Judith Butler, a campus comparative literature professor and prominent gender theorist, helped organize a conference Tuesday in São Paulo, Brazil, that drew a crowd of protesters and counterprotesters.
The conference, titled “The Ends of Democracy,” hosted scholars to hold discussions on the challenges, forms and future of democracy. A crowd of both right-wing protesters and counterprotesters gathered outside the venue and remained for about two hours, according to Butler.
The counter protestors were numbered at about 130 and were protecting the conference, Butler said, whereas there were about 70 right-wing protesters. Videos of the protest captured conservative protesters burning an effigy of Judith Butler and shouting, “Queimem a bruxa!”, Portuguese for “Burn the witch!”
Butler said there were many misunderstandings concerning the event, such as the topic of the conference. She added that protesters incorrectly thought Butler was a speaker, when in reality, she was an organizer. Protests began as a call to cancel Butler’s participation as a speaker and according to Butler, the protesters involved incorrectly believed the conference would be about gender.
“They assumed that I was bringing … gender-based content to the conference, but that’s not what I was doing here,” Butler said.
Butler also called the burning of the effigy “injurious” and “upsetting.” She added that she’s “pretty freaked out” about having an effigy of her burned given her Jewish identity.
When discussing the political climate of Brazil, both Butler and Mariana Kuhn de Oliveira, a visiting doctoral philosophy student and researcher from Brazil, referenced conservative groups’ recent criticism of certain art exhibitions. One of these exhibitions, which was related to sexuality, was in fact shut down before its scheduled close.
“The people who oppose me believe gender is a ‘diabolical ideology,’” Butler said. “Much of the support on the right is based on strong traditional values, anti-feminist, anti-(LGBTQ+).”
Butler said the video posted on social media exaggerated the incident, and the protests did not succeed in disrupting the conference. She added that the conference had the “full support” of the host institution, SESC Pompeia.
“It was really productive,” Butler said. “It’s too bad that this scandal has retracted from the conference.”