Miss Peru Pageant Protests Gender Violence to International Applause, but not all Peruvians Are Clapping

Screenshot from Al Jazeera: “Miss Peru contenders turn pageant into gender violence protest.” Available on YouTube

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:

15000 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.

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.

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:

Primero, hay que reconocer el contexto de la situación. Miss Perú 2017. Un concurso que elige a su ganadora en base a su apariencia física y capacidad de responder preguntas en tiempo record. Donde todas las mujeres son casi idénticas: altas, delgadas […] Lima, Perú. La 5ta ciudad más peligrosa para las mujeres en el mundo […] Estas dos cosas están relacionadas, ambas son producto de una sociedad machista. La cosificación de la mujer es una forma de violencia que nace de una sociedad que solo nos valora por nuestros cuerpos y que piensa que pueden hacer lo que les da la gana con ello.

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.

She continues:

Si Latina.pe y Miss Perú en verdad les importara el bienestar de las mujeres peruanas y realizar un cambio potente en nuestra sociedad machista y violenta, hubieran utilizado ese tiempo que dedicó para emitir el certamen para algo más productivo que nombrar a otra reina de “belleza” (física, específica, occidental y que no representa la apariencia de la mayoría de peruanas). Yo no le voy a tirar flores a un certamen porque por fin se dio cuenta que las mujeres peruanas estamos sufriendo en una situación crítica. Nosotras no decimos “nos están matando” o “#PerúPaísDeVioladores” porque nos gusta. Nos duele. Mucho. Nos deprime. Nos parte el alma pero lo gritamos porque es la verdad y no podemos ignorar lo que estamos viviendo.

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.

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