Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Feminism & the Beauty Pageant

Helena Guergis is awash in controversy and is currently an independent MP from Simcoe-Grey in rural Ontario. I saw a Globe & Mail article that rubbed me the wrong way, but I couldn't quite put my finger on why. Sarah Hampson's snarky article, using "bonfire of the tiaras" in the title, makes some interesting points. Are "beauty pageants" incompatible with feminism? Sarah quips:: 

"But how could she mince around in high heels and then, in the next breath, work as a crisis volunteer for rape victims and march in Barrie’s Take Back the Night rally? Isn’t that a conflict of character?"

This paints a black and white picture, but Sarah's last few paragraphs muddy the waters::

"The fact of the matter is that beauty pageants are an opportunity to get noticed; to be somebody at a young age; to get ahead. If you’re beautiful, what’s wrong with using it? Athletes use their physical prowess. Scholars flaunt their talents. Ambitious men (and women) boast about their accomplishments, easing them into every conversation.
That Ms. Palin and Ms. Guergis were both beauty contestants says three very simple things.
They’re ambitious; they’re opportunistic; and they’re vain. Which is why politics was so perfect for them, despite how their careers ended."
First off, I'm not sure Palin or Guergis' careers in politics have ended, so that bit may be premature. What struct me was the part about getting noticed and capitalizing on it.

Last year, on Bitchmagazine, there was a post about a heptathalon competitor who was the first black Miss England. The poster, Mandy Van Deven, offered these thoughts about the winner, Rachel Christie::
"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?"
While it may be easy to brush aside pageant winners as less-than-credible women, do these attitudes do violence to the feminist project? What should one make out of women who aren't the historical stereotype of pageant contestants, but are athletes or well-rounded individuals seeking to use the system to their advantage. On the one hand, when I saw that some Canadian women athletes were in a swimsuit calendar, I thought the objectification took something away from their "brand", but in a market-based reality, does this "selling-out" afford them the chance to compete or pay expenses?

Is there a point where a woman goes from being exploited to being savvy, if she's in on the "game"? So, if she's know's it's all a game to get attention and to capitalize on it, is she engaging in a subversion of the hegemony? Or, is it always exploitation?

I must say I'm a bit uncomfortable with marginalization of people because of their past and I think a more nuanced discussion about what women "do" is in order. While I get the idea of a normative feminism with ideals, at the end of the day, for many it's about opportunities. 

As for judging a book by its past covers, remember that Kristin Scott Thomas was the female lead in Prince's Under the Cherry Moon {1986}.

Twitterversion:: Globe&Mail article discusses Guergis, Palin, beauty pageants, & politics. What does all of this say re: feminism in 2010? @Prof_K

Song:: Seal-'It's a Man's Man's Man's World'

1 comment:

MandyV said...

Thanks for the mention in this post! Always happy to see these conversations taking place. :)