In Argentina, where women have made some recent gains but are still fighting for full equal rights, anti-establishment libertarian presidential candidate Javier Milei has divided the electorate with an unashamedly machista stance.
Some love him for it. Others are appalled and fear he will reverse women’s rights, a theme on which the country sets the pace in the region.
Milei, the second most popular candidate in the presidential election on Sunday after Peronist hopeful Sergio Massa, has a staunch anti-abortion stance (a right granted to Argentine women only in 2021), has voiced his determination to eliminate the Women, Gender & Diversity Ministry and rejects the very idea of a pay gap between men and women.
On the question of femicide, he has demanded "equality before the law" – meaning that targeting a victim for their gender should stop being considered an aggravating circumstance in sentencing.
Over 250 women fell victim to femicide in Argentina in 2022.
While many women are alarmed, Milei's utterances have found resonance with some men, and polls show his voters were mainly male.
Yet the libertarian outsider, who unexpectedly surged to the front of the presidential race in an August primary, had a poorer-than-expected showing in last Sunday’s general election.
"There was a very strong mobilisation of women against Milei," whose rhetoric "was not only anti-feminist but also anti-woman," political scientist Ivan Schuliaquer of the San Martin University in Buenos Aires told AFP.
Milei does not hold back when it comes to chauvinistic tropes.
"I’m not going to be apologising for having a penis!" he said in an interview last year.
"Milei’s ideas contain a lot of patriarchal reaction” left-wing candidate Myriam Bregman said on national radio after garnering less than three percent of the vote last Sunday.
"They [Milei's male supporters] feel their privileges are being brought into question."
At Milei's final campaign rally, a supporter assured that feminists in Argentina "sound like a broken record."
“I don’t agree with them changing our language”, said Moisés Achee, a 57-year-old worker, referring to inclusive language. “Or with them imposing certain things, which if I don’t accept, I’m the one excluding people. I don’t agree with certain ideas at all. So onwards with Javier Milei!"
Argentina has been a Latin American leader in gay marriage and identity legislation, with a 2021 law allowing non-binary people to mark their gender with an "X."
Abortion, too, has been legal in the country since 2021 until the 14th week of pregnancy.
The feminist movement gained prominence nationwide in 2015 with massive countrywide “Ni una menos” (“Not one less”) protests against femicide and gender-based violence.
The push for abortion came later, and the so-called "green tide" named after the green bandannas donned by demonstrators, subsequently spread across Latin America and beyond.
In those years, the green scarves of "las pibas" (“the girls”), a feminist version of the white scarves of the Mothers de Plaza de Mayo, were adopted by women around the world.
In September this year, with Milei rising in opinion polls, tens of thousands of Argentines marched in defence of abortion, a right they feared he would take away.
"Argentina is the gateway for the fight for rights in the region, with imprinted political biases,” said Soledad Vallejos, a journalist specialised in gender issues who was part of the founding group of Ni Una Menos.
“And if reactionary conservative sectors can twist the arm of Argentine society in that respect, they’ll go after everything in the region”, she warned.
The emergence of the "green tide" had a strong counter-reaction in Argentina, igniting an angry clapback in conservative, and male, sectors that took to WhatsApp groups and social media in anger.
"There was an overreach of feminism in whose eyes you were guilty just for being a man," Milei's director of digital communication, Agustín Romo, told online newspaper elDiarioAR, an online newspaper, in August.
This, in turn, elicited a reaction "even in non-ideological men and women. Or in women who realised they had gone overboard," ventured Romo, a former online influencer.
As voices became more and more divided in the period from 2017 to 2019, Milei became a popular guest on Argentine TV, generating good ratings with his sometimes radical rants.
“At the time [between 2017 and 2019], a friend added me to a WhatsApp group,” explained Romo.
Then came the Coronavirus pandemic and the fight over vaccine and mask mandates – the perfect cocktail for further uniting the anti-establishment crowd.
According to philosopher Ricardo Forster, Milei “has a discourse which seems rebellious, but is still deeply reactionary as to traditional values.”
Thus, surveys show that Milei voters are mostly men.
“There is something about masculinity at stake, male resentment expressed in the growth of extreme rights in many parts of the world,” Forster said in an interview with Perfil, comparing the Milei phenomenon with the rise of Donald Trump in the United States and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil.
For Schuliaquer, while the divide between Argentina's traditional rival parties used to be one of class, the pending political contest between Milei and the incumbent Peronist movement will be one of "gender and generation."
by Leila Macor, AFP