constitution that he makes bleed every day.

* Sandra Bitencourt, journalist, PhD in Communication and Information, is a researcher at the Núcleo de Comunicação Pública e Política (NUCOP) research group.


FEDERICI, Silvia. Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation. Translation: Sycorax collective. São Paulo: Elephant, 2017.

FLOWERS, Moacyr. Social history of the Middle Ages. Pradense Publisher. Porto Alegre, 2019.


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