Rethinking beauty pageants: A platform to demand women’s rights

Jana Ismail

Senior Staff Writer

Beauty pageants have long been criticized for objectifying women and for their anti-feminist sentiments. The way the contestants are graded on how they look and the way they are paraded around in skimpy outfits has ruffled many feathers over the years.

More recently, however, beauty pageant participants in certain countries have used the questions portion of the show as a platform to highlight social justice and women’s rights issues.

On October 29, “Miss Perú 2018” contestants shocked the world when they turned an extremely misogynistic segment into a feminist moment. Instead of sticking to the usual script of listing their hips and bust measurements as was expected, they took the opportunity to shed light on the suffering of countless women and girls in their country.

This year, the “Miss Perú” organization wanted to use the pageant to do good by providing a platform to emphasize the dire situation of women in Perú. This came following the boom of the “#PerúPaisDeVioladores” – Perú Country Of Rapists – campaign, which took place on social media in October, after a volunteer for the national census was raped by her male interviewee.

This was merely one of the many horrifying incidents that occurred that month, including the viral video of a man dragging his girlfriend by her hair on a sidewalk. Another incident was the outrageous comment made by the President of the Commission on Women and Family in Congress, who said that sometimes victims of femicide unintentionally bring the deadly attack upon themselves.

This explains the decision to make use of “Miss Perú” to capitalize on the perturbing statistics of gender violence. The “Miss Perú” organization wanted to push for a Perú that fights for its women, not a Perú that is silent in the face of increasing violence.

The contestants started their sentence with the usual “my measurements are”, but continued instead with facts such as “2,202 cases of femicide reported in the last nine years in my country”, or “82 femicides and 156 attempted femicides so far this year” and “3,114 female victims of trafficking have been registered since 2014”. These statements were followed by questions about the laws they would like to see changed in order to better the situation of women in the country.

This led to the creation of “#MisMedidasSon” – My Measurements Are –  which went viral after the pageant. The bold move of these contestants was a pleasant surprise, as Latin American beauty pageants have especially been criticized for their sexist portrayal of women.

This overhaul of the Miss Perú system should be a step towards rethinking the entire beauty pageant system. These types of pageants have long put the emphasis on the wrong elements. Participating women’s intelligence and personalities are kept in the backseat. Competitions like “Miss Perú” have historically been superficial and almost stupid.

It is not until recently that the question segment of the competition has started to take a political nature as can be seen in “Miss USA”, with questions such as what the candidate thinks about the withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement.

However, this has yet to happen in Lebanon. “Miss Lebanon” is known to be a source of laughter for people. Men and women alike enjoy making fun of the questions and answers. The following day, social media is flooded with dozens of memes related to the event. “Miss Lebanon” also lacks the prestige its US counterpart has.

Nevertheless, it is time for “Miss Lebanon” to shake off its current image, and build one similar to the one of “Miss Perú 2018”.  It is time for contestants and organizers to start taking advantage of the full stage of women to emphasize the troubles they face in the Lebanese society.

“Miss Lebanon” should stop perpetuating this image that does nothing but enforce patriarchal beliefs that are already rampant across our society. It should start to be used as a way to step up the battle for gender equality.

“Miss Lebanon” contestants should follow in the footsteps of the “Miss Perú” participants and use their voices to put an end to the discriminatory behavior towards women. Miss Lebanon winners usually get elected, disappear for a year, and turn up once more in next year’s competition, showcasing what they had been up to for the past year.

These women should take advantage of the spotlight they are provided with – a rarity in our country – to give a voice to the voiceless, and attempt to make a change and improve the current situation.

A famous French saying goes “Sois belle et tais toi” – be beautiful and shut up. A phrase often repeated to women, because beautiful women – women in general – are expected to be quiet and docile.

But, today is not the day to be beautiful and shut up, it is the day to be beautiful and speak up.

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