Labour Studies Index

"A Colourful Crowning Ceremony": Images of Class, Gender, and Beauty in World War II-Era Canadian Communism

Document type Article
Author Thorn, Brian
Journal Labour / Le Travail
Volume 80
Date 2017 Fall
ISSN 1911-4842
Pages 185-211
URL http://www.lltjournal.ca/index.php/llt/issue/view/535

Abstract

This article discusses beauty contests held by the Communist Party (cp) in British Columbia during World War II. It presents two arguments. First, the article argues that the beauty contests symbolized the Communist Party's viewpoint on the role of women in left movements, and in society in general. Thus, cp beauty pageants possessed a two-sided nature. On one level, cp women appropriated these pageants to present a hybrid version of the beauty contest where women could present leftist views. On the other hand, the pageants show that the cp only held marginally more progressive views on women than the mainstream. Second, the article suggests that Communist women and men had contrasting ideas about what the pageants meant to the party. cp men used women's bodies in pageants in order to promote and raise money for the party; in effect, Communist men saw these pageants as related to women's physical beauty. Communist women, by contrast, did not view the pageants as related to beauty at all. Indeed, these women saw the pageants as simply a way to promote the party's political program of higher wages and better working conditions. The article concludes that leftist men and women had different ideas about what constituted beauty, and that seemingly conservative cultural productions, like beauty pageants, can have radical goals.