By Bryan Weiner
On July 20th, 2013, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner made an emotional speech about the Dirty War and those who had “disappeared”. By the end of the speech she and much of the audience were in tears. As if displaying emotions alone is not enough, she sometimes acts or makes statements in her emotional state. On July 27th, in a public appearance where she was speaking with a young boy, she was drawn to tears and let slip the words “puta madre” (mother fucker). She hastily apologized for the foul language in a series of tweets (for example) claiming that when she is “emotional, gets angry, is sad, or happy, she says bad words”. She has often gone on many rants on Twitter (sequences of 20 to 30 passionate tweets) on a variety of issues from attacking the press, to the Falkland Islands to lashing out at US Imperialism, for which she has been greatly criticized.
Does this say something about Kirchner’s ability as a president? Critics have suggested that she is on the verge of a nervous breakdown and that she is suffering from mental health problems. Even many of the comments and replies from her followers in response to her tweets seem very concerned about her health and well being. There was an embarrassing Wikileak in 2010 exposing how Hilary Clinton sent a cable to the US Embassy in Argentina questioning Kirchner’s mental health and asking diplomats to look into how she handles stress.
Now, of course, the big news was her recent surgery and the long period of bed rest that followed her surgery as well as her recent escape from the public sphere throughout the holidays, even as Argentina went through a number of crises. The circumstances around her hospitalization were also a bit uncertain and news was kept very tight. The final explanation was that it resulted from an accidental fall that she took last August. However, there have been connections made to the fragile politics of Argentina and a loss of political support for her party. There is a big question as to whether her current medical issues are related to stress and anxiety as the carefully constructed political movement that she has built with her husband, the former president Nestor Kirchner seems to be crumbling. Kirchnerism, a populist form of government related to Peronism, and embodied through Cristina’s call of a “Victorious Decade” (La Década Ganada), is slowly becoming less popular and Argentina is coming under more criticism for unpaid debts. These concerns are probably weighing heavily on the now-widowed president.
But, is this just another attack on her as a woman? Or more specifically an attack on her as a glamorous but outspoken and leftist female leader in a macho society? Hyper-masculine society claims that women can’t be good leaders because they are too emotional. In that way, it is easy to disregard them and relegate them to certain roles; Eva Peron was the mother of Argentina… as long as she was married to a powerful man. It was questioned when Cristina took over the presidency from her husband whether she would be able to hold her own, despite having always been a powerful and extremely capable student, activist, lawyer and politician.
Now again, as thing are going sour and Kirchner is facing legitimate health issues, the question of whether she is mentally competent or whether she is just another emotional woman is starting to rear its ugly head. As a very guarded person with regards to her private life, she doesn’t openly show her coping strategies for what is probably very real stress that she is facing. She keeps it hidden and spends two weeks completely out of the spotlight. It is easy for the critical press, media and outsiders to take her rants, her emotional behavior, and her health issues and put it in to the narrative of the “woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown”, thereby playing in to society’s sexist notions of what happens to a woman facing a great deal of pressure. A controversial social media presence fits easily into this narrative. While she may legitimately be facing stress-related health issues, it is unknown, and she may just be avoiding playing into the social media game.