Gualeguaychú, a tourist hub in the pretty, river-bound province of Entre Rios, is doing its bit for women’s rights by modernizing their popular beauty pageant. No longer will there be a scantily-clad “Miss Gualeguaychú”, chosen for her more ‘worldly’ assets, but instead two cultural representatives, male or female, recognised for their “cultural knowledge”, “social awareness” and “knowledge of the city.”
The city council cited the challenge of violence against women – “one of the most acute conflicts in modern time” – as the reason for the change.
Now, instead of a Queen, they will confer a “Rony Award”, which celebrates the “joy and culture of carnival.”
The pageant forms part of the summertime revelry and plumage that is Gualeguaychú Carnival, which attracts thousands each year. It has traditionally involved the election of a “Tourist Queen”, who goes on to act as a kind of cultural representative at events and functions throughout the year. Hitherto, the pageant has been based almost exclusively on “aesthetic criteria:” women compete with each other in bikinis and formal wear, before the most beautiful and charming is selected to represent the town.
Sounds about as consistent with modern times as leechcraft, right?
In a surprisingly sophisticated public statement, which was also a small lesson in philosophy, the council argued that violence against women is as much “symbolic” as physical. Words, like acts, can wound, because our symbolic representations “construct our practices, our relationship, our consideration of others, of differences and sameness, which we sustain and reproduce each day.” Under this logic, pageants are a kind of violence because they perpetuate ugly stereotypes about women (that her worth is in her physical appearance, that’s she an object to be lusted after and possessed) that inform our behaviour. There is no place for pageants of this type in a community that respects women’s rights.
The council also pointed out that the beauty pageant is inconsistent with Law 26.485 for the Bodily Protection of Women, which prohibits “symbolic violence” against women.
Looks like Gualeguaychú just got a whole lot more beautiful…