Subscribe to Bitch—an award-winning, 80 page feminist magazine. Image Map

Is This Feminism at Work?

I'm confused, y'all. Normally beauty pageants wouldn't give me pause, but I feel the need to marinate on this year's Miss England contest. See, the winner is twenty-year-old Rachel Christie, a heptathlon competitor who's goal is to win the 2012 Olympic Games in London. She happens to also be the first Black woman to win the competition. While I would normally support the protest of UK feminist group Object, who organized a rally outside of the pageant for all of the reasons you'd expect (it's sexist, it's dehumanizing, it's disempowering), there was one objection I struggled with given the end results: it creates a racist ideal of beauty.

Since a Black woman won, is this claim negated? And if we take into account what Christie said to address this issue after her win ("I don't know why so few black girls enter. I think they think they won't win because beauty queens always have blond hair and blue eyes. I think they need to advertise more to change that."), should her personal success be viewed as a step forward for all women, particularly women of color? Is Object's prioritizing the end of sexist objectification over Christie's attempt to shift the societal standard of beauty away from Whiteness really the best hierarchy of oppressions, or are these two positions reconcilable?

And what about the fact that Christie isn't simply a beauty queen, but an athlete? It seems to me that she's pushing the boundaries of several stereotypes about what makes a woman attractive. In fact, according to The Independent, "she entered the contest in the hope of launching a modeling career that might fund her athletics training." So the lady was just using the contest to meet her "real" desire: to be an Olympian. Nothing wrong with hustling the system, right?

Perhaps this should be viewed as a win for feminism, after all. Let's hear it, folks. Yeah or neh?

Enjoy reading this article? Good news! Our quarterly magazine, Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture, is packed with 80+ pages of feminist analysis, reviews, illustrations, and more. Subscribe today!

Subscribe to Bitch

Comments

6 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Feminism at work: Beauty Queen

"So the lady was just using the contest to meet her "real" desire: to be an Olympian."

Could we use the same argument for the woman that is dancing on a pole to pay for college?

I'm glad that their idea of 'beauty' has shifted for the moment to a woman of color, and she is indeed beautiful. But I don't think that's Feminism at work. Feminism at work would mean that she had more work opportunities to fund her athletics, not to have to shop her looks to fund them.

- Rebecca

A Resounding...

NEH.

It's a win for integration.

It's a win for integration. But the fact that these ridiculous beauty pageants even still exist is a lose for feminism. Keep us busy fussing with our hair and fretting over our figures and we won't have time to become a threat to those males who want to keep us powerless.

Facebook Comments

Folks might not know that Bitch has a Facebook page where its blog posts are linked and comments are made. Here are a few about this post that were written on FB:

Emily: Yes! When the contest brings in a ditz, I'll call it like I see it. I don't support pageant competitions that judge mainly on appearance, and vote likewise. If we are talking well-rounded women trying to model, or get scholarship money, or hell, just because they love the attention- I'm all for it.
On a side note, I used to teach preschool and this adorable funny and really smart 4 year old begged her mother to compete in pageants. Mom hated the idea, but figured let the daughter get sick of it. With all the scholarships/ money this little girl has earned, she's got college covered. At age 5 now. And she has fun. It's not the pageant- it's how they are marketed and used. That is dehumanizing, not a healthy competition based on a variety of skills.

Kelly: We see this debate crop up again and again: is a woman who uses her good looks/sexuality to promote herself being manipulated by the patriarchy, or is she manipulating *it*? (Madonna, anyone? Or Jenna Jameson?) This is a tricky question. While I agree that Christie does not seem to be a victim in this case, an equally important question is whether she may be promoting systems that do victimize *other* women (which is what Maricor was alluding to above, I think). The choices we make impact people other than ourselves, and I struggle with the idea of how accountable people ought to be for the unintended consequences of those choices.

Do other people have thoughts on this?

Sarah: I agree Kelly- while Christie is certainly aware and skilled (obviously) at using this system to further her own pursuits, where does one move from support of that to concern over what it speaks to to so many others? Others who are not athletes, olympians, etc., but ordinary women raising their children, kicking ass at their jobs, cooking dinner and trying to maintain healthy bodies and minds for their own, personal everyday life.
Another question that comes to my mind is this: why is a "beauty" pageant, which, let's face it, is 99% focused on young sculpted bodies, such an attractive means for women and girls alike to earn money and notariety? Can we really not come up with something a bit less degrading that rewards and awards accomplishment, compassion and intellect? The most frustrating thing for me is not the people that put these things on, but the hordes of women that flock to it- offering themselves up to be examined and scrutinized before the world.

Mandy: Kelly- I think the answer is both. The trick is being able to manipulate the system overtly instead of covertly. If one is able to openly say 'this is what I'm doing and I am the one in charge of my decisions' (like Madonna), I think it shifts things because, at the very least, it points out that there *is* a norm that people are expected to follow. On the other hand, it also reinforces that norm as the norm in its attempt to subvert it. So yeah, it's a constant push-pull that one can only have so much control over. Sarah- I don't see beauty pageants as inherently bad necessarily. I think the problem is the valuation of women's beauty above all else, and the beauty standard that is reinforced in them. But beauty pageants don't have to reinforce one standard... a not-so-great analogy is the difference between stripping and burlesque. I'm not so keen on the former, but love the latter because it's more encompassing of diversity and requires a more creative element.

Evolved?

I'm hopeful that things like beauty pageants have evolved and will continue to evolve because of feminism. At this point in time, a better example of something that has evolved because of feminism might be marriage. Marriage is rooted in patriarchy and the oppression of women but, even the average Joe and Jane have a marriage that is likely more egalitarian their parents, while many people work actively to enjoy even more non-traditional marriages.

I think we can put this one down in the central registry of feminist things as an interesting development to keep an eye on.

Mis-ogyny Beauty Pageant

Clearly the writer of this article has not read Mind the Gap's webpage and neither have they read Object's factsheet on beauty pageants. The young women who participated in protesting against male corporate exploitation of women were not protesting because a 'black woman won' rather they know precisely how and why Beauty Pageants work to divide women against other women.

Rachel Christie won, not because she was a successful black woman athlete but because she, like all the contestants was judged on whether or not her physical appearance accorded with a mythical male-defined concept of 'feminine beauty.' The media commonly reduces all women, irrespective of their intelligence and successes to a 'dehumanised sexualised commodity' whose sole purpose is to titilate and reinforce men's supposedly innate right of sexual access and sexual objectification of women.

I strongly suggest everyone read Mind the Gap and Object's website for a succinct analysis of how and why Beauty Pageants deliberately exploit and make women pit themselves against other women, whilst corporate businesses earn vast sums of profits. Make no mistake beauty pageants exploit and degrade all women irrespective of ethnicity, race, ableness/disableness etc. because all women are reduced to men's sexualised commodities and their diversity, intelligence and humanity is obliterated.