Today in post-feminism-my-ass news, the New York Times homepage leads with the headline, “Camila Vallejo, the World’s Most Glamorous Revolutionary.”
Ah, the glamour of it all.
This seven-page profile from the New York Times magazine by Francisco Goldman contains a lot of great reporting on the student strikes known as the Chilean Winter. Why, then, must we focus on Camila Vallejo’s looks and the attention she gets from men?
With guarded smiles, they let us know they supported the Chilean student movement and especially its most prominent leader, Camila Vallejo. A bartender said, “La Camila es valiente”; he laughed and added, “Está bien buena la mina”—”She’s hot.”
Camila Vallejo, the 23-year-old president of the University of Chile student federation (FECH), [is] a Botticelli beauty who wears a silver nose ring and studies geography.
You know those “Botticelli beauties,” right? Always organizing protests, leading movements, and standing up for what they believe in. Talking about their looks and framing them as glamourous is totally relevant! (No it isn’t.)
Vallejo waited her turn, standing within a small coterie of supporters. I noticed how the others doted on her, that she did most of the talking and that she made everyone laugh. Her eyes shone, and her smile was sometimes wry, even rakish.
It sounds like Vallejo is very charismatic, and obviously an analysis of how she’s received by the Chilean media and her supporters—including a discussion of her looks—could be relevant and quite interesting. However, kicking the article off by calling her the “World’s Most Glamorous Revolutionary” and peppering it with anecdotes about how people are “always debating who is more beautiful” (Vallejo or a female leader of the Communist Youth movement), and how she can be seen “languorously kissing her boyfriend,” obscures the Goldman’s point—which is presumably to cover the movement and Vallejo’s role in it—and is also just straight-up sexist.
On the last page of the article, Goldman quotes a colleague of Vallejo’s who says, “Camila speaks in simple phrases, without technicalities, that people understand.” Couldn’t that be at least part of the reason she’s an effective leader? Why bury her communication skills on page seven and lead with her silver nose ring instead?
Writers don’t often have control over their own headlines, especially at a major media outlet like the New York Times, so it probably wasn’t Goldman who went with the loaded term “glamourous” to describe Vallejo and her work. However, using a word that evokes images of movie stars lounging by the pool in marabou-trimmed robes while cabana boys bring them drinks doesn’t exactly underscore the seriousness of the movement or the change Vallejo has effected in Chile. And it goes without saying that, were she not a woman, the headline editor’s adjective of choice would be something decidedly less frivolous.
Toward the end of the piece, Goldman includes this exchange with Vallejo:
I asked her about the politicians’ reactions to her Calama visit, and she smiled. Calling the remarks “misogynist and very grotesque,” she said they were an attempt “to try to isolate our leaders from the social movements.”
Couldn’t the New York Times, with its focus on Camila Vallejo’s feminine wiles, be accused of doing the same thing?