theguardian – Jessica Valenti – Tue 22 Dec 2015 12.15 GMT
Such events are nothing more than an opportunity to ogle gorgeous, scantily-clad women and pit them against each other – so why do they still exist?
Miss Universe host mistakenly crowns Colombia over Philippines
The most awkward moment of the Miss Universe pageant this week wasn’t host Steve Harvey naming the wrong winner on live television – it’s that in 2015, a pageant still exists that parades women around in bikinis for the honor of winning a sash and tiara. That’s the true embarrassment.
That Harvey couldn’t distinguish one pretty woman for another is almost poetic, because in pageants like Miss Universe, Miss America and Miss USA, women aren’t individuals anyway. They’re literal symbols – unnamed besides the state or country they’re there to represent. It’s the ultimate display of women as interchangeable, vying for the right to be the shiniest object in the room.
The contests are an antiquated reminder of exactly what we don’t want for women, and they should have no place in our future.
The notion that beauty pageants are anything more than an opportunity to ogle gorgeous, scantily-clad women and pit them against each has long been debunked. Despite long-standing claims that pageants like Miss America are a major source of scholarships for young women, the truth is that they offer only a fraction of the money that they claim they do. Women who participate are also much more likely to spend money than make money on the endeavor – the cost of dresses, hair and makeup, entrance fees and more are the responsibility of the contestants alone.
The pageants themselves – in addition to the explicitly vacuous swimsuit competition – have policies and rules that make clear women’s worth is very much dependent on her sexuality and ability to perform a narrow model of proper femininity. It was only in 1999 that Miss America finally did away with a “purity” rule that banned contestants from being divorced or having had an abortion, for example, and the pageant still has strict “morality” clauses.
In 2002, Miss North Carolina Rebekah Revels was forced to turn in her crown after it came out that her boyfriend had taken topless pictures of her, and after being crowned Miss USA in 2006, Kentucky’s Tara Conner was embroiled in a scandal because she went to clubs, drank alcohol and perhaps had a few sexual escapades. How dare she!
Then co-owner of Miss USA, Donald Trump publicly forgave Conner and sent her to rehab. “I’ve always been a believer in second chances,” he said at the time. Later, Trump reported that he was considering giving his “permission” for Conner to pose in Playboy. Showing off your body is fine, it seems, so long as the man in charge gives you his blessing.
Despite the progress women have made over the years, there are still plenty of reminders of how far we still have to go. And feminists are still fighting against some of the same big issues – like the wage gap and sexual violence – that they were decades ago.
But it seems strange that during a time when we may soon see the first female president and when feminism is more culturally powerful than ever before, that we cannot seem to figure out a way just to do away with something as obviously misogynist and retrograde as beauty pageants.