15 mars 2018

Contemporary Fantasies of the Colombian Nation: Beauty, Citizenship, and Sex

A presentation by Isis Giraldo, University of Lausanne

Report by Vanessa Gauthier Vela, The Graduate Institute, Geneva

In the context of the Gender Centre’s Gender Seminar Series, Isis Giraldo presented her PhD research about urban hegemonic Colombian media and culture. Her research is framed within the field of cultural studies. More specifically, her presentation highlighted relations between culture and the social order in contemporary Colombia through an analysis of a male-oriented magazine, a popular telenovela and pieces of news in their construction of a spectacular femininity as a crucial aspect of female subjectivity.

Cultural studies analyse discourse and representation as constitutive of social practices. Giraldo uses this framework to examine the cultural significance of spectacular femininity in Colombian mass media and the relation between the cultural value of the individual, the social body, and the citizenship. Drawing on McRobbie, Foucault, and Gramsci, her theoretical approach is anchored in the study of representation, power, hegemony, and the consideration that representation is political. She further presented the link between ideologies and discourses. They are complementarity and both connected to power. Hegemonic culture does ideological work. It naturalises historical and normative discourse as means to justify and perpetuate the unequal distribution of power along the axes of gender, race, and social class. Thus, ideologies permeate discourses and discourses channel ideologies. Cultural hegemony prevails thanks to widespread consent.

In her theoretical framework to approach beauty, Giraldo presented postfeminism as a Western, now globalized phenomenon. Focusing on the fashion beauty complex and hegemonic understandings of femininity, she explores McRobbie’s idea of the “post-feminist masquerade” in the contemporary Colombian context. She challenges the one-sided emphasis on female agency which understands empowerment solely on the basis of how women look, and the obsessional preoccupation with a specific kind of body, the sexy body. She brings to the fore the issue of the “male gaze” in her analysis. She complexifies the idea of agency of the models shown in the magazines – some of which work for free – when it shows a hegemonic image of femininity, spectacular femininity. Underscoring the connections between cultural artifacts and the social order in contemporary Colombia, Giraldo shows how Colombian mass media intervene in the political space and converse ideas of Colombian nationhood. Giraldo connects what she terms the “postfeminist regime” with power and coloniality, exploring its connection with ideas of nation and nationness. She further argues that Colombianidad relates to specific bodies and the social spaces those bodies inhabit. While spectacular femininity grants full access to female subjectivity, female abjection emerges from an intersection of blackness, fatness, and left-wing affiliation.

Giraldo’s research makes multiple contributions, notably by focusing on media and its connection with the political field and as a first study on the cultural components of the neoliberal ethos. By connecting gender with postcolonial debates in her research, she demonstrates that the cultural is political, that media is central to build consent, and that media analysis is useful to see the patterns in the process of construction of citizenship. And in the case of Colombia, the female body is crucial in dominant discourses on nationness and citizenship.