Settler expectations: Patrizia Gentile, Queen of the Maple Leaf: Beauty Contests and Settler Femininity, UBC Press, 2020


Description: As modern versions of the settler nation took root in twentieth-century Canada, beauty became a business. But beauty pageants were more than just frivolous spectacles. Queen of the Maple Leaf deftly uncovers how colonial power operated within the pageant circuit. In this astute critical investigation, Patrizia Gentile examines the interplay between local or community-based pageants and more prestigious provincial or national ones. Contests such as Miss War Worker, Miss Black Ontario, and Miss Civil Service often functioned as stepping stones to competitions such as Miss Canada. At all levels, pageants exemplified codes of femininity, class, sexuality, and race that shaped the narratives of the settler nation. A union-organized pageant such as Queen of the Dressmakers, for example, might uplift working-class women but immigrant women need not apply. Not unlike sports leagues linked from minor to major, pageants from local to national formed a network that entrenched white settler nationalism in the context of the beauty industrial complex. Queen of the Maple Leaf demonstrates that these contests are designed to connect female bodies to white, middle-class, respectable femininity and wholesomeness, and that their longevity lies squarely in their capacity to reassert the white heteropatriarchy at the heart of settler societies. Students, scholars, and researchers will want to add this significant contribution to gender and sexuality studies to their bookshelves, particularly for its insights into settler femininity.

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