Aleta Valente is a black, working-class woman and a single mother. She is also a visual artist known for her work on digital media confronting the stereotyping of females. On September 11, at a party, she was reportedly attacked by a transwoman who she didn't know and with whom she hadn't had any previous conflicts. She claims to have been threatened physically and forced to leave the premises, while the unnamed transwoman gave a speech inside to a cheering crowd.
The artist, whose work has appeared in several exhibits since 2013, is no stranger to being judged by online mobs. Valente's latest work, the Instagram account @ex_miss_febem_, is a collection of memes, provocative videos and images, some original and some curated by her and reposted. Censorship is written into her art, which explores the public's perception of the female body as it pushes the limits of what we're allowed to see on social media.
The account was created in 2015 and then taken down by Instagram in 2017, after being mass reported for "violating Community Guidelines." It had about 12,000 followers at the time and contained mostly self-portraits like this one, in which the persona created by the artist celebrates getting her period after a pregnancy scare.
A second account created by the artist also called ex_miss_febem_ is still active, and over 73,000 followers participate in the ongoing work of art, which has morphed into a well-humored social commentary about the lives of working-class and black women in contemporary Brazil.
On Sunday, a day after she was thrown out of the party, Valente posted a message out of tone with the ex_miss_febem_ character, addressing the public as herself:
The post was initially flooded by repeated accusations of transphobia, but the commenters were unable to provide any evidence or explanation when Valente asked what she did wrong. And even though the identity of the transwoman who allegedly attacked her remained unknown, the post itself was considered to be inciting transphobia by some, who argued that there is no such thing as systematic violence against women by trans activists. However, many other women used the space to share similar stories of being intimidated and falsely accused of transphobia.
On Friday, Valente wrote a lengthy explanation about what prompted her to break the silence about what she characterizes as a form of misogyny (you can read an extended translation at the end of this article):
In the post, she talks about her life story to dismiss some of the accusations of being a privileged person, white and rich, and therefore an oppressor. In her account, she revealed she’s the daughter of a black woman and a northeastern man — a "nordestino," in Brazilian Portuguese, a term that's both a geographical and an ethnic descriptor since people from the Northeastern region are often subjected to racism and xenophobia inside Brazil.
"I've always been committed to the material reality of women and anyone who knows my artistic work knows that", she says.
"I've never engaged in hate speech, never taken a stand against oppressed groups, and have always defended the dignity of everybody. What's happening now is the silencing of women who prioritize their life experience in a patriarchal society. Concrete analysis of concrete situations. To speak about what women live through, about reproductive rights, compulsory motherhood, domestic labor, femicide, shouldn't be considered hate speech. Hatred is what the patriarchy throws at women, especially those who rebel and rise up in order to stop being clogs in the machine."
Valente also claims she has received death threats and that her family members and friends are being threatened and harassed. Even though most of the hostile Instagram comments are now deleted, we can still see some people arguing that similar discourse is "transphobia masquerading as feminism."
When contacted, Valente told 4W that even though she received a lot of public support from women, “within the art scene, no one will speak out. People are scared. It’s been less than a year since I’ve been able to live off my art, and now I’m losing everything”.
The gallery currently exhibiting Valente’s work has published a statement that condemns “transphobia” and also “repudiates any form of violence, including threats, fake news, any type of lynching, mobbing.” The statement doesn’t specifically address the events or name Valente, which prompted criticism from some commenters who claim the gallery did little to denounce the violence that had actually happened. Also, according to them, the statement makes it seem like the victims of the threats were trans people. Other commenters are pressuring the gallery to drop Valente and feature trans artists in her place.
“I was hired to do this kind of work, everybody knew about my stance”, she comments. “I made an ‘abortion mural.’ There’s also a video of an endoscopy of my uterus that I call ‘Cam Girl,’ it’s all there. I was really scared at that exhibit, I thought I was going to get a beating because of it. They didn’t get me then, and my work practically sold out,” she recounts, adding that her statement is being compared to “reverse racism” and she feels revictimized by people repeatedly asking her what she did to cause the attack.
“This isn’t a movement for human rights, their tactics are proto-fascist. They’re going after anyone who liked the post, there’s a list going around and people are being coerced into unfollowing the ex_miss_febem_.”
Valente adds that it is not clear yet how this will affect her career and immediate livelihood. She had to leave her house in Rio with her daughter, in fear for their safety.
Read Valente’s translated statement below (edited for length and clarity):
So I came here to take a stand regarding what happened and the reasons behind my Sunday post. On Saturday I was thrown out of a party. I had been there for hours, enjoying myself, dancing and playing music from my phone, surrounded by people who know me (and whom I'm not sure I can call friends anymore, except for one or two), when a transwoman came at me calling me a transphobe, intimidating me into leaving the space. The matter is: there was no previous conflict, I've never met this person before, I hadn't exchanged words with her, much less mistreated her. I was attacked and forced to leave the premises under threat to my bodily integrity. I left yelling and saying that this was misogyny, hatred towards the female sex, this that we've known for millennia. The same hatred that burned women in fire pits, and that keeps on burning.
When I left, the person remained inside giving a speech that was followed by a round of applause. Outside, some people came after me to call me "transphobic," and as I asked for reasons, I could only hear the crowd echoing: "transphooobe." The accusations are based on rumors, there was never any proof or arguments. I spent the following day asking myself whether I'd always be hunted like a witch, and even though I knew that I would amplify the haters' reach through my social media, I decided to speak up because, worse than being the victim of such violence, it is to see yourself unable to name it and therefore defend yourself.
I wrote the post in a moment of despair, and for many people, it lacked context, but it was enough to receive several messages from women going through similar situations. Naming violence can not be dishonestly reinterpreted as perpetuating violence, and to those engaged in this discourse, I direct my contempt. To throw around frivolous accusations will indeed impact those who are part of a movement representing minorities fighting for rights, but this is not my fault.
I'm collecting death threats: of being burned alive, beheaded, cut with razor blades, of people ganging up to rip my tongue off. All of them will answer for their actions. Now, about my alleged crimes, where is the proof? This time the violence escalated so much that they're going after people close to me, that I love, for standing with me. There are lists of people that publicly support me, and I've received a lot of support from people who haven't spoken up because they're afraid of losing their reputation, sources of income, and mental health.
I'm not interested in being a part of an artistic scene that remains silent against this and, even worse, endorses such violence. Debate is necessary. Many women are silenced by fear and if women now have to whisper their thoughts, something very wrong is going on.
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