The decade-old fringe party Bloco de Esquerda — also known as the Left Bloc — saw 10 percent of the vote in Portugal’s general election in 2014. In a country where most women are left out of politics, the Socialist-linked group has seen victories over the past year — like grilling corrupt bankers and businessmen in parliament — but its most powerful leaders are still not free from sexism.
Led by Catarina Martins, deputies Joana Mortágua and her sister Mariana, and Euro-deputy Marisa Matias, the Left Bloc women in 2009 began efforts to promote women in the party. “The founding male figures of the Left Bloc are feminists, but Marisa and I felt the need to tell them, ‘We want to engage in politics,’” Martins said. In 2012, she became the party leader, but faced backlash from critics who called her the “little granddaughter” of the party. “Our colleagues in other parties treat us in a very condescending way. They always say, ‘Those beautiful girls in the Left Bloc.’ People on the streets mix up our names and call us Catarina Matias, Mariana Martins, Marisa Mortágua, Joana Matias,” said Matias, who is now a vice-president of the European United Left in the European parliament and has been chosen as Left Bloc candidate for the presidential elections set for January.
When Portugal’s minority government resigned last week, the group saw political victory, but was left vulnerable to new levels of scrutiny. All of their bodies and style choices have been discussed by the media. Mariana Mortágua, who on social media has been called on to pose naked for Playboy, said she “didn’t feel a lot of sexism during the campaign, but now it’s worse. It’s much worse to hear someone calling us hysterical on TV.”
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