FEMFACTS
20 Mar 2019

When the birth of a child becomes an excuse for a cheap joke  

Serbia's lesbian prime minister, whose partner recently gave birth to their baby, was quickly labelled a “dad” by the Balkan media.

Lidija Pisker
Lidija Pisker NewsMavens, Balkans
When the birth of a child becomes an excuse for a cheap joke   - NewsMavens
Ana Brnabić and Milica Đurđić, YouTube

On February 20, Ana Brnabić, Serbia's openly gay prime minister, became a parent when her partner Milica Đurđić gave birth to a baby boy. The case is indeed historic -- the first ever female and openly gay Serbian PM has also become the first ever PM in the world to have had a baby with her same sex partner while in office.

The news was, therefore, widely covered by local, regional and international media and commented on by users of social networks throughout the Balkans. Unfortunately, many have found it to be a matter for ridicule.

WHAT’S THE CLAIM?

Brnabić’s partner, frequently dubbed by the local media as “the pretty doctor”, was still pregnant when a popular RTL Direkt news show in Croatia featured TV journalist Zoran Šprajc commenting on her pregnancy with these words:

The Serbian prime minister Ana Brnabić will become a mom -- or a dad, depending on how you look at it.

The “joke” quickly took off and turned into a ubiquitous pattern of ridicule after the baby was born. Countless media from Serbia and neighboring countries used the line “Brnabić has become a dad” when reporting the news. Other reports, even those which were not openly mocking Brnabić’s parenthood, included a jab about her “becoming a father”. For example, the evening news show of the Macedonian TV channel Kanal 5 informed viewers about the topic with the comment that Serbia doesn’t legally recognize same sex unions and that some media had made fun of Brnabić by calling her a "dad". But while the journalist was talking, the show was also running a headline at the bottom of the screen which read:

Serbian PM Brnabić has become a dad

On February 22, the Macedonian civil society organization LGBTI Support Center reacted to Kanal 5's report  -- and the general media's reporting about the case -- by saying that it was “insensitive and tendentious, intended to ridicule same sex unions and children born as a result of those partnerships.” The statement also noted that such reporting shows ignorance about same sex unions.

But this was just a drop in the ocean. For days, both the media and social networks were flooded with insults about Brnabić, whose sexual orientation and “butch” looks have been the target of similar comments and photoshopped memes ever since she took office.

One of the sarcastic posts congratulating Brnabić on “becoming a father” was published by Sergej Trifunović, a popular Serbian actor with regional prominence, who is also one of the most outspoken protestors against the current Serbian government. Commenting on the picture of Brnabić, he wrote that “The kid will be a ‘spitting image’ of his dad.” In yet another tweet, he wrote:  

Children in Africa are starving while Ana Brnabić’s kid is splurging on 4 tits.

WHAT ARE THE FACTS?

The “funny” reports on the Serbian PM’s legally unrecognized parenthood reaffirm the region's widespread homophobia. According to the 2015 poll of the National Democratic Institute (NDI), 38 percent of Serbians believe homosexuality is an illness. Amnesty International criticized Serbian governments in 2014 for not tackling homophobia and transphobia, and several LGBTI+ Pride marches were cancelled because of threats from homophobic groups. The Pride Info Center in Belgrade has also been attacked several times since it was opened last year. Just a few weeks ago, a 40-year-old Serbian man killed himself as a result of homophobic bullying at his workplace.

While the entire Balkan region was wallowing in “dad jokes”, some LGBTI+ activists pointed out not just how homophobic they are, but also how far from the reality of gay parenthood in Serbia that “punchline” really is.

The country Brnabić leads gives no legal rights to same sex couples -- she and her partner are perceived by the law as nothing more than flatmates since the country doesn’t recognize same sex partnerships, civil unions, or marriages. Adoption of children by same sex couples is also not possible in Serbia.

So, legally speaking, Brnabić has not become “a mom or a dad depending on how you look at it”. As far as the state is concerned, she has not become a parent at all, as no parental privileges are granted to partners of gay women who give birth to a child. “She is nothing to the baby”, Serbian LGBTI+ activist Predrag Azdejković told Serbian Prva TV, stressing that in the eyes of the law “the most she can be is a babysitter”.

Simultaneously, members of the LGBTI+ community are dissatisfied with Brnabić because she doesn’t show interest in improving their status in Serbia's rather conservative society. Other than attending Belgrade Pride as Serbia’s PM in 2017 and 2018, Brnabić, as one of the most powerful politicians in the country, has done little to support the LGBTI+ community in the country.

As a political ally of Serbian populist President Aleksandar Vučić, Brnabić is unpopular among Serbia’s left-wing, while right-wing groups cannot stand the fact that she is gay. This whole affair demonstrates how unaccustomed the Serbian (and regional) public still is to gay parenthood and a (gay) woman holding a position of power, and it also highlights the fact that dissatisfaction with political developments often manifests through hate speech, sexism and degrading “jokes” targeted at an individual’s private life, appearance or gender.

CONCLUSION

The legal non-existence of same-sex couples in Serbia and the underrepresentation of such topics in the public discourse has fueled the unprofessional media reporting and the intensive storm of reactions on social media. All of them distort the reality of a gay parenthood in Serbia which is not legally recognized, making these reports examples of manipulation of facts and intersectional discrimination.

The outpouring of homophobic reports and memes which forced the “dad” role on Brnabić also rest upon stereotypical perceptions of gender divide in lesbian relationships and parenthood based on who is “more feminine” and “more masculine”, asserting that the typically “male role” of being a father has to exist even in same sex parenthood. The fact that her partner was the one who gave birth and that she holds an important position, which was traditionally always held by men, has surely played a part in that same biological determinism.

WITH FINANCIAL SUPPORT FROM:
SUPPORTED BY:

Project #Femfacts co-financed by European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology as part of the Pilot Project – Media Literacy For All

The information and views set out on this website are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union. Neither the European Union institutions and bodies nor any person acting on their behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information contained therein.

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