What Do Rodeo Queen Competitions Value?


Earlier this week I posted about the Badminton World Federation’s attempts to change the dress code to require women to wear skirts or dresses as an effort to give a more “attractive appearance.” The changes emphasized certain standards of femininity over concerns about how the clothing changes might impact players’ performance.

Rodeo queen competitions illustrate this tendency to value feminine appearance over the skill or physical prowess the women are ostensibly there to perform. A rodeo queen competition is sort of an amalgam of a beauty pageant and rodeo or riding competition; the winners serve as ambassadors, promoting rodeo, riding in parades, and so on. Though the events usually have many of the trappings of a standard beauty pageant – appearance and personality are both judged – the riding elements (which may include barrel racing, reining demonstrations, etc.) provide a sense that this isn’t just about meeting standards of femininity, but also athletic ability.

But a video Lisa sent me about a recent rodeo queen competition in New Mexico makes it clear where the emphasis lies. If you don’t care greatly about horse-related things, you may not know that there has been an outbreak of equine herpes in the western U.S., which is extremely contagious, may be fatal, and spreads through nose-to-nose contact. As a result, many horse-related competitions have been canceled or postponed.

But the Davis County Sheriff’s Mounted Posse Junior Queen Contest in Farmington, New Mexico, found a way to continue with the competition — they had the contestants ride stick horses around the arena, something I can’t imagine being done with, say, roping competitions and other male-dominated rodeo events that could be altered to create a horseless version.

Some images from the story at KSL:

I can’t help but feel this undermines efforts to separate rodeo queen competitions from beauty contests. In fact, the Miss Rodeo USA site says that appearance and personality make up 80% of the competition, and riding skills only 20% – and personality and appearance count when judging the riding, too. And while having women ride children’s toys around an arena may still test the women’s knowledge of the patterns, and requires them to show physical stamina, it also seems infantilizing and silly. It makes it clear that rodeo queen competitions have little to do with horse riding skills, which are entirely dispensable in a pinch.

This post originally appeared on Sociological Images. Republished with permission.

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