RIO DE JANEIRO -- A female lawmaker who attended a swearing-in ceremony in a business suit accentuating her breasts is causing a furor in Brazil, a deeply conservative country also known for skimpy swim suits and exuberant celebrations during Carnival.
The controversy began when Ana Paula da Silva, from the southern state of Santa Catarina, showed up to the Feb. 1 ceremony in a tight, two-piece red pantsuit that showed deep cleavage.
"Breasts of discord," read a sarcastic headline Thursday in a column by Mariliz Pereira Jorge from leading daily Folha de S. Paulo.
Latin America's largest nation has long struggled with gender-based violence, and men continue to dominate much of the public sphere, including politics.
"I think that in our country, the participation of women in politics is so minuscule, that when we get there, it ends up provoking this type of fury", da Silva told the Associated Press, noting that there were only five women in a state assembly of 40.
Da Silva, a mother of two, said she had gone shopping especially for her inauguration and that after trying on many dresses, this was the one she thought was the prettiest.
"This is my style," the 43 year-old politician said, defending her choice.
The lawmaker's detractors, including many women, took to social media to argue that her choice of clothing was "inappropriate," ''shocking" and "vulgar." Others sent her insults, at times violent.
Those on her side said clothes shouldn't matter and asked that politicians focus on more pressing issues.
Da Silva said she believed harsh reactions had to do with Brazil's engrained sexist culture.
"This macho and prejudiced world you live in is not mine," she wrote on Facebook in response to a man who asked how her cleavage contributed to democracy. "I've seen a lot of men in suits and ties taking money out of the health sector, school meals. That's unacceptable."
While some wondered whether the state representative known as Paulinha had crossed a line, her backers tried to refocus the debate around her strong electoral results and political action.
Da Silva received the fifth largest number of votes in last year's state assembly election, and she previously served two terms as local mayor in the city of Bombinhas.
Da Silva said she will continue to wear what she wants. She also threatened to sue those behind some of the most aggressive messages she has received.
"We have more important questions to discuss in the legislative assembly," she wrote.