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Brazil: Activist Mothers Harassed and Censored Online for Challenging Gender

Brazilian ob/gyns and researchers accept language erasing women while mothers get attacked fighting against it.

Brazil: Activist Mothers Harassed and Censored Online for Challenging Gender

Maternal activism has been a major driving force of Brazilian feminism in recent years. Since the 1970s, obstetric violence became rife in the country due to international influences—maternity wards became common, and home births were nearly outlawed.

In the 2000s, female health providers like Dr. Melania Amorim started questioning routine medical procedures, such as episiotomies. Many women who could and wanted to have normal deliveries became activists to push against elective and unnecessary procedures in pregnancy, childbirth, as well as to talk about and promote breastfeeding or child-rearing methods based on nonviolent communication.

Online forums and groups exploded a decade later and many mothers became key players in spreading informed research on maternal rights through websites, blogs, Facebook pages, podcasts or in their social media accounts. Now, these women feel silenced about their fight.

“When doctors were exposed for their bias against normal deliveries, for instance, they didn't resort to death and rape threats.”

Since September 2021, several Brazilian activists for birthing women’s rights have been facing a new relentless wave of online attacks from trans activists. These women have used social media, like Instagram, to fight against the exploitation of women’s reproductive labour, pointing out how gender ideology grooms children, challenging gender stereotypes and defending the categories “women” and “mothers.” For this, they have been called bigots, getting reported and restricted in their accounts.

In September, Veronica Linder, a journalist who focuses on female reproductive rights, wrote a post on Instagram about a man who calls himself Jessica Alves. Formerly Rodrigo Alves, this individual, also from Brazil, pursued years ago several plastic surgeries to become a “human Ken” (Barbie’s boyfriend) before claiming to have been diagnosed with “body dysmorphia” and pursuing even more surgeries to look like a woman. In August, Alves said that he was going to invest thousands of dollars to have a uterus implanted.

Linder asked her Instagram followers to consider the health consequences of hysterectomy (uterus removal) for women. She also inquired who the women providing or “selling” uteri for these men will be. Her post featured a picture of Alves and received a huge wave of backlash, with Linder being called transphobic and her take compared to right wingers who “wanted to keep the traditional family setting, who are against homosexual marriages.” The post was targeted by mass reporting and taken from Instagram as “hate speech” so Veronica reposted it a few days later, with a photo of herself, asking why talking about female sexual rights is considered “transphobia.”

“In August, Alves said that he was going to invest thousands of dollars to have a uterus implanted.”

Shortly after that, in October 2021, another activist mother, Jane (pseudonym) made a post asking if “trans children” existed, in which she explained that they do exist and mothers ought to affirm them. Linder questioned the concept, commenting that it was based on gender stereotypes and cited a document released by the SBP (Sociedade Brasileira de Pediatria - Brazilian Pediatrics Society). When she asked if the term “trans children” was referring to associating colours and toys to each sex, she was again attacked and her comment was deleted. Since then, online attacks on women who question gender ideology have greatly intensified.

On her own profile, Linder later posted the questions “Do straight children exist??" and “Do cis children exist?” to keep the conversation going, but the issues have apparently divided mothers.

“I have two children who are not being raised with harmful gender stereotypes,” says Linder. “I don’t perform femininity and I don’t restrict my daughters to feminine or masculine standards… We can’t escape them sometimes, but it’s a constant quest.”

Linder is a veteran of online activism for birthing women. For years, she has been talking about pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding and maternal products that are advertised to mothers. She also talks openly about how the formula milk industry and other maternal products “steal the protagonism of women” and endanger children’s health, disguised as “aid” for new mothers.

She has faced overt criticism for her activism, both from obstetricians pushing elective and unnecessary c-sections on women to formula milk producers and advocates.

“Brazilian obstetricians have been known by maternal activists for terrorizing pregnant women into choosing elective c-sections over a normal delivery, while pediatricians push formula milk with claims that breast milk is weak. Just for talking about it, I have been relentlessly reported and restricted in these platforms.”

But nothing prepared her for the backlash she is facing now. When doctors were exposed for their bias against normal deliveries, for instance, they didn't resort to death and rape threats. Many professionals and even celebrities supported the humane, respectful approach to childbirth that these mothers were advocating for.

Now, it seems that the same people who had supported them for so many years have turned their backs to these attacks. Many of them, like respected obstetricians, gynecologists and researchers in Brazil, seem to have caved to the bullies and accepted “gender neutral” language that erases womanhood and motherhood.

Because of the confusing language and the division that this causes, Linder says that her account has been limited and she was unable to access it for days. “My Instagram account was mass reported, and I had restricted access to it. My name disappeared from searches''—she has 78k followers—“and I could not access my private messages for days.” Other activist mothers have also said that many of them have been attacked after questioning the same post by Jane, asking “if trans children existed.”

“Respected obstetricians, gynecologists and researchers in Brazil, seem to have caved to the bullies and accepted ‘gender neutral’ language that erases womanhood and motherhood.”

A second source on this matter is Diana (pseudonym), another activist mother, who agrees with Linder about a toxic environment dividing activist mothers and their followers on social media. She told 4W.Pub that the movement she considered “maternal feminism,” existing for around 12 years, has been hijacked by the Queer Theory and a fierce division among mothers has been sown. “Part of people are accepting the narrative pushed by Marilia Moschkovich,” she explains. Moschkovich is a Brazilian socialist academic woman in a polyamorous relationship who mothered a child and has been highly criticized by birthing women activists for demanding that the categories “woman” and “mother” be abolished.

Marilia Moschkovich on Instagram

According to Diana, Moschkovich’s views exclude women from womanhood. The socialist academic says that the category “mother” is “weak” and that “feminism is for all”, turning the word “all” in Portuguese (todos: male and todas: female) into the made up word “todEs” to make it “gender neutral.”

Diana also criticizes the current claims about “trans children existing,” saying that harmful stereotypes and even medical procedures are imposed on children and nobody can question it without being accused of “transphobia.” Portion of the mothers and people watching this debate, Diana says, is silenced and confused, fearing being targeted for online threats and abuse. “They don’t know what is happening,” she says, and continues: “Another group, in which I am included, is furious and talking about it non-stop.”

In November 2021, Diana posted on her social media account that there are direct, increasing and well funded efforts to change the definition of what a woman is. The activist explained that these were not isolated cases, but orchestrated initiatives in several sectors, such as the media, academia and culture. According to her, this is generating a lot of confusion about what it means to be a woman and that the confusion is deliberate to make people agree with new words and definitions, such as "AFAB/AMAB, menstruators, cervix havers and pregnant people"—terms that they do not fully understand.

Both activists say that they don’t know who exactly is behind the mass reporting on Instagram, but Linder told 4W.Pub she has recently been informed that her social media activity was being closely monitored—allegedly by Instagram—and that would be the reason she has not been able to increase her reach.

Her posts challenging these issues, however, have got a million views between October 23 and 29. This is also confirmed by Diana, the other activist attacked: “I don’t know exactly how these [online] attacks are committed. What I see is coercion, defamation and attempts to silence mothers (like me) who do not keep their heads down.”

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