Opinion and Poll: Carnival queen contests – are they a harmless tradition or anachronistic and sexist?
I confess, I’ve never given the question too much thought – until recently.
For last week, I was on the selection panel for Cromer’s carnival queen and senior attendant. And I arrived at the event at the Cliftonville Hotel with my ears still ringing from a bashing they received a few hours earlier.
The ‘basher’ was disgusted at the very idea of the event – and clearly not impressed that I was involved. The judges’ panel – three men and two women – were confronted with the tough task of choosing two women from 10 contestants – all of whom were polite, charming and very brave to enter.
I will not reveal the secrets of the panel’s discussions. But I can tell you that not once did we mention or even allude to how any of the women looked: I can’t speak for other judges in other towns, but for a carnival as big as Cromer’s, poise and personality are all.
It is not a beauty contest, unlike genuinely outdated events like Miss World and Miss Universe.
Being the public face of Britain’s second biggest carnival is a massive responsibility. It carries the weight of 45 years of history, the pressure of being studied by tens of thousands of exacting eyes and the challenge of countless conversations.
So, rather than asking about world peace or whether the women love animals, typical questions were more like: What does the carnival mean to you? Do you care about Cromer? Have you got the commitment to give up a week of your summer and traipse from event to event, getting sore feet – and an aching jaw from smiling? Can you converse with toddlers at a sandcastle competition, parents at the bonny baby contest, glamorous grans, men with knobbly knees and the residents of care homes?
I consider it an honour to be part of the selection process for such an important role, for an event that I adore, in a town that I love.
All of which makes it clear that my views of the carnival queen competition have not been swayed.
But I’d be interested to know your views.
Should there be a carnival king to add some balance (and would I win?) Or should there be no carnival royal family at all? Is the entire event demeaning to women? Or is it an intrinsic part of a carnival?