“Your daughter might catch the flu, have you seen her cleavage?” Marcelo told a Portuguese immigrant in Canada
President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa is in the hot seat over two recent remarks about women’s physical appearance.
His visit to Canada last week will most likely be remembered for the moment when he was speaking to a Portuguese immigrant and her daughter. After the mother told Marcelo that they are both named Maria, the president responded: “But your daughter might catch the flu, have you seen her cleavage?”
The president then walked away, apparently unaware of the wave of criticism that the moment would spark.
Marcelo had already left many bewildered during his recent visit to Alcáçovas, Viana do Alentejo, where he offered a woman a chair only to moments later ask: “Do you think it will hold?” (suggesting the woman was too overweight to sit on it).
While the president is known for palling up with everyone and never refusing to take a selfie, most seem to agree that these two recent remarks went a step too far.
Manuela Silva, Director of the Democratic Women’s Movement (Movimento Democrático das Mulheres), described the incidents as “regrettable”.
“In fact, the president talks too much and doesn’t say what he should,” Silva told Porto Canal, adding that his remarks were made in a “lighthearted manner that undermines the dignity of women.”
She continued on, stressing how “there’s a set of rights that have been won by women that are not being fulfilled, and this is what should concern the President, not poor taste jokes… I think he comes across very poorly.”
The President of Portugal’s Protocol Academy, João Micael, pointed out that “the entire behavior of the President of the Republic since taking office has been characterised by this closeness to the people. But there’s a difference between being popular and being overly familiar,” he said.
He went even further in his commentary, saying that Marcelo suffers from “behavioural incontenence.”
“In this case, especially because it involves commenting on someone’s physical condition, it’s inappropriate to say the least,” Micael said.
João Micael believes that while the remarks “may not have been made with malice,” he highlighted that they were “unsuitable for the position Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa holds.”
“Every public figure listed in the Precedence List of the Portuguese State Protocol is always a public person with formal responsibilities; they can’t think of themselves as private citizens at any moment. They represent the people, not to mention that in this case, it’s was very ugly.”
Isabel Moreira, MP for the Socialist Party (PS), took to social media to criticise Marcelo’s behaviour.
“We are in 2023,” she wrote on X (formerly known as Twitter), adding that women should not be the subject of jokes about their physical appearance or weight.
“Those who haven’t realized this yet, even if they’re the President, should learn. And they should apologize. Sexism harms us. It’s not funny,” Moreira wrote.
Even André Ventura, the controversial leader of CHEGA known for rarely holding back what he has to say, has weighed in on the controversy.
“If it were me commenting on a woman’s cleavage in public, we would already have dozens of complaints filed with the ERC (Portuguese Regulatory Authority for Media), the Public Prosecutor’s Office, and countless other associations and gender equality watchdogs,” he wrote on X.
“It wasn’t a sexist comment”
President Marcelo has adamantly defended that his remarks were not sexist.
Asked about the criticism his comment had generated in Portugal during an encounter with journalists in Toronto on Sunday, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa appeared surprised and said, “You don’t say. I don’t even know what to comment on.”
The President of the Republic mentioned that “at the end of the walk in the Portuguese part of Montreal, it started to rain, and it was cold,” and he pointed out that he had warned “several elderly ladies, one of whom he was escorting by the arm, as well as some younger ones.”
“I told several of them, but apparently only the young woman was filmed: be careful because you might catch a cold – I caught one myself,” he added.