Last November, after many missed opportunities, I was finally able to attend the Guadalajara International Book Fair (FIL), considered to be the second most important in the world and surpassed only by the Frankfurt Book Fair. The event is held every year and lasts for nine days. The media commonly refer to the FIL as "the great celebration of books" or "a literary festival" or "a cultural banquet". And to a great extent this is true. For those of us who grew up among words and who find pleasure in the smell of old libraries, as well as for those of us whose livelihood depends on the written word and who spend much of our time unraveling the phrases of others to create intelligible meaning in a process of translation that is, in and of itself, writing, the FIL is a demanding and exhausting delight. It takes considerable time to cover it all without the feeling of having just barely begun, not to mention the spirit and energy needed to read thoroughly and choose among the options offered by the program of activities, plus an infinite budget to satisfy that avid appetite which only grows with each step.
An incident interrupted my pleasure, reminding me that there is no perfect happiness, not even in the intimate act of perusing thousands of book covers: various publishing houses hire women from entirely outside the book business to don cartoonish outfits and help increase sales. At the stand of the Mexican publisher Esfinge, a young woman, disguised as (dressed up as) Cleopatra, smiled while pulling at the hem of the gauze (chiffon) mini-skirt that barely covered the top of her thighs. At the stand of the Mexican publisher Esfinge (Sphinx), a young woman dressed up as Cleopatra smiled while pulling at the hem of a chiffon mini-skirt that barely covered the top of her thighs. In front of the booth of Conamat – a company dedicated to providing university prep and make-up courses and which boasts of producing its own didactic materials – an imposing model stood erect in a tight-fitting black suit perhaps just in from Eastern Europe. But, without a doubt, the hands-down winner is Random House Mondadori, whose vendors wore Peter Pan boots and black mini-skirts bearing in white letters at the height of their buttocks the visible phrase, reading is sexy (the salesmen wore ordinary shirts with the same slogan printed on the upper left in combination with equally unremarkable jeans ...).
I don't know if there is a country on earth that has outlawed this occupation variously called escort, hostess or promoter, depending on the location. Yet I must ask myself if those reading this know that women employed this way are classified, advertised in photographic catalogs, and paid according to their height, place of origin, body measurements, skin color, hair length and age (VIP Plus, AAA, AA, A1, B...). And I know of nowhere on earth where this job is not based on two fundamental notions of machismo so prevalent in the realm of capitalism: namely, that a woman considered attractive by the canons of our times is the best marketing tool for any product or service, and that all men have a genetic weakness which leaves them stupified and causes them to open up their wallets whenever their hormones get all worked up.
Do not get me wrong: I will be the first to acknowledge that a good reader is usually a great conversationalist and has good writing ability, two qualities that I consider unashamedly sexy. What is bothersome (beyond the apparent lack of people skilled in the art of recognizing, selecting and offering books in a setting organized specifically for it) is the surprising ease with which the commercialization of the female body has been inserted into everyday life and has become normalized to such an extent that to merely point out its crassness causes, in the best of cases, consternation and, at worst, grimaces of disgust. But it is precisely this ready acceptance of injustice that forces one to remember that the root of the mistreatment of women is born in considering them as a commodity at the disposal of everyone, as a thing that facilitates commerce and that serves as ornament or bait. Such is the idea behind a vast continuum from beauty pageants and the exhibition of the intimacy of women who are public figures all the way to beatings and sexual abuse, not to mention harassment on the streets disguised as creative compliments or harassment in the workplace.
Then there is outright violence, in and of itself unspeakable, which when viewed in a certain light is even more shocking. Pedophilia, for example, while always reprehensible, takes on monstrous proportions when it is perpetrated by Catholic priests. After all, these priests, according to the line touted by the institution they represent, supposedly embody spiritual goodness and love of neighbor. Psychological, physical, and sexual violence among lovers also implies an aberrant contradiction: who other than one’s partner ought to be able to find safety and peace? Even though we have been conditioned for years to take for granted the multiplicity of women's faces and bodies placed at the service of large and small brands in the predatory competition of the marketplace, is it really acceptable to also move the object known as "book" into that same sphere and then to contaminate it too with the worst of vices?
Hopefully the precarious employment of escorts, hostesses or promoters dies an anachronistic death, as unfairly happened to the occupations of clerk or cashier. While awaiting that unlikely day, we would be better off if the world of culture, which boasts of receiving and disseminating wisdom and of being one of the engines of progress, refused from hereon to participate in the most rancid practices of mercantilism. Enough of such enlightened machismo.
Original article published on 22 December 2009
About the author
Atenea Acevedo and David Brookbank are members of Tlaxcala, the network of translators for linguistic diversity. Atenea is also a member of Rebelion.This translation may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the source, author and translator are cited.
URL of this article on Tlaxcala: http://www.tlaxcala.es/pp.asp?reference=9618&lg=en