They are a common feature at government and corporate events across Mexico: Young female models in high heels and tight clothing whose primary function seems to be to serve as eye candy.
For years, the employment of “edecanes,” or hostesses, has angered feminists who say the practice is sexist and objectifies women.
Now authorities in the leftist bastion of Mexico City are taking action.
Last week, Mexico City Mayor Jose Ramon Amieva officially banned the employment of models at government events.
The practice, Amieva said, reinforced stereotypes about gender roles and contradicted other city policies aimed at promoting gender equality.
“Women have a potential equal to or greater than that of men,” he said. “Any circumstance that may degrade or stereotype women must be eliminated.”
Many women, including female politicians, have long grumbled about the ubiquitous presence of scantily clad models at official functions where everyone else is dressed in business attire. At corporate events or store openings, it’s common for models to wear logos printed on their clothing or their bodies.
Several instances have drawn particular outrage over the years.
During local elections in 2016, the political party New Alliance closed its campaign with a celebration in Mexico City that featured topless women with the party’s turquoise and white logo painted across their breasts.
At a 2012 presidential debate, a model in a skin-tight white dress that revealed copious cleavage was hired by the country’s electoral institute to hand out envelopes to the candidates onstage.
The model, Julia Orayen, was more discussed in the media than most of the policy proposals debated that night and eventually ended up on the cover of Playboy Mexico. The magazine’s headline? “We take off the debate dress.”
Mexico City government events have tended to be slightly more decorous. Still, models in tight suits and heels were for decades paid to greet event guests, deliver water to speakers or simply stand onstage and look pretty.
Amieva said that those women on the government payroll who had previously been asked to work as hostesses will be reassigned to other “more empowering” tasks. The hiring of freelance hostesses is banned and could result in fines, he said.
The new ban has been welcomed by feminist activists who say it is a small but significant step against Mexico’s culture of machismo. Some said they hoped the ban would be implemented by the federal government as well.
But the ban has been criticized by the hostessing industry, which is big business in Mexico, with an estimated 900,000 women working in the sector. Some hostesses have taken to social media to defend the dignity of the job, which, they have clarified, should not be misconstrued as prostitution.
The ban comes amid a broader public debate about the role of women in Mexican government. After criticism over several recent panels that were dominated by men, Amieva, of the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution, vowed to ensure that women make up at least half the participants in future city events.
Almost half of the nation’s incoming members of Congress are women, and Amieva is about to be replaced by a woman. In December, environmental engineer Claudia Sheinbaum will become Mexico City’s first elected female mayor.
Incoming Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who, like Sheinbaum, is a member of the leftist National Regeneration Movement political party, has vowed to tap women to fill half of his Cabinet positions. One of them is Olga Sanchez Cordero, a former Supreme Court justice and advocate of the legalization of abortion who is expected to be his pick to lead the Interior Ministry.
Last week, Sanchez Cordero said that in that role she hopes to “change the patriarchal system” in Mexico. A first step, she said, is the democratization of families. One of the ways to achieve that, she said, is encouraging men to do more chores and housework.