When contestants in this year’s Miss Peru contest exposed the alarming numbers related to violence against women, the international media gave a standing ovation. But in Peru, not everyone clapped.
During the pageant, images linked to the #niunamenos (not one more) campaign and pictures of cases in the press filled the background while contestants walked on stage. Jessica Newton, the pageant’s organizer and the person behind the initiative, said she came up with the idea after learning that several of the 30 contestant finalists had been abused or harassed. Peruvian social media exploded with comments for and against the protest.
The storm of opinions over the pageant reignited the controversial hashtag #PeruPaisdeVioladores (Peru, Country of Rapists), sparking heated debates online. The hashtag came as a response to the case of a census worker who was sexually attacked while gathering data for the 2017 national census.
For many, the hashtag was an abusive generalization and therefore an unfair way of representing the country while for others, the numbers were far more alarming than making clear that not every man in Peru was involved in sexual assault:
— Giselle (@GiselleOstojic) October 26, 2017
15,000 cases of rape in 8 months. But you think we’re not a country of rapists because you and your dad are not.
The discussion extended to the meaning and contradiction behind the idea of a beauty pageant joining a campaign against sexism and violence against women. Critics accused the initiative as a stunt to improve ratings and call attention to the pageant itself. Despite contestants’ bluntness about the gravity of the situation, they couldn’t elaborate much on the subject during the Q & A portion of the contest.
¿De qué sirve un #MissPerú ‘feminista’ si es que las candidatas no saben qué responder cuando les preguntan sobre violencia contra la mujer?
— Franco Mori Petrovic (@francomorip) October 30, 2017
What good is a “feminist” Miss Peru if the contestants don’t know what to answer when they’re asked about violence against women?
Raising awareness about violence against women while walking on stage in a bikini seemed difficult to grasp for those critical of the pageant’s protest, who questioned the very structures that objectify women and contribute to a climate of violence against women.
Matan a las mujeres xq las consideran un objeto de su propiedad. Para cambiar esa mentalidad, vamos a hacerlas desfilar en bikini #MissPeru
— Ojos de Uva (@ojosdeuva) October 30, 2017
They kill women because they consider them an object of their property. To change that mentality, let’s make them walk on stage in a bikini.
“We deserve more”
Feminist author and online activist “Pamela” expanded on these contradictions in her Medium piece “Miss Peru: ‘Let’s Demand More, We Deserve More.’” She explains why not everyone in Peru is celebrating the pageant organizers’ approach to protesting violence against women:
First, we should recognize the context. Miss Peru 2017. A beauty pageant that chooses its winner based on her physical appearance and the capacity of answering questions in record time. [A contest in which] all women are almost identical: tall, thin […] Peru. The 5th most dangerous city for women in the world. […] These two things are related. They’re both the product of a sexist society. The objectification of women is a way of violence that emerges from a society that values us only because of our bodies and think they can do whatever they want with it.
if Latina.pe [the TV chain transmitting the contest] and Miss Peru really cared for the well being of Peruvian women and wanted to make a powerful change in our sexist and violent society, they would use that air time in something more productive than having yet another “beauty” queen (a queen of a very specific physical beauty: Western, not representative of most Peruvian women). I’m not throwing flowers to the pageant because they finally realized that Peruvian women suffer a grave situation. We’re not saying “they’re killing us” or #PeruCountryofRapists because we like it. It hurts. A lot. It’s depressing. It breaks our souls but we shout it out loud because it’s the truth and we can’t ignore what we’re living.