This study explores how black women garment workers in South Africa transformed a seemingly banal beauty pageant into a cultural event for self-empowerment, solidarity, and trade union democratization. It examines beauty contests in the Cape Town clothing industry by using oral and written sources that privilege the voices of factory workers. The study analyzes how and why the Spring Queen festival changed from being a tool for social control of increasingly restive employees to a partially autonomous space for proletarian women's sociability and power. As apartheid gave way to democracy in the 1990s male and female unionists debated the value of the Spring Queen pageant, which they eventually transformed into a vehicle for the promotion of South African-made clothing and textiles in a fiercely competitive global business. The article reveals how black working women reworked a gendered form of popular culture to assert their humanity and citizenship, and promote gender equity within the union.


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pp. 31-56
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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