Gabriela Loureiro – Embodied emotions and collective struggle: feminism, hashtags and digital consciousness-raising in Brazil
Feminism and the importance of sharing feelings and narrating our own stories
A powerful, emotionally charged snapshot of the slut walk in Recife, in the North-East region of Brazil. Photo credit: Flora Negri
The last decade was marked by influential feminist hashtags that bleed from online to offline, becoming slogans that galvanize social movements, capture the attention of millions of people and make political discussions widely available and urgent. Much has been said about feminist hashtags, their popularity and limitations, but no significant attention has been paid on the emotional work involved in creating, maintaining and engaging with these hashtags. This is what I do in my work, investigating the role of emotions in contemporary hashtag feminism in Brazil and elsewhere. Instead of a form of “slacktivism” or “couch activism” as some like to say, I see feminist hashtags as a digital consciousness-raising tactic, and part of a long history of using shared narratives as a form of bringing women and other feminised bodies together for the purposes of social change. So the questions I often find myself grappling with are: What kinds of emotions might experiences of social inequality be likely to generate? What is the role of emotion within contemporary digital feminist mobilisations in Brazil and elsewhere? In what ways might online disclosure of personal stories facilitate the creation of feminist consciousness-raising? What are the potentials and challenges involved in building intersectional feminist coalitions via social media, and how do these relate to the legacies of other forms of feminist activism?
Beyond the allurement of social media aesthetics, what hidden gems can we find in hashtag activism? Illustration by Unique Fair
The starting point of my journey in this project was my own restless immersion in online feminist activism in Brazil before, during and after the year of 2015, coined “the year of women’s spring” by the magazine Época due to the high level of feminist hashtags and live protests then. As I went deeper with my research, I started to notice the power of emotions in the narration of participants, and the repetitive emergence of conflicts of difference that are based on a principle of sameness. That is, the impossibility of sustaining or even building solidarity due to the expectation of a conflict-free sisterhood based on sharing the same experiences, perspectives and values. I then went to archives of Women’s Liberation groups in London to find out if these conflicts emerged in consciousness-raising groups in the 1970s and 1980s too and how they were dealt with. What I found was a great amount of treasure about “feeling rules”: descriptions of how to express emotions and modulate one’s own behaviour based on the principles of the group, usually in an attempt to avoid conflict. There are tremendously rich analyses of these conflicts and their resolution in academic books, theses and articles too.
Picture taken by myself of a leaflet of Tufnell Park Women’s Liberation group dated March 1971 about the rules of the “small group process” as it was often called consciousness-raising groups. With thanks to the Bishopsgate Institute’s Library for granting me access to their archive.
So, despite having as a starting point one feminist ‘zeitgeist’ in Brazil, I realised the analysis I was crafting through participants’ reflections had a much wider scope and can be used to rethink feminist collectives in different timescales, places and periods. I thus became much more interested in the small ripples and their effects than the captivating and alluring crest of feminist waves – first to fourth, as Western academic traditions like to catalogue, and I contest in my work. I am now dedicated to connecting emotional states and the formation and dissolution of feminist collectives. In my upcoming work, I argue that there is a repetitive predominance of anger in the making and dissolving and feminist collectives that can be best understood in the light of Black and Latinx feminist theory and praxis. In a first instance, anger can bring into feminist activism individuals who feel furious with different systems of oppression in the search for a place of recognition, giving validation to their critique and nurturing a politicized community. Nonetheless, anger resulting from internal conflicts in such groups as a result be that of defensiveness, aggression or other tensions is also an important factor in the dissolution of feminist communities. Black feminist theory and praxis teach us about the importance of identifying power imbalances in the most mundane interactions of everyday life as they reflect the mechanisms of oppression, as Patricia Hill Collins, Kimberlé Crenshaw, bell hooks and Audre Lorde theorised. Latinx authors like Gloria Anzaldúa, Lélia Gonzalez, Maria Lugones and Chela Sandoval help us to see borderlands as a potentially ideal space for social justice thought and practice and world-travelling as a means uncover ambivalences, enchantments and allowing the changing of political investments with a more holistic perspective. Together, these authors show us the power of the intersections and offer ways to build activism from the borderlands.
Women from the Indigenous, Black and Landless movement protest against Jair Bolsonaro in Brasilia. Photo credit: Arthur S Costa.
Focusing on the political context of Brazil has allowed me to explore how solidarities were forged even as exclusions were enacted – a situation that I have likened to previous dynamics within political activism, and which I have argued repeats the historical pitfalls of second wave feminist consciousness-raising. Additionally, the affective experiences of feminist activists bleed between digital networks, the streets, and seats of institutional power such as the Brazilian Congress and illustrates how raising feminist consciousness defies private and public boundaries, since the public sharing of personal stories can lead to important reflections and political engagements. The conclusion is that emotions and emotional reflexivity offer a powerful way of knowing. When faced with intersecting discrimination and inconsistencies, the stories we craft and the emotions we feel hold an immense potential for thinking and building feminist activism that is deeply attentive to power imbalances in its quest for intersectional solidarity.
This blog post is inspired by a poster I presented at GENDER.ED’s Annual Research Showcase on 30 May 2022.
Dr Gabriela Loureiro is a researcher, lecturer and queer feminist mainly interested in feminism, antiracism, decoloniality, migration, sexuality and emotions. She currently teaches Sociology of Emotions at the University of Edinburgh and researches the impact of the pandemic in the Brazilian community in the UK in the project “Connecting During Covid: practices of care, remittance and digitisation amongst diverse migrant communities in the UK’. Gabriela comes from a family of teachers in the depths of Rio Grande do Sul (Brazil)and sees education as a tool for emancipation and liberation. Gabriela’s twitter can be found here.